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For Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp, the tension in the U.S. and world today hits extremely close to home.
In his home community near Ferguson, Missouri, he worries that friction between the local police and his mentally-ill adopted son will one day lead to a regrettable incident, a result of profiling that many black Americans around the country have experienced at various times.
He also has two nephews who work as policemen, leading Donald to carefully consider the challenge of reconciling inappropriate police violence with the need for police officers to protect themselves and others in the U.S.
Empathy, he said, is vital to reaching a middle ground between groups that are divided.
Speaking at Skift Global Forum 2016 in Manhattan on Tuesday, Donald said the experience of sailing on the first U.S. cruise to Cuba is an example of the empathy that travel helps creates across cultures.
“Cubans were lined up on the banks as we pulled into port, hundreds and hundreds of Cubans just waiting to hug and kiss us when we got off,” said Donald of Carnival’s Fathom brand’s first sailing into Havana. “It was such an emotional thing, it brings us together. The essence of travel is that you discover how alike you are, no matter how different the place you go. In fact, you learn to celebrate the differences, instead of fearing or avoiding them.”
He said it was something of a moral imperative for the company to become the first U.S. cruise line to visit Cuba, an unmissable opportunity to connect Americans with Cubans.
Speaking about the industry at large, Donald also discussed the challenge of growing cruising when the industry’s total capacity represents just two percent of global hotel room capacity.
“The beautiful thing about a cruise is that we have guests from every generation and perspective,” said Donald. “The bottom line is that people are seeking their own personal travel experience. The real challenge for us to get each individual the travel experience they’re looking for. Even millennials are all not exactly the same.”
When asked about Carnival Corp.’s recent announcement of a joint venture to build ships in China to serve the nascent Chinese cruise market, Donald said that analysts were wrong in their assertion that the Chinese market is underperforming.
“It’s going to be the largest cruise market, like it’s going to be the world’s biggest market [for everything],” said Donald. “The practical reality is there’s only so many shipyards, it’s going to be a slow walk… it’s an embryonic market, analysts have overreacted saying there’s going to be all this capacity in ’20 or ’22 and if they pull out of China, it will saturate the [global] market.”