Carnival is building on past momentum

A year on from joining Carnival Cruise Line, president Christine Duffy shares her thoughts and vision with Susan Parker

Carnival is building on past momentum
Part of the outdoor entertainment area on Carnival Vista
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

We are in a great position as we start 2016. We are building on the great momentum that we had in 2015,” says Christine Duffy. On arrival at the brand, she says, her plans were: “First do no harm. Carnival Cruise Line is the most iconic brand in the industry. More people sail with us than any other brand. For me, step one was to build on the work the team has done since 2013 to recover from Carnival Triumph.”

Referring to the aftermath of the incident that saw passengers and crew stranded on Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico for several days in February of that year, she says: “A significant amount of investment has gone into ensuring that our ships operate safely and securely. Following Triumph, like every company you look for what lessons can be learned, and the team has worked very diligently to implement all the improvements that have been discussed and we have gone beyond that in thinking about safe return to port, new environmental enhancements, etc.”

At the other end of the spectrum was the need to re-establish the brand’s reputation, a process which had already made good headway prior to Duffy’s arrival. She says: “I have worked a lot of time externally, particularly with travel trade and partners.” She has also visited almost all 24 ships as she said she would in the first year. “It is a big commitment and a great opportunity for me to get to know them and them to know me, my vision and style and what I think is an incredibly exciting future for Carnival.”

Many leadership changes have been made under her watch. It’s all about “different leaders for different times”, she says. One such appointment is head of human resources. “We have brought shipboard and shoreside [employees] together under one leader reporting directly to me, whereas before, the report was to the chief financial officer.

“To me one of the areas of opportunity is to build shipboard team and shoreside management. We have 36,000 employees. I think the more we can all be aligned around a single purpose, mission and values, the better equipped the crew onboard will be to deliver the right experience to our guests. Everyone is working to engage and empower those on the front line.” That front line is both onboard and onshore, wherever employees engage with potential and existing passengers.

Her role is more about evolution than revolution: “In order to grow, we have to change; we have to evolve. It is about continuous improvement. We are looking at the organisation and structure functionality. We are looking across functions and how we operate on a daily basis through the lens of customers and also the front-line people.” The aim is “to do things faster, better, leveraging technology, areas of efficiency to invest back into the product” while still having to deliver to the shareholders – which the brand did in 2015.

The arrival of Carnival Vista in the fleet this spring is causing some excitement, it being the first newbuilding to be delivered to the brand since Carnival Breeze in 2012. A sister ship comes into service in 2018. Designed to appeal to adults and children alike, Carnival Vista will host some new venues, such as SkyRider and IMAX, as well as building on those that have been successful before.

China these days is a major focus for many of the lines, including Carnival. The plan is to take Carnival Miracle east in 2017 and Carnival Splendor a year later. Duffy says the brand is fortunate in being able to “benefit from learnings from the sister brands” (Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises) and the existing infrastructure.

Given the size of the market, the propensity of the Chinese to travel – 100 million travelled abroad in 2015 – and the growing middle class, she says this could be “the largest market in the world for cruising”. She pointed out that a million Chinese took a cruise last year. Meetings with the China trade have been encouraging: “It is pretty compelling for us.”

Carnival Cruise Line is very different from sister Carnival Corporation brands and others outside the group and she believes this will be beneficial. “The fact that we are such an American brand: we will lean on that and the way we enter the market.” Appropriate product changes will be made on the ship, from food through to entertainment. “At the end of the day Carnival Cruise Line represents fun for all and all for fun. Come as you are. We think this will really resonate in the Chinese market.”

Another compelling reason is that “yields in the Chinese market have been very attractive” which “is why China is very attractive for all of us.”

Duffy is keen to point out the importance of getting the product right and why she has a separate team working on China under Terry Thornton, dedicated to doing just that. “Since we are very good in North America, we are not moving because we have to but because we want to so when we arrive we want a ship that will resonate in China.”

Carnival has traditionally been a cruise line that sailed close to home with limited itineraries in Europe but this year it returns with Carnival Vista. “People are excited that we are in Europe. There is some pent-up demand as we have not been there since Carnival Breeze in 2013.”

Australia is one region that has really taken off. “We are in Australia for one and a half years. You build up the brand over time,” she says. Another much discussed destination is Cuba. “Like the rest of the industry we are waiting to see if the Government gives approvals. If Cuba opens up it will be a destination that our passengers will be very excited about. A lot of people will want to go quickly because over time there will be development there and it will be changed.”

Looking towards the future, Duffy mentions the line’s roots and where the majority of its business lies. “We are not in any way leaving our core market, which is North America. To me Carnival Cruise Line is America’s cruise line. We are leaning into the part of the vision that Ted Arison had for this brand and that is that everyone deserves a great vacation. I think this idea that everyone is welcome, that you can go as you are, that it is about fun and relaxation, participatory fun, I think this really resonates in today’s culture.”

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
Monday, May 2, 2016