Donald Says Carnival’s Success Is All About The ‘Social Vibe’

Cruise Week

Arnold Donald

There are dramatic changes coming up soon for Carnival Cruise Line. Foremost is the upcoming generation of ships, which the line is touting as having "never before seen features on a ship."

The first, set to debut in 2020 and sailing from Pt. Canaveral, will be 180,000 tons, far larger than all current CCL ships. Books are expected to open around the end of this year or early 2019.

Given that, Cruise Week’s brand question in an interview with Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald is: How do you message big changes for Carnival -- a brand that arguably touts more consistency between ships than any brand in the business -- without undermining CCL's existing 26 ships?

The answer is, you don't.

"We're not desperate for new," said Donald. "We're not desperate for, 'Let me tell you about the new thing to get you to cruise.' It's unnecessary. Cruise is a great vacation value relative to land-based vacation. It's a phenomenal experience."

To illustrate his thinking, Donald points to the IMAX Theaters on two of Carnival’s ships.

"Some people will say, 'Oh. That's real cool.' There are other people that say, 'I can go to the IMAX Theatre at the Science Centre in my city. That's no big deal.'"

In other words, it's one individual feature that, while important to some, is not defining. However, when you bring all the features together, they create what Donald defines as the most social brand in the business.

"For us, with the Carnival brand, it's always about taking features that create the social vibe on board that is the essence of the brand," said Donald.

And how is going to IMAX on board a ship different than going to an IMAX in your hometown?

"We have an IMAX to put certain things on the screen and to time it at a certain point in the evening to create a vibe onboard," explained Donald. "That creates an opportunity for dialogue and shared experience on board to create that ease of social experience that people come to Carnival for."

Another dramatic change for the next CCL new-build is that it will be the first ship in North America to be powered by liquified natural gas. "The new ships are going to be far more fuel efficient," said Donald regarding LNG's efficiency.

Can an agent make use of this in the sales process? After all, fuel efficiency and lower sulphur levels are not necessarily sexy features to most folks. And they don't scream 'social vibe.'

In response, Donald pointed to the bigger picture. "Our message to the trade is Carnival is a great experience, as evidenced by the feedback from the guests on the ships."

Within that framework are forward changes, and LNG is just one example.

"Maybe someone is super environmentally conscious and they mistakenly believe that cruise ships are detrimental to the environment," said Donald. "And they hear LNG and they think 'Oh, that's much better for the environment.' So there might be some incremental pick up."

Also, Carnival's use of LNG is somewhat experimental. "LNG is something we have to look at," cautioned Donald. "We're not making a blind commitment. The reality is it's to be on one or two [CCL] ships and we have 20-something ships in the Carnival fleet."

In terms of what is scheduled, he continued, there are [to be] 11 LNG ships coming to Carnival Corp. overall, spread across multiple brands.

"We have 106 ships in our Carnival Corp. fleet worldwide, so it's not the end all and be all," said Donald. "But it's the next deep dive investigation into doing our part of leading the way for environmentally conscious travel. That's how we're looking at it."


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