There’s a shipload of optimism for future cruising at Norwegian Cruise Line. That was the key take-away from a media event last week, hosted by the cruise line’s Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific.
With the backdrop of a stagnant and ship-less Overseas Passenger Terminal at Sydney’s Circular Quay, Angell enthused about booking volumes for domestic and international cruises.
Despite an ongoing cruise freeze, passengers continue booking in decent numbers, primarily for the back-half of 2021, throughout 2022 and now into early 2023.
Angell says one characteristic that is certain is that the pandemic has created a far larger booking window.
“It’s been an incredibly interesting year,” Angell remarked during his presentation at Aria restaurant.
“We are feeling extremely optimistic about 2021. We’re feeling optimistic for a number of reasons. We’re feeling optimistic because Australia and New Zealand and many of our major markets in Asia are in as good a position as you could hope to be, given the pandemic environment.”
“We’re optimistic that we’re 12 months away from welcoming a new ship to this region for us, Norwegian Spirit.
“We’re optimistic because we’re hearing from our guests that they’re ready to cruise again, and we’re seeing from the bookings that they are making that they are ready to cruise again.”
“2021 is going to be a phenomenal year for sure,” he said.
TV campaign aspires to drive business to advisors
A new NCL ‘Break Free’ TV campaign (accompanied by the Queen anthem of the same name) rolled out earlier this month in key global markets, including Australia and New Zealand.
That advertising blitz aspired to encourage travellers to “throw off the shackles of 2020” and motivate consumers to “think about their next holiday and to plan to book,” Angell explained.
(The Australian version of the TVC has now been taken off YouTube, but the US version is below and has accumulated nearly 15,000 views.)
Angell commented that the TVC was squarely aimed at driving business back to travel agency partners.
“I really think it hits the sentiment perfectly. Certainly for this part of the world, where we feel that we’re through the worst of the pandemic.
“Where we feel that we’ve been restrained for a large number of months (most of this year), and we’re excited to get out and explore the world again.
“We’re ready to break free,” NCL’s regional cruise boss said.
Booking curb stretching
Despite the long-running turmoil of 2020 on the cruise industry, in which the first-half was a “write-off”, Angell believes 2020 “hasn’t been a bad year on many fronts.
“We’ve seen bookings rise steadily and consistently since the middle of the year… and we got surprised.”
He said since then, NCL achieved a peak in bookings in late November/early December, however the volume was still down by about 45 per cent on the same time last year.
Angell said there have been days when bookings were well above the same time last year, saying it “just shows that demand for cruise is still strong.
“A lot of those bookings were further out. Guests were telling us that they were excited about booking late-2021 sailings and 2022 sailings, and more recently with the launch of our 2023 Northern Hemisphere summer itineraries.
“We are in this really interesting space where what was already a very long booking curb is stretching out further, and we’re also optimistic that when there is more surety around our return to sailing there will be a shorter [window] boost come in as well.”
Angell said he expects 2023 sailings will continue to “take off”, particularly at the start of a new calendar year.
“Obviously a lot for Australia and a lot for New Zealand depends on our borders being open and when that happens, but in general, as long as guests are booking 2022 and 2023, we are happy.”
12 months until Norwegian Spirit arrives Down Under
Last week’s event also coincides with the 12-month countdown until the arrival of new metal to Australian shores: the recently modernised Norwegian Spirit.
A smaller capacity than NCL’s perennial deployment in local waters, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Spirit will fill a niche other cruise line’s have failed to hone in on, according to Angell.
Norwegian Spirit accommodates up to 2,018 passengers, whereas Norwegian Jewel has a capacity of 2,376. Though five years older than Jewel, Spirit recently underwent a near US$150 million bow-to-stern overhaul.
The vessel doesn’t, however, offer NCL’s luxury product, The Haven.
“[Spirit] is the only ship in our fleet that we are calling ‘adult-centric’, because she is built with an adult cruiser in mind,” he explained.
Angell says Norwegian Spirit‘s smaller size and facilities – 10 bars and lounges, 14 dining options, upgraded and doubled-in-size Mandara Spa, revamped fitness centre and adults-only Spice H20 retreat – along with the high quality of the product, “really starts to create a niche in the market”.
“We are not going up against Royal Caribbean in the family market, we’re not Carnival or P&O. We really believe that there’s a niche that this ship fills in this market that no one has done sooner than us.”
Norwegian Spirit will sail from Sydney and Auckland between December 2021 and March 2022, operating 10- and 12-day immersive itineraries across the Tasman.