Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa Cruises are doing better, according to Carnival Corp.’s first-quarter financial report this week (see bottom of this report), but the company’s largest brands in the U.S. and Europe still have a steep hill to climb.
How steep? CFO David Bernstein said that based on the guidance of Carnival Corp.’s competitors, those companies are at or near 2008 levels for net revenue yield, a key cruise industry metric similar to revenue per available room (RevPAR) in the hotel industry.
Conversely, Carnival Corp.’s yield is down about 11% from 2008, Bernstein said.
Delving further, Bernstein said the company took a 10% hit from the global financial crisis of 2009, gained about half of that back by 2011, but lost those gains after the Costa Concordia accident in 2012 and the much-publicized stranding of the Carnival Triumph in 2013.
“Hopefully, as our brands recover, both Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa, we can recoup, getting back to 2008 yields,” Bernstein said. “Hotel RevPARs are also back to those levels, so we have every reason to believe we can get back there, as well.”
There were good signs from Costa and Carnival in Carnival Corp.’s first quarter, the three months ended on Feb. 28. Costa’s yield was up, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said, aided by a 50% increase in booking volume.
However, Costa’s gain was more than offset by a yield decrease for the company’s other European brands, which struggled largely due to a stagnant economy in Europe. Carnival Corp. said that net ticket yield fell 3% for all European cruise lines.
Carnival, too, had strong booking volume. Donald referenced the brand’s single-month record for bookings in January, when 565,000 people reserved space on a Carnival cruise. Attractive promotions and increased advertising spending helped make that happen.
Donald said the company will spend $600 million on advertising in 2014, a 20% increase over 2012. He said Carnival’s TV ads during the Sochi Winter Olympics and Princess’ first TV ad campaign in 10 years were vehicles to attract first-time cruisers.
But because of discounting, particularly in the Caribbean where most of Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships operate, Carnival Corp.’s yield fell 2.1% in Q1. The company forecasts that yield will fall 3% to 4% in Q2, compared with a year earlier.
The improved performance of Carnival and Costa “builds confidence that we are tracking to turn the corner beginning in the second half of 2014,” Donald said.
But until that corner is turned, discounting will continue. Donald said that increased capacity in the Caribbean industrywide puts pressure on pricing.
The company is “behind on both price and occupancy” in the Caribbean, Bernstein said, despite the Carnival brand’s record-breaking January.
The North America brands are best performing in Europe for their seasonal program, where they are “well ahead on price and occupancy,” Bernstein said.