Carnival CEO Arnold Donald: CDC, port rules influence Covid protocols

MIAMI BEACH — Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Arnie Weissmann asked Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald whether changes are afoot now that the CDC plans to make compliance with its health guidelines voluntary rather than mandatory.

“The honest answer is we don’t know yet; we have to see how things continue to evolve,” Donald said during his CruiseWorld CEO Conversation with Weissmann. “We are planning to get back to where people are free to move about,” but he added that the timing of changes in testing will also be driven by the destinations, “which each have their individual regulations.”

The CDC expects to make the rules outlined in its Conditional Sailing Order voluntary in January.

“While the CDC is a key influence, it’s not the only one,” he said. “We have to continue to monitor and help destinations be comfortable in relaxing their protocols as the CDC does.”

As travel advisors well know, “Unfortunately we are in a period where you have to pay attention and see where things are moving,” he said. “We are headed in the right direction, but we have to stay flexible and adaptable and adjust to the circumstances.”

Meanwhile, while Carnival’s 50th birthday celebrations will be slightly toned down from what was being planned pre-Covid, “there will be lots of announcements,” Donald said. “We are still going to make it special.”

One unexpected announcement happened during the interview when Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy took over the stage to announce the name of the line’s latest ship and its homeport: The Carnival Jubilee, in Galveston, Texas. Duffy — and Donald and Weissmann — donned cowboy hats as part of the announcement. Duffy said that the Jubilee “will have some new, fun additions that we will be revealing over time.”

What to say to hesitant cruisers

Asked for some advice for travel advisors whose clients still hesitate to cruise, Arnold suggested starting with the facts.

“The bottom line is we’ve had to deal with Zika, MERS, SARS, Ebola; we go to 700 ports and we’ve had to understand all kinds of viruses” over many years, he said. And while Covid hit the industry hard at first, after 22 months people have learned a lot about it and how it is transmitted, and now there are vaccinations, treatments and “really well-tested protocols.” The cruise industry has carried 3 million passengers with very few cases, he said, and “we haven’t heard of an outbreak on a ship for months, because we understand it and people are vaccinated now.

In the end, though, the key is “our guests are experiencing a great cruise vacation.”

A nod to the environment

Just as with Covid, the cruise industry also is under scrutiny for its impact on the environment. The 300 ships in the cruise industry are just about 1% of the maritime industry, “but we have to do our part, and it’s a real priority,” Donald said. “We know what we do won’t be measurable in itself, but we are doing our part. It’s in our self-interest to take care of coral reefs and natural habitats.

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