CEO Conversations: Carnival Corp.’s Donald on stability and innovation

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald, far right, was joined onstage during the CEO Conversation panel by John Chernesky-the-puppet of Princess Cruises. The session was moderated by editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, seated, left.

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald, far right, was joined onstage during the CEO Conversation panel by John Chernesky-the-puppet of Princess Cruises. The session was moderated by editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, seated, left. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

FORT LAUDERDALE — Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald told an audience at CruiseWorld that being the largest cruise company in the world comes with two key advantages — stability and innovation — that help Carnival’s brands deliver industry-leading results.

The company has more than 100 ships, and it operates in every segment and several global source markets. “One of every two people who cruise go with one of our nine brands,” Donald said, which include Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Cunard Line, in addition to the namesake Carnival Cruise Line.

“Because we have such a large portfolio, it’s difficult for anyone thing happening somewhere in the world to take the company down,” Donald said.

Size matters in innovation too. “We have the scale and the capability to take on projects that others can’t,” he said.

A prime example of that is the costly OceanMedallion personalization technology that Carnival developed and rolled out initially on Princess Cruises.

“We invented it,” Donald said. “It’s not off-the-shelf apps.”

Donald ran down a list of developments at various Carnival brands, such as the roller coaster on next year’s Carnival Cruise Line newbuild, the Mardi Gras.

But when he forgot to mention Princess Cruises, a surprise guest made an appearance.

From behind the couch where Arnold was seated, up popped a Muppets-style character designed to look like Princess’ senior vice president of sales and trade marketing, John Chernesky. The puppet ribbed Donald and amused the crowd until the real John Chernesky bounded on stage to complain that the puppet has been impersonating him all over town.

The larger message to the puppet tomfoolery was to billboard the Jim Henson Creature Shop show, called “Inspired Silliness,” that will debut next month on the newest Princess ship, the Sky Princess.

When Donald finally regained the spotlight, he took some time to outline Carnival’s sustainability initiatives and defend the industry’s record.

He said that very little of the estimated 8 million tons of plastics in the ocean comes from ships, much less from cruise ships. “It comes from land; it comes through the rivers and gets into the ocean,” he said, adding, “Having said that, we don’t want anything going in the ocean. He said that Carnival has accelerated existing recycling efforts and processes to eliminate plastics from its waste stream.

Likewise, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, a Carnival brand was the first to use liquified natural gas (LNG) to provide power in port, and Carnival Corp. will be the first to bring an LNG-powered ship to North America, with the Mardi Gras.

“Ultimately we want to get to zero-emission,” Donald said. But he said cruise emissions are a tiny fraction of the global equation. “The reality is if the cruise industry didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be able to measure the difference in emissions,” he said.

Steel Cut for Carnival’s First China-Built Ship

Carnival's China Newbuild?

Steel was cut last week for Carnival Corporation’s first-China built ship, now under construction at Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co Ltd facility., and due for delivery in the second half of 2023, according to Chinese news sources.

At the steel cutting ceremony, a rendering and vessel model was unveiled, which appear to show a Vista-class ship with a dual AIDA/Costa funnel, and sporting an AIDA livery.

Carnival’s China newbuild project is part of a joint venture, with the ships set to go to a yet-to-be-named domestic brand in which Carnival is a partner with China State Shipbuilding Corporation. Fincantieri is also involved, having licensed the Vista-class platform.

Further information about the domestic brand has yet to be revealed.

Carnival's China Newbuild?

The joint venture calls for the transfer of existing vessels (two Costa ships) and then the newbuild project, with orders firmed up for a pair of 135,000-ton Vista-class ships, and an option for up to four more.

The contracted price is reported to be $770 million per new vessel.

Steel Cutting

Arison on Carnival Corp.’s post-Concordia changes

Image result for costa concordia

There was some interesting back-and-forth last week in federal court between Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison and U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz that started out predictably but veered into unexpected territory.

Arison had been summoned to a status conference in the ongoing probation proceedings that Carnival is involved in as a result of Princess Cruises pleading guilty to environmental crimes in 2016.

Seitz was there to hold Carnival’s feet to the fire, in a bid to stop continuing violations of environmental laws that have put her in a position of having to harangue Carnival about the problems.

Then she took a less confrontational tack.

“What do you love about being in your business, Mr Arison?”

Arison, one of the few people in a room full of lawyers and consultants who have actually worked on a cruise ship, recounted his 50-year career at Carnival, which included 32 years as its CEO.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Arison said. “Obviously we wouldn’t be here if we were perfect.”

Seitz then expressed her admiration for how Carnival reformed some of its processes after the sinking of the Costa Concordia on Jan. 13, 2012.

“That was the worst day of my life,” Arison admitted in a hoarse voice.

Arison told Seitz that the Concordia illustrates some of the unique dilemmas in the cruise business that are not always understood by those outside the industry. As an example, he said, Carnival Corp. trains its bridge officers to work as a team. But the Italian Coast Guard, which trains Carnival’s Italian officer corps, had a different approach.

That meant that creating a uniform safety culture across Carnival’s 10 brands was hard to achieve.

“The Italian rules at that time were archaic,” Arison said. “The captain was the master. Other team members [on the bridge] could not question the captain.” Arison said Carnival lobbied hard with the Italian government to change the rules, but only after the Concordia accident were the changes made.

Seitz also had praise for the Arison Maritime Center, which Carnival opened in 2016 in Almere, the Netherlands. There, the company trains 6,500 bridge and engineering officers annually, in state-of-the-art simulators. That also gives the company a roadmap for change, she said.

Arison said that his family — and himself personally — was proud of having created the training centre. “We never put our name on a building in Miami,” he added, despite plenty of offers. “That was one building we were proud to put our name on.”