The main thrust of the conversation keeps coming back to one thing: Europe. No, it’s not that, but rather the news that Norwegian Cruise Line will introduce a sixth ship, the Norwegian Pearl, to the region in 2019.
The move, which is part of a number of improvements to NCL’s 2019 and 2020 itineraries, demonstrates a commitment to a region that is witnessing impressive growth, powered by passenger demand, as Nick Wilkinson, NCL’s managing director and vice president UK, Ireland & MEA, tells Cruise Trade News.
Why have you announced these improvements to the 2019/20 itineraries?
We are constantly looking to see where the opportunities are, listening carefully to our travel partners and consumers.
For me, this is about our commitment to Europe, where the demand is so strong. This give us the ability to bring a sixth ship [to the region].
This be will our largest deployment ever in Europe. The itineraries complement our existing ones, and we’re opening a new homeport in Amsterdam. We’ve got some great departures going into the Baltic, and the fjords, and then south for Rome, Venice and Barcelona.
I’ve been at Norwegian for over 16 years and if you’d told me when I started that we’d have six ships in Europe, I would’ve said ‘you’re dreaming’.
To me this really demonstrates the partnerships we have with our travel partners and the loyalty of our customers. There’s some great itineraries there, opening up new ports of call in places like Lithuania and Poland.
Why are we seeing this growth in Europe?
There’s a combination of reasons. In April 2017, we undertook a major change and introduced premium all-inclusive. That broke down the barriers between the land guests and cruise.
That has since opened our distribution to new lines. It’s all about listening to our travel partners.
If you think about travel agents, they can be selling up to 500 different products. They know with NCL that every time they make a booking with us, it’s always premium all-inclusive.
That confidence and simplicity is driving the increase in demand.
How will this growth evolve?
If you look at the global market place, we have a very robust environment, demonstrated by the pace of sales on our new ship, the Bliss, which was sold well in advance, before she came into service this year.
The great thing about having our size of fleet is that it allows us to be nimble and move to where the opportunities are.
The Norwegian Joy is also joining sister ship Bliss in Alaska in 2019. What’s the reasoning behind this?
Again, it goes back to the Bliss, which homeports out of Seattle during the summer months.
We continue to see huge demand for 2019, so moving the Joy into that market allows us to increase our capacity to satisfy that demand. Again I go back to nimbleness – allowing us to migrate our ships to overperforming areas around the world.
You also have some developments for Asia and Australia. Can you tell us more about that?
For me, that’s the second part of this story. For Q4 in 2019/2020, we’ll have Norwegian Jewel home porting from Sydney, but new for 2019/2020 will be the second ship, Jade, joining the Jewel, which will home port in Hong Kong and Singapore.
This is big news for UK and European customers, as that is a massive growth area. Something that also appeals is the duration of the trips – there’s 9,10,11,14 night itineraries, and they resonate with the UK customer.
I think because UK clients like the longer duration. Personally, I feel that if you are flying all the way to Hong Kong, for example, you want to see as much as possible.
So, 9-11 nights works well, seeing so many destinations, maybe Vietnam, across to Cambodia and onto Malaysia, or China.
You’re bringing in the fifth and sixth Leonardo class ships – how will they change NCL and what it offers?
The Leonardo class ships are exciting. They are, if you like, a halfway between our Jewel class ships, of 2,300 passengers, and our Breakaway Bliss-style ships, which are 4,300 capacity.
So, the Leonardo class is all about listening to the customer who wants that little bit more intimacy, but the size of ship that can offer incredible ports.
As we bring in more and more ships, it gives us the opportunity to do stuff like six ships in Europe.
It’s all about choice…
Absolutely. For example, if you look at the itineraries of the Norwegian Pearl, she is a Jewel class ship, so it’s a great size and can open up some great ports to explore.
I feel we have two types of ship – the epic Breakaway class, which are resorts in their own right, and then the Jewel class, which are destination-led ships.
How important are travel agents and partners to NCL?
They act as our ambassadors and they make the difference in the market place. We operate under a programme called Partners First, in which we guarantee that at no point do we undermine our travel partners.
We make a commitment to them that we will support them, as we want them to be our ambassadors.
The one that impresses me the most is our Cruise Next programme. This is onboard our ships, giving the passengers the chance to look at a future cruise. They buy a Cruise Next voucher, of $250, and they automatically get $100 onboard credit for buying the voucher. Then, they take the voucher back to their travel agent as their deposit for their future cruise.
Will the ways you communicate with travel partners change in the future?
I have the pleasure of looking after an array of countries, including the Gulf states and Israel, and the biggest communication tool in that area now is WhatsApp.
You can see this changing in so many markets. People are advertising on WhatsApp, direct to the consumer – it’s fascinating.
That’s come about in the last six months. If you had of asked me 12 months ago if that was going to be the case, I would have said ‘no chance’.
The world is changing in terms of how we communicate. But, communication is key, so we have to make sure we get it right and give our travel partners the tool and information to ensure they can be our ambassadors.