The cruise industry is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023, the boss of Carnival Corporation has predicted.
Chief executive Arnold Donald warned of two more difficult years for the sector in the face of prolonged lockdowns and the reputational fallout from Covid-19 outbreaks on cruise ships.
He told Financial Times that the world’s largest cruise group’s full fleet might be sailing by the end of this year but it will take longer to recover to pre-crisis revenues after 19 of its 107 ships were retired during the crisis.
But returning the full fleet was uncertain.
“[It] depends on so many variables, because every destination is going to have its own level of comfort and what regulations are gig to be,” he said.
Carnival reported a bigger-than-expected preliminary fourth-quarter net loss in January as business was brought to a virtual standstill by the Covid-19 crisis.
Donald admitted the industry will have to work harder to attract people who have never been on a cruise before.
New bookings have largely been driven by regular passengers who on average take a trip once every two years.
The biggest hurdler to restarting once regulators give the green light for cruises to resume is returning the corporation’s 90,000 on board staff to ships.
The process could take up to 45 days given different international travel restrictions and quarantines.
The UK last week announced that domestic cruises could resume from May 17 but authorities in the US have yet to decide on when sailings can restart.
Donald said that his only request to authorities was that there were “no undue restrictions, constraints, disadvantages place on the cruise industry verses the rest of travel and tourism”.
Four cruise operators, including Saga, have so far said passengers will have to be vaccinated.
Such a decision would be premature for Carnival given the wide age range of its customers, he told the newspaper.
However, mandatory vaccination could be a policy for certain sailings aimed at older customers.
Donald did not rule out further fund raising but said the company – which owns UK brands P&O Cruises and Cunard – had funding to see it through until 2022 even without any revenues coming in. It has also taken precautionary measures such as delaying the delivery of new ships and cutting executive salaries and dividends.
The corporation revealed a $2.2 billion net loss for the three months to the end of November in its latest trading update and said its had $9.5 billion in liquidity.
It had $2.2 billion in deposits for future cruises, the majority of which were credits for cancelled sailings.