Booking trends for 2021 indicate long-term potential demand for cruising despite sailings having been cancelled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.
The glimmer of hope for the struggling sector came from Carnival Corporation despite reporting an average monthly cash burn of between $550 million and $770 million as dozens of ships remain idle, including some off the south coast of Britain.
The world’s largest cruise group has started a phased return to operations with Italian brand Costa and German line Aida.
Other brands and ships are expected to return to service “over time”.
The initial cruises will continue to operate with adjusted passenger capacity and enhanced health protocols developed with government and health authorities, and guidance from medical and scientific experts.
“Many of the company’s brands source the majority of their guests from the geographical region in which they operate. In the current environment, the company believes this will benefit it in resuming guest cruise operations,” the company said.
But in a business update on Thursday, the corporation said: “Currently, the company is unable to predict when the entire fleet will return to normal operations, and as a result, unable to provide an earnings forecast.
“The pause in guest operations continues to have a material negative impact on all aspects of the company’s business, including the company’s liquidity, financial position and results of operations.”
The company expects to report an unspecified loss for the financial year ending November 30 but has a total of $8.2 billion of cash and “cash equivalents”.
Bookings in the first half of 2021 reflect expectations of a phased resumption operations and anticipated itinerary changes.
However, cumulative advance bookings for the second half of 2021 capacity currently available for sale are at the “higher end” of the historical range.
“The company believes this demonstrates the long-term potential demand for cruising,” the parent of UK brands P&O Cruises and Cunard said.
Pricing on these bookings are lower by “mid-single digits” versus the second half of 2019, reflecting the effect of future cruise credits (FCCs) from previously cancelled cruises being applied.
The company continues to take bookings for both 2021 and 2022.
About 45% of passengers affected by schedule changes have received enhanced FCCs while 55% have requested refunds.
The total customer deposits balance at the end of August was $2.4 billion, the majority of which were FCCs, compared to $2.9 billion at May 31.
“The decline in customer deposits is consistent with previous expectations,” Carnival added.
More than half (60%) of bookings taken during the three weeks ended September 20 were new bookings as opposed to FCC re-bookings, despite minimal advertising or marketing.
Future capacity is expected to be “moderated” by the phased re-entry of ships, the removal of older capacity and delays in new ship deliveries.
The company has accelerated the trimming of capacity since the pause in operations with the disposal of 18 ships, ten of which have already left the fleet.
The 18 less efficient ships represent 12% of pre-pause capacity and only 3% of last year’s operating income.
The corporation expects to receive only two of the four ships originally due for delivery this year, including Enchanted Princess which was handed over last week.
The company expects only five of the nine ships originally set for delivery by the end of 2021 to be received by then.
Nine cruise ships and two smaller expedition vessels of the 13 originally scheduled for delivery before the end of the 2022 financial year are expected to be delivered by then.
“Based on the actions taken to date and the scheduled new-build deliveries through 2022, the company’s fleet will be more efficient with a roughly 13% larger average berth size per ship and an average age of 12 years in 2022 versus 13 years, in each case as compared to 2019,” Carnival said.
President and chief executive Arnold Donald said: “We have come full circle from initiating a suspension in the early days of the pandemic, to transitioning the fleet into a pause status, right-sizing our organisation and, now, embarking on the phased resumption of guest operations, underway in two of our world leading cruise brands, Costa in Italy and Aida in Germany.
“We have accelerated the sale of less efficient ships, enabling us to capitalise on pent up demand on reduced capacity and structurally lower our cost base, while retaining our most cash generating assets.
“We are taking aggressive actions managing the balance sheet and reducing capacity to position us to weather this disruption and also emerge a leaner, more efficient company, reinforcing our industry leading position.”
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