Closed borders are ‘biggest threat to cruise’, operator bosses agree

Closed borders and travel bans are the biggest threat to the cruise industry, the boss of Carnival Corporation has warned.

Speaking at the opening session at the Seatrade Cruise Convention in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Carnival chief executive Arnold Donald said:

“If people aren’t allowed to travel to parts of the world that will be a big problem for the industry. Hopefully it won’t happen but it’s the one thing that keeps me awake at night.”

Donald added: “China temporarily imposed a travel ban to Korea recently, just as an example. If the world shifts to a place of closed borders and people cannot travel, then we need to worry.

“There is increasing nationalism in so many places but as long as countries around the world stay open to visitors then we, as an industry, will be fine.”

Fellow cruise industry leaders agreed that aside from such geopolitical threats, there was little keeping them awake at night.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines chairman and chief executive Richard Fain said geopolitical issues aside, the sector had never been in better shape.

“The industry really does seem to have found its groove. It’s exciting and we have done a much better job at communicating what the industry is about and our new ships are ever-more attractive.

“We will never have a purely predictable year, but this has to be the most positive, general tone of the industry of any year we’ve seen – and of our concerted action to do the right thing. So I’m sleeping pretty well right now.”

Fain added: “We’ve been expecting this for some time. Over the last few years there have been things that have retarded us, but cruise has now taken hold.

“It’s like someone has released us from a bag – and we are seeing this from a US point of view, from Europe – and Asia is exploding.”

MSC chairman and chief executive Pierfrancesco Vago also said there was much to be positive about.

“There is a lot happening and we are very bullish right now – you can see that from the order books. We have never seen so many orders placed so far in advance.”

But he warned: “We have to have the humility to look at every detail, because as soon as you stop doing that, that’s the moment you wake up worrying.”

Vago agreed with Donald, saying: “The greatest threat to our industry comes from the geopolitical incidents that affect performance, consumer demand and financials.

“The solution is to have very flexible contingency plans but we are still impacted by not being able to include certain destinations in our itineraries. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Turkey.

“There are over 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in this region that once formed the backbone of our Eastern Europe programmes, but these destinations have been cruelly taken away from us, at least temporarily due to this political upheaval and I hope we get them back – for our company, for the industry and for our customers.”

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