Christine Duffy: President steers Carnival Cruise Line to a Miami reopening
To say 2020 was a tough year for the cruise industry would be an understatement. For well over a year, the industry has been at a standstill as cruise lines had to navigate metaphorical troubled waters because they couldn’t actually set sail due to pandemic restrictions.
As the largest leisure cruise company in the world, Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line has felt much of the pandemic’s effects. Fortunately, Carnival has at its helm Christine Duffy, whose decades of experience as a leader in the travel and cruise industries informed how the company set course for a return to sea.
“As challenging and terrible as this pandemic’s been not just for our company but for the whole travel and hospitality segment and beyond, the resiliency, commitment and dedication of our people has made me so proud and grateful,” she said. “We’ve never been through anything like this.”
That said, Ms. Duffy is hardly a stranger to crisis management. Several times throughout her career, she’s had to draw on her deep knowledge of the industry and related business sectors.
She began her career as a travel agent in Philadelphia, where she worked her way up over 20 years to become the company’s president.
After selling the business, she worked for a larger company in St. Louis that corporate meeting and event management company Maritz Travel Co. later acquired. Maritz then made her its president and CEO, and she led it through crises in the industry stemming from 9/11 and the 2008 recession.
In 2011, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) recruited her to be its leader. Four years later, Carnival Corp. asked her to become Carnival Cruise Line’s first woman president.
Prior to the pandemic, Carnival Cruise Line hosted some 6 million guests yearly aboard its fleet, now 24 vessels strong. That includes the XL-class Mardi Gras, the company’s newest ship, which runs on liquefied natural gas.
While the company strategy for restarting includes gradually reintroducing its ships into serve and sailing at roughly 70% capacities – a self-imposed restriction – the enthusiasm and pent-up demand among sea travelers, she said, suggest Carnival’s greatest days are still on the horizon.
“The silver lining for us throughout this pandemic has been the loyalty and support of our guests and travel agent partners, and our bookings for 2022 are ahead of where we were in 2019 at this point in time,” she said. “We had 1,500 Carnival fans travel to Port Canaveral in the middle of the night to be there when Mardi Gras arrived at 6 a.m. That, and wanting to get our crew members back to work, has kept us going.”
Ms. Duffy spoke by phone with Miami Today reporter Jesse Scheckner.
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