Debunk the Myths: There's a Cruise for All, Says Arnold Donald

Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation, gave the keynote address at Cruise360's final General Session on Saturday at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, BC.

"There is a cruise out there for everyone," Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, told travel agents during the third general session of Cruise Lines International Association's Cruise360 on Saturday in Vancouver. “Together, we help to fulfill people’s dreams.”

Speaking for the 120,000 employees of Carnival Corporation across 10 brands, he said his cruise company strives to exceed guests’ expectations, “not just because it’s our livelihood, but because it is our passion too.” 

Just as important? “We have an obligation to you too as valued travel partners, and that we’re doing the right things to help you be as successful as possible in representing our products to your customers," Donald emphasized.

Competing With Land-Based Vacations

Agents at Cruise360 enhanced their skills and received a panoramic view of cruising. 

Donald said that land-based tourism is his company’s biggest competition, and “whenever possible, whenever I have a listening ear or a media microphone, I advocate the greatest vacation value there is – and that’s a cruise.”

He spoke briefly about the new ships his company is launching this year -- Carnival Vista, Holland America Line’s Koningsdam and AIDA Prima, plus the Seabourn Encore this fall. Carnival’s brands carry some 11 million guests annually, “who trust us with their hard earned vacation dollars.

Despite the new, larger ships, “capacity can only grow at a relatively slow pace,” he said, a reference to the shipbuilding industry's limited space for new ship construction. “But what can grow is demand…and by growing demand we grow yields.”

Debunking the Misperceptions

Carnival Corporation's ships carry 11 million passengers per year. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Some 24 million passengers will cruise on CLIA member lines this year, up from 23 million in 2015. Despite that growth, “millions and millions more have never cruised and never even considered cruising," he acknowledged.

For those new-to-cruise consumers, the challenge is to get them to consider cruising as a vacation option. In that vein, Donald asked the audience to help change their clients' misperceptions -- such as believing they'll be seasick, they'll find themselves in crowds or in buffet lines, or that they won't like the other people on the cruise. 

“You are really so critical, because a lot of people will dismiss a cruise vacation based on what they mistakenly believe to be true,” stressed Donald. "They just think they’re not cruise people."

Creating the “Focus”

Donald showed the audience a clip from the 2015 movie, “Focus,” in which Nicky, a veteran con man played by actor Will Smith, makes a bet-it-all wager with a legendary high roller.

The bet is that Nicky will try to guess the jersey number of the one football player that the high roller selects from among dozens of players on the sideline during a football game. Against incredible odds, Nicky guesses the correct number.

How did that happen? Turns out the number wasn’t as random as one might think. Nicky arranged for that number 55 to be placed in small, inconsequential ways and in places encountered by the high roller in the hours leading up to his arrival at the stadium. 

So the number 55 appeared on a hotel worker’s lapel pin, truck signage, theater marquee and in many other ways and in many other places. While they were not obvious, by the time the high roller used binoculars to scan the sideline and pick one player, his brain was already subconsciously “predisposed” to that number. He didn't know that, picked 55 and Smith’s character won the impossible bet.

That’s what Arnold hopes agents do with those who say, "I'd never cruise." He urged the travel advisors to show customers what the cruising experience is like in multiple ways and at different times. “Cruising is the number 55 of the travel business,” he says. “When it comes time to pick where to go on a vacation, we can help recondition clients to 'think cruise.'”

Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation

Donald said Carnival Corp.'s mission at all times is to put the cruise conversation out there, citing its Super Bowl commercial in 2015, new ship press coverage, partnerships such as those with Guy Fieri, and the debut of the socially-impactful Fathom brand.

All those kinds of things can help recondition people to think differently about cruising, and "then you are the matchmaker,” he said. “You know your clients, you know their needs, and you can match them with the best cruise line, the best ship, the best itinerary and the best experience within that line." 

It’s essential agents make a good match, he noted, as that builds more bookings, demand and business success. Happy clients who cruise once and like it will tell others and bring along friends, kids, co-workers and family on the next cruise.

Plus, Donald said there is so much to do onboard, and guests love knowing they can spend as much – or, alternatively, as little – time as they like with family and friends while cruising. Guests can come together for certain meals or tours, but spend the rest of their time as they like. 

“Word of mouth is without a doubt the best advertising we have,” he said.

An added bonus is that “the connection with the sea is hard to explain to anyone who has never cruised,” Donald said, citing the magic of cruising slowly and quietly into a new port: “There is nothing like waking up to look out your window and see that the world has changed overnight.”

Holland America's Westerdam in Glacier Bay, Alaska // Photo by Holland America Line

He mentioned the thrill of sailing into such iconic ports as Barcelona, Spain, Istanbul, Turkey or Sydney, Australia, as well as other remote or ecologically special places best seen by ship, including South Pacific islands, the glaciers of Alaska, the ancient Greek isles or the Norwegian fjords.

“You become part of the experience…just an observer, [but] not just a tourist,” he explained, pointing to the authenticity that can be achieved by arriving via ship.

He told the audience he'd witnessed that first-hand while sailing on Fathom’s Adonia into the harbor of Havana, Cuba, past a 1600s-era fortress into what he described as a history time capsule from 1965.

“I never felt so comfortable…and seeing Cuba by ship is the best way to go, as we carry our infrastructure with us,” Donald said. “It takes the worry and hassle out of travel.”

Family Harbor Suite on Carnival Vista // Photo courtesy of Lynn & Cele Seldon

Another point Arnold wanted to get across? He said even the most loyal customers to a brand may benefit from a different type of cruise based on a different time of their life. For example, a couple who sails regularly on Seabourn Cruise Line in pampered luxury, might opt instead for a multi-generational family vacation on Carnival Cruise Line.

New Family Harbor accommodations on the Carnival Vista offer access to the exclusive Family Harbor Lounge, plus families with children can enjoy such amenities as a large waterpark, the industry's first Imax Theater at sea and SkyRide

In other words, guests sometimes move around in their cruise brand choice, simply because of life circumstances. “It’s important to get them on the right ship at the right time,” he emphasized.

He talked about Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 “remastering” – occurring now in a European dry dock -- and said QM2's transatlantic voyages offer a different choice for those clients wishing to arrive in Europe without jet lag or for those afraid to fly.

Donald said social impact cruising is a new trade opportunity, particularly when marketing to multi-generational families, community groups or church groups. These people cruise to make a difference in the lives of others and to give back.

Focusing on globalization, he cited China's more than one million outbound travelers and said that "just further increases demand” across the globe. "Working to grow demand and working to exceed customer expectations is what we are doing every day," Arnold concluded. "We believe this is the best way to ensure a great future for all of us.”

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