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Cruise boss: Don’t expect big discounts

(4:54 pm EST) — Waiting for fares to come down before you book a cruise for the coming year? You could be waiting a long time, says the head of the world’s largest cruise company.

Carnival Corp. chairman and CEO Micky Arison tells USA TODAY that consumers expecting unusual deals in the wake of the Costa Concordia accident may be in for a surprise.

“There’s some misconception based on events that something drastic (is) coming,” Arison says. But consumers who hold out for better deals “could be disappointed.”

As part of an announcement today on first quarter earnings, Carnival Corp. revealed that the Costa Concordia accident continues to have a widespread impact on bookings at its brands, which include Costa as well as Carnival, Princess, Holland America and Cunard.

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The company says fleetwide bookings at brands other than Costa have shown improving trends in recent weeks but in percentage terms are still running “high single digits” behind a year ago at slightly lower prices. Booking volumes for Costa in recent weeks have been down much more sharply.

Still, bookings before the Costa Concordia accident had been coming in at a very strong pace, and even with the decline in bookings in the accident’s aftermath, Arison notes the company’s cumulative advance bookings for the remainder of the year, excluding Costa, only are three percentage points behind the level of this time last year.

Given such a position, the company’s brands don’t need to discount more than they already have, Arison suggests.

“There are deals out there,” Arison says. “The values are there now. (Consumers shouldn’t) stay on the fence and wait for something that may not happen.”

Arison also reiterates that the company’s ships are safe and that the Costa Concordia accident was an extremely unusual occurrence. Safety is a top priority at the company and in the cruise industry, he says.

“Overall, the safety record (of the cruise industry) is excellent, and I think most people, despite events, understand that,” Arison says. Indeed, he notes, the company’s surveys show the biggest thing holding people back from booking right now is not a concern about safety but an expectation that prices will go lower.

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