• Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO told analysts on Thursday that for the industry, “2020 is a wasted year,” with no revenue for this quarter. 
  • Even when customers can come back, the CEO said it would take about eight months to be fully operational.
  • By his rough timeline, cruise companies can start “rebuilding in earnest” in 2022, and it could take until 2024 to get back to normal.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The cruise industry came to a standstill as the pandemic forced companies to shut down operations. Now Wall Street is eager to understand when ships will start sailing and earnings could start ticking back up — but executives say any forecasts are rough at best.

On Norwegian Cruise Line’s Thursday earnings call, CEO Frank Del Rio told analysts that no matter when his company’s 28 ships could start sailing again, getting back to normal bookings would take about eight additional months.

 “2020 is a wasted year. At minimum, the industry is going to go an entire Q2 without a penny of revenue. It’s impossible to overcome,” he said, per a transcript from Sentieo.

Despite the pandemic, customers are still booking cruises, and “the vast majority is good old cash bookings,” Del Rio said. Just over half of Norwegian’s cruise customers opted for credit instead of a cash refund, which is in-line with what other companies have reported. Norwegian’s stock jumped about 10% after the call, reflecting investor confidence in the company’s rebound.

Publicly traded cruise companies have withdrawn guidance about their businesses for the year in the face of unprecedented uncertainty and global operations halted for the first time. Last month, Carnival Corp. told shareholders it would lose money this year, but it had no idea how much. They’ve also secured billions in debt and equity financing to shore up their books as their ships sit emptied of passengers for months.

Read more: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian are in ‘a world of hurt’ right now, but the pain won’t last. Analysts reveal when demand could come back and which companies could come out on top.

Norwegian’s CEO laid out a six-month plan that includes bringing back about five ships per month — but he said certain itineraries’ availability may affect individual ships.

Del Rio said next year could be a transition period as the company works back to full operations and pricing. Then 2022 becomes a year for “rebuilding in earnest,” with business back to normal in late 2022, 2023, or even — “if you’re really pessimistic” — as late as 2024.

“The things we normally talk about are out the door,” the CEO said. “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 EBITDA.”

Del Rio said he was focused on short-term cash flows as the company ramps up again. After operations resume, he said he would look at EBITDA and revenue in six to eight months.

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