It has sure been quite the week for the cruise line industry. On Monday, Carnival (CCL) announced that Cuba has agreed to let the company begin cruises to the island country starting May 1, the first time in more than 50 years that an ocean liner from the U.S. has been allowed there. President Obama said two years ago that the U.S. would begin rebuilding diplomatic relations with Cuba, which collapsed during the Cold War. The U.S. embassy there reopened in 2015.
"There are a lot of reasons it's taking longer to get the approval, some of which are way beyond the cruise industry," said Royal Caribbean International president and COO Adam Goldstein. Chief among the reasons is getting Cuban officials to trust Americans after years of being kept at bay.
Goldstein said, "The consideration on how to engage with a U.S. economy that is trying to be more approachable and active with the Cuban economy presents the Cuban leadership with tremendous questions that they are trying to work through."
Even once Cuba opens up to the likes of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, investors shouldn't expect a meaningful lift to profits.
"There is literally not enough capacity in Cuba to host cruise ships to make a meaningful economic difference in the performance of the public cruise companies," said Goldstein, who pointed out that right now there is only one pier in Havana Harbor that could host cruise ships.
Goldstein's assessment of the Cuban market was echoed by Carnival. "We are very excited about Cuba -- it won't provide an immediate bottom-line benefit, but what it does is increase interest in taking a cruise and helps raise awareness," Carnival CEO Arnold Donald explained to TheStreet.
Donald added, "Over time, we will have other ships going to Cuba and more ports will open up, which will drive interest in cruising to the Caribbean -- we think it will be a major positive economic driver."
While the cruise companies are currently attempting to exploit a budding opportunity in Cuba, they being forced to navigate a more uncertain environment in Europe. Three explosions rocked the Belgian capital Tuesday morning, killing at least 31 people and wounding 270 more in apparent suicide bombings.
Based on the financial performance of consumer and travel companies in Europe after the attacks in Paris last November, the latest bombings and related security concerns probably will drive demand down again.
"We saw a relatively limited impact from the Paris attacks," said Goldstein, who remained optimistic that demand would bounce back even if the bombings change the vacation plans of those in the U.S. and Europe.
For the year, Royal Caribbean anticipates a low-single-digit decline in the yield for its European itineraries.