In a strategic move to enlarge its sourcing, Norwegian Cruise Line is looking to a stronger West Coast presence and also its American-flagged intra-island Hawaii product to help build bookings. It’s also looking to agents to help solidify its place in those markets.
For 2019, West Coast capacity grows by nearly 20 percent, Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales, Norwegian Cruise Line, told 1,000 attendees attending “Inspire,” the annual conference for CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. agents on Norwegian Bliss this week.
“That’s great news for all of you,” she emphasized in her address, noting that some in the audience hailed from the West Coast. She said nearly all the major cruise lines are adding capacity in Alaska moving forward, thus creating a shoulder cruise season for the West Coast. So, the region should thrive in 2019 and moving forward.
Norwegian Bliss just completed a highly successful Alaska season, which was “beyond our expectations,” Olivere said, adding that it is reaping both high demand and high per diem rates. She also said the new ship has created “a huge elevation in our brand awareness.”
Currently, it operates California and Mexican Riviera sailings, and then will transit the Panama Canal and settle into a winter season of Caribbean sailings from Miami. Next year it will be back in Alaska.
Moving Norwegian Joy
Norwegian recently announced it would move Norwegian Joy, launched just over a year ago and built specifically for China sourcing, to the Alaska and West Coast as well. The ship will receive a $40 million revitalization to Americanize the product.
The line will add in the brand’s popular specialty restaurants and reduce the size of the casino before it joins Norwegian Bliss sailing Alaska itineraries from Seattle, starting in May 2019. Norwegian Joy will be sail on Saturdays, Norwegian Bliss on Sundays.
“Norwegian Joy is really a West Coast ship,” noted Olivere. “It will be doing Alaska, the Mexican Riviera and the Panama Canal."
She provided a helpful explanation to agents about similarities and differences in the ships. Many popular experiences and venues found on Norwegian Bliss will also be on Norwegian Joy. Among them are Food Republic, Q Texas Smokehouse (a new venue for NCL on Norwegian Bliss), all the traditional indoor-outdoor specialty restaurants, the full-service Starbucks, the Observation Lounge and The Haven.
Differences? If clients have no day-of-week preference for departure, Olivere explained that Norwegian Joy’s large Galaxy Pavilion with virtual reality games and rides is a big draw. That’s the only ship guests will find this on.
“It’s almost like an amusement park with a virtual roller coaster where you draw your own roller coaster and then ride it,” Olivere stressed, noting there’s also a Star Wars space game.
In addition, there is a new venue on Norwegian Joy that isn’t on Norwegian Bliss, and that’s the American Diner, the spot formerly known on Norwegian’s ships as O’Sheehan’s.
She explained to the agents, however, that Norwegian Joy does not have a thermal suite onboard, so if that’s important to clients, Olivere suggested they instead think of Norwegian Bliss, which does.
Norwegian Joy also has some different categories of accommodations including Concierge Class, which Olivere described as “kind of a step between a mini-suite and The Haven.” While it has many benefits of the Haven, guests don’t have Haven access. But they do have concierge service, priority dining, priority embarkation/disembarkation and more.
Another new category is an inside stateroom with a virtual ocean-view window, but it’s not a small space. It has a living area and two bedrooms on either side, accommodating up to six people. It also comes with Concierge Class perks.
Change in Interest
Just a few years back, many cruise lines were pulling – not adding – West Coast capacity. So what’s happened? First, the fleets of the major players are now bigger, and the lines are seeking new market development.
Olivere said that with such a “hot ship” in Norwegian Bliss, the line now has more exposure in the market and that’s fostered demand. In addition, consumers overall are more interested in cruising than they were in the past.
“All of that is part of” why the line is looking to expand its West Coast presence, she said. So is Norwegian’s desire to expand its operational reach across the globe. “As we continue to add capacity we look at different markets and this has always been an attractive market for us,” Olivere noted.
Across the Globe
But that said, why is a ship that was dedicated to the Chinese market coming back to the U.S. “We always evaluate how the ships are doing and it was a decision to just take a more optimal investment,” Olivere told Travel Agent.
“We knew that because of the high demand for Bliss that we could bring a second ship in and have more profitability…It’s just better economically for the brand.”
That said, “we’re still committed to the China market and we will still have a ship there seasonally through the deployment already released and we plan to continue that,” she said. “Diversifying our sourcing is really a good thing for us.”
In Cuba, the line continues to offer a short cruise product on Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun to Cuba. “Again, this is another area where we really need travel partners because our pricing isn’t the lowest in the market, but the value is the highest value because we have an all-inclusive bar” in addition to "Free at Sea."
Yet, Norwegian’s Caribbean capacity hovers around “flat” because “we have really diversified our itineraries in a way that has made it very important for us to work with travel partners because you guys are so good as selling all these one-off itineraries,” she stressed.
No longer does Norwegian just have a bunch of ships doing seven-day Caribbean itineraries, she stressed.
Norwegian Pearl is leaving Alaska and heading to Europe for 2019, “so we now have many more diverse and longer itineraries in Europe,” Olivere noted, and she said the line will need agents’ assistance in selling many of those bit different, one-off voyages.
One product Norwegian has that no other big ship lines have is a year-round, American-flagged Hawaii product, Pride of America, which Olivere says is “getting great ticket prices and great guest satisfaction,” and she believes that demonstrates the West Coast is ripe for premium products.
Pride of America was renovated about a year ago and 75 percent of the crew are from the U.S. For some guests, that’s a plus. In addition, Olivere says the Hawaii voyages attract consumers who aren’t sure they wish to cruise at all.
Why? This intra-island visits three islands with four ports of call. It offers two overnights and 100 hours in port. Price points are often less than land-travel plus consumers avoid the hassles of flying from island to island, and continually packing and unpacking.
“You basically lose a day every time you go (by air) to another island,” Olivere said.
What new for land exploration there? Since the volcano eruptions happened recently, she says many cruisers desire to see the lava flows, and they can get on a helicopter in either Kona or Hilo to see that: “You actually see the dried lava lines all the way down.”
People, though, didn’t realize that only one island was . “We did see a little softness with the volcano but it’s coming back now,” she said.
Another Hawaii plus for land-lovers? Olivere personally enjoys the Luau experience and the cultural history and traditions woven into the offerings.
Road Shows Under Way
With Norwegian Bliss coming to the Caribbean this winter, the dynamics of that market continue to evolve. How can agents learn more?
Norwegian has already had road shows in Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix and other cities and Olivere says the line has a significant budget for those in 2019.
“You’re going to see us in cities you’ve never seen us in. You’re going to see us on the West Coast more than you’ve seen us in the past.” Phoenix, for example, is a city in which Norwegian has not traditionally conducted a road show.
She said the same goes for secondary cities around Los Angeles and more cities in the Midwest, including Minneapolis.
The line is also adding business development managers to its sales team next year including a new business development manager in Minneapolis and more on the West Coast too “to make sure we’re adequately serving the travel partners that are going to be increasing their business with Norwegian,” she emphasized.
A Positive Sisterhood
In the past few years, the combination of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas under the same corporate umbrella with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has been helpful to all three brands, said Olivere.
Regent is most inclusive, Oceania has the free air, and “we’ve benefitted from their tests and results with their different programs,” she noted.
Norwegian has been highly successful with its “Free at Sea” promotional efforts, which include a slew of free offers, built into the ticket price, so agents make commission on more elements.
“We have to do it differently because our product is different and our customer is different, but there have been a lot of benefits,” Olivere stressed.
“Our food has benefitted from the expertise of the other brands, and I think their entertainment has benefitted from our expertise in that area.”
“So, I think, this company’s ‘coming-together’ has been fantastic in terms of how we’ve benefitted each other,” she said.