Carnival CEO predicts 'most, if not all' of cruise fleet will return to seas this year

The future of the cruise industry remains murky as the coronavirus pandemic has forced ships to cancel voyages, but the CEO of Carnival Corporation said this week that he’s expecting smooth sailing ahead.

CEO Arnold Donald told travel industry workers during a webinar that he expects Carnival-owned brands to have their ships returning to service by the end of the year, Travel Pulse reported.

"I think that certainly by the end of this year, most, if not all, of our fleet, I’m optimistic, will be in action," Donald said during the event, according to the report. "I think there’s a really high probability that all of them will be back by early next year if things continue to progress the way they have."

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Donald pointed to the increasing availability of COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments for his optimistic outlook.

"The combination of all that bodes really well and puts us in a good position," he said. "You do see the light here. The conversation is changing. The knowledge about COVID has changed. The ability to manage COVID has changed. All these things have moved in a positive direction."

Two Carnival-owned brands – German AIDA and Italian Costa – have already announced plans to begin cruising again next month with added health and safety protocols in place.

In the U.S., cruise lines including Carnival brands like Carnival, Princess and Holland America, have been working to meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements to carry passengers again. Donald said the company is working with the agency and other health experts to ensure it can operate safely, and pointed to the success of those European cruises as proof it can be done, according to the report.

"I think the determinant of the future of travel, including cruise, will be when society feels the risks associated with COVID-19 are at a low-enough level to feel comfortable with social gatherings," he said, per Travel Pulse.

When more cruise lines do return to normal operations, it will be a gradual, "laddered introduction of ships," Donald said, according to the report. Ships won’t be sailing with full capacity to start, and not all destinations will be ready for ships full of visitors.

"It’s not going to be a light switch," he said.

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