P&O Merger Battle Heats Up

July 2, 2002

It’s getting ugly: in the ongoing battle to win P&O Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp., suitors both, traded some barbs yesterday. The mini-battle erupted over Royal Caribbean’s step to implore travel agents to write to the Federal Trade Commission -- using specific, recommended language -- saying they oppose Carnival’s proposed marriage to P&O Princess. The FTC, of course, is the most important of the regulatory agencies in the nations impacted by either of these proposed deals because the American cruise market is the world’s largest and most significant.

Royal Caribbean’s travel agent outreach project -- the company hired a lobbying firm that sent a letter by fax to agents all over the country -- was an effort to show the FTC that Carnival’s proposed bid for P&O Princess, and its resulting dominance in the marketplace, would be a detriment to investors and consumers.

And in doing so it raised Carnival Corp.’s ire. The company fired back, issuing a letter that said, in part: “Royal Caribbean and its lobbyist are asking travel agents to write a letter saying among other things, that they are opposed to Carnival buying P&O Princess; that Carnival will have too much power over prices and their clients will have no other real choices, and that Carnival could lower or cut out commissions to travel agents altogether.” The letter was signed by all company heads -- from Carnival Corp.’s Micky Arison to Costa’s Pier Luigi Foschi to Holland America’s Kirk Lanterman.

The letter goes on to say, most emphatically, “[editor’s note: all-caps is used by Carnival for emphasis, not by Cruise Critic] ALL OF THESE ALLEGATIONS ARE SCARE TACTICS THAT ARE BLATANTLY UNTRUE.”

Which then put Royal Caribbean on the defensive. In response, that company then issued a statement defending its letter: “It is no secret that Royal Caribbean has been aggressively opposing Carnival's hostile takeover bid of P & O Princess. We have stated repeatedly that Carnival's takeover is harmful to consumers, travel agents and other suppliers. We are simply educating travel agents to the fact that a combined Carnival/P&O Princess would control 50 percent of the cruise market measured in U.S. passenger days.”

Bottom line? It’s the Federal Trade Commission’s call -- and seasoned regulatory officials are not likely to be swayed by such a skirmish. The FTC’s decision is anticipated for a late summer announcement.