Christine Duffy is the President of Carnival Cruise Line, part of the world’s largest leisure travel company, Carnival Corp. Carnival Cruise Line is a Great Place to Work™. It operates 24 ships, serving nearly six million guests annually. The company employs more than 40,000 people from 120 countries worldwide. Christine has been the President since 2015 and previously served as the CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), representing the $120 billion global cruise industry. She led Carnival to be the first major U.S. cruise line to resume guest operations after the COVID-19 pandemic. Carnival is rapidly expanding, acquiring five new ships through 2024. Since joining Carnival, Christine oversaw the introduction of six new ships, including the Carnival Celebration, which debuted in Nov. 2022 as part of Carnival’s 50th birthday celebration.
Christine Duffy was born and raised in Philadelphia, with her mother serving as a stay-at-home mom and seamstress while her father sold sewing machines and car tires. Despite their modest means, the family enjoyed traveling to Europe to visit cousins; recounting those days, she says, “From a young age, I was exposed to diverse cultures and experiences through my French mother and our frequent trips to visit family in France. This early exposure ignited a passion for travel and a fascination with people and their unique stories and perspectives.”
After graduating high school, Christine applied to become a Pan American World Airways flight attendant. Although she made it to the final interview, she was rejected because her height fell short of the 5-foot-4-inch minimum requirement. But she didn’t let that setback deter her from pursuing her dream of working in the travel industry. “I knew that I wanted to be a part of this exciting and dynamic field, and I wasn’t going to let one rejection stop me,” Christine says.
Christine Duffy’s passion for the travel industry started when she worked as a travel agent at McGettigan Travel. She worked her way up to become the company’s President over two decades. Even when Maritz Travel Co. acquired the company, she stayed on and was eventually named the CEO. “It’s a business that’s all about creating unforgettable experiences and bringing people together,” she says of the travel industry.
However, when she left Maritz to join CLIA, some may have thought it was a step back. Despite taking a significant pay cut and joining a non-profit, Christine never expected that her job at CLIA would eventually lead her to become a cruise executive.
However, one of her most significant challenges with a silver lining came in 2010 when then-President Obama commented that business leaders whose companies were in financial trouble shouldn’t be visiting Las Vegas. Despite the setback, Christine remained undeterred and defended the travel industry, recognizing the importance of face-to-face meetings and business travel. “I knew that the president’s comments could be damaging to our industry, so I felt compelled to speak up,” Christine says. “It was a reminder that we must advocate for our industry and the people who work in it.”
After coming into the spotlight after answering President Obama’s comments about business leaders not visiting Las Vegas in 2010, due to her zeal for the industry, she was offered the position of President and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, becoming the first-ever woman to serve as Carnival’s President. Just a year after taking the job, the industry was hit with the Costa Concordia disaster, followed by the Carnival Triumph incident. However, Christine saw the tragedies as an opportunity for the industry to unite and improve safety education for vacationers.
During her first year as an executive, she showed her commitment to being “where the action really is” by prioritizing visits to every ship in the fleet. As she rose to become President of Carnival Cruise Line, Christine oversaw the introduction of numerous new ships and successfully steered the company through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite her varied roles in the industry, Christine believes that her success can be attributed to her unwavering passion for travel. She says, “My fundamental principle is to find and pursue your passion. The one thing consistent for me is travel. Running a trade association was quite different from being a travel agent or running a big consumer company. But all of it ties back to my passion, travel.”
Navigating the pandemic was one of Christine’s toughest challenges as a leader. She explains, “As a leader, one of the toughest challenges in times of uncertainty is to resist the urge to make decisions before you have to. People look to us for guidance, but it’s important to have patience and the humility to admit that we don’t have all the answers yet.” She continued, “During the pandemic, information was constantly changing, and we had to wait for more data and validation before making important decisions. Leadership is not always about being the first to act, but about making informed decisions that benefit everyone in the long run.”
Looking to the future of the cruise industry, Christine sees a shift towards offering customized and tailored experiences for different demographics. “From tailored youth programming for different age groups to family-friendly facilities and accommodations like Family Harbor and Havana Cabanas aboard Carnival Vista, cruise lines will cater to the specific needs of their passengers. We will also see more flexible and varied dining choices to accommodate different dietary restrictions and preferences. Entertainment on board will continue to evolve, becoming more diversified and spectacular,” Christine says. “And as shore excursions become increasingly important to cruisers, we will see cruise lines offering unique and exciting experiences that were unavailable even just a few years ago.”
As a leader in the travel industry, Christine is also involved in various other organizations. She serves as chair of the U.S. Travel Association and represents all travel industry components. Recently, she was re-appointed to the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board by the Secretary of Commerce. In addition to these roles, she serves on the Board of Directors of Aimbridge Hospitality and Herschend Family Entertainment, which owns and operates theme parks like Dollywood and Silver Dollar City. Furthermore, Christine is a member of the Professional Advisory Board of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, of which Carnival is the official celebration partner.
In addition to her accomplishments in the travel industry, Christine is an advocate for women’s leadership and has founded the Women’s Leadership Initiative of Meeting Professionals International to address the limited number of women in executive and leadership roles in the travel industry. She is also a member of The Committee of 200, which is working towards advancing women’s leadership by bringing together the world’s most successful women’s business leaders.
To conclude, Christine draws inspiration from the words of ‘Darkest Hour’: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, and courage is getting up and taking the next step every day.’”This quote rings true because it reminds us that success is temporary and failure is not the end. Rather, it’s about having the courage to get up every day and figure out the next step, even in the face of setbacks.”