Carnival Earnings Call Insights: Leadership Split and Carnival Brand Recovery

Carnival Corporation (NYSE:CCL) recently reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Leadership Split

Felicia Hendrix – Barclays Capital: Micky, for you first congratulations on your Heat win and also on the next chapter of your life. I’m just wondering, as you transition to your Chairman-only role, are you immediately relinquishing all the day-to-day roles including those related to operation, ship building, just wondering how involved you are going to be? You are deliberate to say in your prepared remarks that you weren’t going anywhere, so I’m just wondering how you view your role going forward?

Micky Arison – Chairman and CEO: Well, primarily I view my role as doing whatever Arnold needs me to do. My basic philosophy has been with all our CEO’s that I’m there to help them to be successful, and anything that I can do to help Arnold become hugely successful and the Company hugely successful, I’m prepared to do. So, I obviously will continue to work on areas that I have extensive knowledge; in new buildings and other areas, but it’s really going to be a collaborative thing between me and Arnold to decide what are the best uses of my time. I’m going to looking to Arnold to run the day-to-day corporate operation and I may even take a couple golf lessons.

Felicia Hendrix – Barclays Capital: Arnold, congratulations to you as well and also since you aren’t new to the Company and now in the CEO role, what do you think are going to be your immediate agenda items?

Arnold W. Donald – Principal, AWDPLC LLC: Immediately – what T minus 8 days or 9 days whatever it is before I come in, but the immediate thing is to spend in-depth time with the leadership team. We have some tentative plans that the team, Micky, I and Howard together, and we’ll refine those through the conversations with rest of leadership team. But immediately we’ve to spend time with them, and then ultimately, of course, to contribute to a very strong team that’s already proven in the industry as built the world’s largest leisure travel business and has continued to operate successfully and to join that team and help drive over time the return on invested capital and additional customer satisfaction…

Felicia Hendrix – Barclays Capital: Howard, have I burnt through my questions or can I ask one more?

Howard S. Frank – Vice Chairman and COO: You can have because you’re so nice, we’d like to have one more question.

Felicia Hendrix – Barclays Capital: Thank you. And Howard, this one is for you. On the Carnival brand, you gave us some great color as usual; I appreciate that. But just wondering, what areas do you think you have the most work to do? Is it with the travel agents, is it with the consumers, is it both, and just wondering if you could walk us through some specific examples of efforts you’ve been making there and maybe highlight some of the near-term wins that you may have had, if any?

Howard S. Frank – Vice Chairman and COO: I think the Carnival team; the marketing team and the sales team have been increasing their engagement with the travel agent community, and that will continue. There are more things to roll out. I think the reintroduction of the Triumph was sort of the tipping point, I think, for beginning that process, and they’re very encouraged by the early responses they’ve been getting. And we’ve been seeing it actually in the booking pattern itself; the successful reintroduction of the ship in Galveston was a very positive event for the Company. We’ve also put out a lot of communications on all the investments we’ve been making with the ships to get people to rebuild trust in the brand, and especially that’s important with the consumer and the first-time cruiser. That’s going to take – and that’s going to go on for quite some time. So, the multitude of efforts being made by Gerry and his team to move this forward and you’ll see a lot more unfold I think over the next six months.

Micky Arison – Chairman and CEO: If I can just add that, when you’re carrying 4.5 million passengers, most of it coming from the United States and meaning that upwards of one in three passengers that go on a cruise in the United States, go on a Carnival Cruise and 99% of them are coming back happy and telling their friends and getting on Facebook and Twitter and telling people what a great time they’ve had. That is powerful. 90,000 folks, every single week coming off those ships in the U.S. and talking about the great experience and then right now, the great value they’ve got as well. So, I think that will help accelerate the comeback of the brand.

Carnival Brand Recovery

Greg Badishkanian – Citigroup: My questions are first, just in terms of your two to three year estimate for recovery of the Carnival brand, what assumptions are behind that of the people that you spoke with? I don’t think there’s any past industry events, but do you look outside the industry for example or what helped you determine that?

Howard S. Frank – Vice Chairman and COO: Yeah, our consultants are basically using an analogy of non-industry events and we’re tracking the same way – in terms of consumer perception, we’re tracking the same way, which was a significant fall off in brand perception and a gradual recovery until it is three years out. So, their view is that that while we’re a very different industry, it’s likely that we will follow the same pattern and that (also cost) assumes that we get it right, and we get the marketing out there right and we get our media communications out there properly and we continue to stay in touch with our consumers and our travel agents. So their feeling is that we should track it – and by the way, I would say up until this point it has tracked. In some cases a little bit better than one of the issues – one of the companies that had a miss up. So I think we’re doing okay. It’s not an exact science, it’s just their best guess is that how long will it take for us to get the brand back to where it was.

Micky Arison – Chairman and CEO: Again, that is coming from gone through similar types of situation. But I do think the strength of the brand, the amount of market share it has in the United States and the amount of people coming back will accelerate that. And I do want to remind everybody the incident we’re talking had no causalities, no injuries, it had some – obviously, some disappointment in some passenger comfort issues, but safety was never an issue. And I think it’s important for people to understand that. And a lot of the examples that our consultants give us do have significant casualty issues associated with the brand damage. So I’m very hopeful that the recovery could be much faster than the consultants are leading us to believe…

Greg Badishkanian – Citigroup: Howard, just with respect to the recovery you mentioned over the last six weeks, I know you speak a little bit faster some times and I can’t follow. So, when you were talking about the last – what other color did you give around that? Are bookings flat year-over-year at this point and when, if not, when would you expect those to be for the Carnival brand?

Howard S. Frank – Vice Chairman and COO: Well, based on the very recent couple of weeks, bookings have been up nicely for the Carnival brand. That’s most recent; and that’s since the reintroduction of the Carnival Triumph. Bookings have been positive across the brand. For the Triumph and the Magic, the two ships that are in Galveston, the bookings have been substantially higher year-over-year. So that’s kind of giving us the feeling that – and by the way, it is the beginning. So I don’t want to set up expectations to you that we can’t achieve. But certainly we’re very encouraged by what we see.

Micky Arison – Chairman and CEO: I also should mention that the reset of the Carnival Sunshine, all the Fun Ship 2.0 additions have been incorporated into the Carnival Sunshine. Some were added to the Triumph, a few were added to the Triumph but all of them were put into the Carnival Sunshine. The response from the guests of all these various new features have been just absolutely fantastic. So I think Gerry and his team as far as upgrading the product and making Fun Ship 2.0 a really viable addition to the Carnival brand, particularly on Carnival Sunshine has been hugely successful.

A Closer Look: Carnival Corporation Earnings Cheat Sheet>>