There was no chance any cruise line's first quarter was going to be palatable. Norwegian Cruise Line's position gives an idea of how long the industry might take to recover.
The pandemic is prompting chief executives across the globe to ponder all kinds of hypotheticals about the future performance of their businesses. Here’s one laid out by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio on Thursday: 18 months without any revenue.
Del Rio offered that worst case scenario during his company’s first quarter earnings call, giving insight into the extent of the damage the two-month global pause in cruising has had on the industry.
Total revenue fell 11 percent to $1.25 billion in the first quarter, which ended on Mar. 31, roughly two weeks after cruising was halted. The cruise line posted a net loss of $1.88 billion — due to a combination of factors including cancelled voyages, fuel loss, and a $1.6 billion non-cash impairment — which translates to a loss of $8.80 per share. In the same quarter last year, the company saw a profit of $118.2 million, or $0.54 per share.
Since the company’s last earnings call, Del Rio said, “we have laid up our entire fleet, repatriated over half of our 28,000 crew members, significantly pared back operating and capital expenditures, improved our debt maturity profile and successfully completed a historic simultaneously executed quad tranche capital raise of $2.4 billion. These actions will enable us to weather the unlikely scenario of over 18 months in a zero revenue environment and still have enough liquidity to relaunch operations when conditions allow.”
The company did not provide second quarter or full year guidance, due to the unprecedented amount of uncertainty about when they will be able to sail again, what demand might look like, and what protocols they may have to put into place to meet health and safety protocols. The Centers for Disease Control’s current no sail order is set to expire in late July, though it’s possible it might be extended again.
On a possible timeline for resuming operations and returning to profitability, Del Rio did not mince words. “2020 is a wasted year. At a minimum, the industry is going to go the entire Q2 without a penny of revenue, impossible to overcome.”
Del Rio posited that a possible return to service might happen in stages, with a handful of the company’s 28 vessels coming online over a period of five to six months, before the full fleet resumes sometime in 2021. Marketing operations would, at some point, ramp up alongside that.
“The things we normally talk about are out the door,” Del Rio went on. “We’re talking about just — it’s almost like relaunching a company from scratch when you have the entire fleet shut down, and you don’t know when you’re going to be able to start again because it’s not up to you. It’s up to public health officials and governments around the world. It’s very difficult to predict with certainty revenue and (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) EBITDA.”
A prominent topic on the call was what protocols will be put into place to make sure cruising is safe and consumers are confident to book a cruise when they can. Del Rio said the cruise line was consulting with experts and working on introducing a series of protocols that will help convince the CDC it would be appropriate to lift its no sail order. Once it has that, the cruise line will begin communicating those actions to the cruising public. However, he said the process will take time.
“This is not an exercise of optics. This is not an exercise of, let’s get away with the minimum required,” Del Rio said. “I want to do everything humanly possible within the bounds of what technology offers us today to be able to look my own family in the eye and say, ‘You are safe to go onboard our cruise ship.’ And until we do that, respective of what the CDC or anybody else might say, we’re not going to operate.”
The company is still accepting bookings for 2020, 2021, and 2022, but said it is accepting less bookings than this time last year. It said that slightly more than half of the guests who had their voyages cancelled have requested refunds, rather than the other option of a 125 percent cruise credit that can be used through 2022.
“I recognize that this is going to be a recovery effort that’s going to take multiple quarters, perhaps multiple years to get back to good old days of 2019,” Del Rio said.
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Photo credit: Norwegian Bliss Ketchikan, Alaska 2018 Norwegian Cruise Line