Like nearly every industry, COVID-19 sent cruise lines into uncharted waters. Here is how Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy, and CCO Chris Chiames, leveraged loyalty — and levity – to stay afloat.

Christine Duffy and Chris Chiames have a somewhat unique relationship with their stakeholders. As senior leaders at Carnival Cruise Lines, their employees and guests both feel a strong sense of loyalty and belonging associated with the brand. Unlike other modes of transit, part of the allure of cruise ships is that the journey is meant to be part of the fun, not a necessary means to an end.

When COVID-19 shut down the high seas, on March 14, 2020, both employers and cruisers held their breath for things to return to normal. As vaccines were being developed, and protocols were established, Carnival leaned into their stakeholder relationships to weather the uncertainty.

Christine and Chris sat down for a conversation at the 2022 Page Annual Conference in Chicago. Below are some of the key takeaways from their session.

Building Brand (and Fun) as a Communications Initiative


With so much at stake for guests to have a good time, “fun” can not just be a marketing directive for Carnival - it has to be fully imbued in its culture. Communications is the only function able to connect staff across the world.

On communicating in COVID-19, part 1


The start of COVID-19 was about urgent communication – with so many unknowns for guests and staff, the immediate directive was getting people back to their home ports safely. This issue became compounded by the fact that many countries were not accepting their own people back at the start of the pandemic.

On communicating in COVID-19, part 2


Following the initial urgency of the pandemic, there became a need to consistently keep staff updated, even more challenging when employees were furloughed across the world.. Establishing regular touchpoints with the entire staff also had the unexpected benefit of  the communication and re-establish a sense of normalcy.

On communicating in COVID-19, part 3


With this communication channel trusted by employees, Carnival was able to have difficult conversations. For example, once it became clear that there was no real timeline for a return to normalcy, Carnival communicated that fact transparently, even urging their furloughed staff to seek employment elsewhere if possible, while the pandemic continued to create uncertainty.

On communicating in COVID-19, part 4


Having a clear and consistent message was never more of a challenge than on New Year’s Eve, 2021. After having taken over Times Square in New York City to say they were back, urgent news bulletins were sending viewers mixed signals. 

On restarting the cruises


Staying true to their culture, Carnival even turned the process of restarting their fleet into a way for staff to espouse their brand values by creating their own on-deck picture or video to accompany the announcement. The passion and emotion for these announcements\ewhat of a competition between ships, for who could have the most compelling re-launch picture.

Since restart


Like many other industries, one of the toughest parts of resetting after the pandemic for Carnival has been staffing - especially considering the fact that cruise lines leverage international labor markets much more heavily than other industries.

Want to hear their full conversation? Check out the full session on the New CCO Podcast.