Carnival’s Donald Says fathom Is Just The Beginning In Cuba
“Today, we made history,” said Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald, speaking from Havana. “It brings me tremendous pleasure to announce that Carnival Corporation has become the 1st U.S. cruise company in more than 50 years to be granted approval to sail from the U.S. to Cuba.”
fathom, he continued, will start going to the Dominican Republic in April and will begin sailing to Cuba, as planned, in the 1st week of May.
While Donald cited “significant pent-up demand from Americans who want to experience Cuba 1st-hand,” he also noted that as of press time, space was available.
“There’s a little bit of room,” added fathom President Tara Russell. “We sail in about 20 days to the Dominican Republic and about 40 days to Cuba. It’s not too late to book. You can book long in advance or just before you travel.”
Carnival Corp’s Cuba journey begins with fathom, but Donald made it clear that over time, the company will bring in many of its other brands.
While fathom is a significant symbolic development, it’s not one that will likely turn business on its head. After all, it is one 710 pax ship operating to Cuba every other week. On its own, Donald said, fathom will be negligible to Carnival Corp’s bottom line this year.
“Financially, it’s one ship,” he said. “We’re a very large corporation. So you’re not going to see it financially move the needle this year in terms of bottom line.”
fathom is a unique product so CruiseWeek asked if Donald had received any indication from the Cuban government that would indicate mass market, sun and fun cruising will be welcomed by Cuba anytime soon or if they are only interested in the more limited cultural cruising.
“Cuba is definitely very open to our other lines coming in,” he replied. “But I seriously doubt that in the very near future they would want 5 ships coming in at once or even 3 ships coming in at once.”
He made it clear, however, that, over time, Carnival Corp. will have other brands operating in Cuba. The significance is that this is the type of development that could turn business on its head because it would not only involve Cuba but the Caribbean overall. Ships from other markets not performing well could be moved, reducing capacity and increasing prices elsewhere.
“We will work with the Cubans to develop ports and develop infrastructure in order to serve a larger ship and a larger fleet, and over time, it will be a real economic benefit because it will be another refresher for the Caribbean,” said Donald.
He says people will want to see new ports. “Ultimately it will create additional demand for the Caribbean market that is already robust,” predicts Donald.
That greater demand leads to higher yields. “We see it ultimately being a major positive economic driver in a significant way for the corporation. Today was just the beginning.”
How quickly can Carnival Corp. mobilize ships from other brands beyond Fathom? “We started down the path originally with the guidelines that were in place,” said Donald. “While the guidelines [have eased], it is still not an easy thing to do to bring a cruise ship to Cuba...The practical reality is we book ahead; our ships have itineraries planned across the rest of our brands.”
He said Carnival Corp. did “a little risk-taking” with fathom in Cuba. “We took Adonia out of the P & O fleet and held her for this purpose and the purpose of going to the D.R. But the other ships are booked, and they have itineraries planned. Suddenly changing itineraries doesn’t automatically make sense.
“It’s probably going to be many months before one of the other brands begins to sail here, but there’s no question there will be other brands over time.”