Christine Duffy, Carnival Cruise Line

Six executives from six sectors of the travel industry  hotel, cruise, aviation, tours, retail and destination marketing  are making assumptions about the year ahead as they plan for 2017. The interviews were conducted by Travel Weekly editor in chief and senior vice president Arnie Weissmann. 

Christine Duffy

President, Carnival Cruise Line

The U.S. economy has been pretty steady in terms of expansion, and in 2016 I think consumer spending has followed along the growth of the economy, at just under 4%. Projections right now are that we'll see that continue in 2017.

I think the biggest wild card is with our new president-elect, Trump, what kind of policy changes may occur that could accelerate some of that growth.

U.S. Travel is forecasting growth for travel that mirrors the broader economy, and as we continue to hear that people are valuing experiences over other kinds of purchases, that bodes well for travel.

The overall climate is certainly optimistic, that what we've seen in 2016 will continue in 2017, particularly for a brand such as Carnival, which is very much focused on North America. You've heard me talk a lot about Carnival being America's cruise line, partly because we have 14 U.S. homeports, which allows us to provide a level of convenience and value to people who are cruising with us in the U.S. But it also speaks to what our brand represents when we are in other markets such as Australia, where we very much lean in to our American brand features and attributes.

2016 has been very strong. Our yields are up, and we have less inventory remaining for sale going into 2017 as compared to a year ago.

Even though we launched the Vista in May and it spent most of the season in the Med, it's just really arrived to its homeport in Miami over Thanksgiving weekend. So we're really looking forward to introducing the Vista, which we think is the next generation for Carnival Cruise Line in terms of ship design and innovation. Many of the features on that ship are quite unique and resonate with our guests, and it is a really big development and focus for us and travel agents in 2017 in the U.S. market.

As in 2016, we're going to have eight drydocks in 2017. That's significant as we roll out Fun Ship 2.0 features across our entire fleet, a process that will finish by 2019. So it's not just about the new ships, but also about the investment that we're making across the fleet with features that we know resonate well with the guests. We're even including the Carnival Breeze, which is our newest ship prior to the Vista, to get a Pig & Anchor, our new Guy Fieri barbecue joint, and the Alchemy Bar. And we're introducing Guy's Burgers and the Blue Iguana to our Fantasy Class ships. Putting these new features into some of the older ships in the fleet can also bring people into markets where we're operating shorter cruises.

We've recently brought the Fantasy to Mobile, Ala. We've had a lot of support from the city of Mobile. They have a new maritime museum near the port  it's a really cool museum  great restaurants, too, and it's a great music city. We're excited about our Carnival Live lineup for 2017. That program has been very, very successful. Travel agents have told me that it enables them to book some people who might otherwise be on the fence about whether they think cruising is for them. A lot of these cruise rookies begin to think about seeing Carrie Underwood or Tim McGraw or Jay Leno or Little Big Town, being part of a live concert where there are only 1,500 people in the audience. That's a compelling value proposition and often a tipping point in the discussion with prospective cruisers.

We'll be doing more and more of our Carnival Journeys in 2017, which are longer cruise itineraries, such as a 14-day Alaska cruise from Long Beach, Calif., and 10- to 14-day Panama Canal cruises with departures from Baltimore, Tampa and Galveston, Texas. We also announced recently that we're expanding our Long Beach cruise terminal, and so that's going to increase [square footage] by over 150%, so we will be able to debark and embark guests in the terminal at the same time, and we're preparing to bring larger ships into Long Beach.

And I would say the other thing is we're very cautiously optimistic that we'll get the final approval we need for our Grand Bahama private destination for Carnival, and we'll have the opportunity to really develop that as the next generation of port experience.

Looking further ahead, we'll be getting an additional Vista-class ship in both 2018 and 2019, and we'll be sending the Splendor to P&O Australia [in 2019].

Regarding external events that might impact the cruise industry, I think we've become pretty resilient in terms of how we manage through those things. We see people make decisions about where they take their ships based on some geopolitical factors, but I also think that American travelers have become much more resilient and understand that these issues can happen anywhere at any time, and we don't have complete control over any of it.

I think that represents a shift in the American mindset. Some things will likely happen; we can't predict what, but we can work to ensure that our brand and our corporation are prepared with information to be responsive and keep our guests and crew as safe and secure as possible.

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