Want to know the secret to happy, loyal cruisers?
At a media briefing onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s all-new Norwegian Prima, the first in its long-awaited Prima class of ship, cruise line president and CEO Harry Sommer let the cat out of the bag.
“The more a guest spends, the higher guest satisfaction they have and the more likely they are to return,” he said.
The highest spenders – those that stay in The Haven, for instance, – are the most likely to return and the most likely to refer their friends to NCL.
“If a guest goes into The Haven and takes our shore excursions and takes our free at sea package and really enjoys the ship, yes, they spend a little more but they’ve really had a great vacation experience. They come back. They tell their friends. Their friends then come. And they repeat over and over again.”
Another secret to happy guests – who spend more money? Getting them to go further.
“What we found – and this applies to every market in the world – is that the further a guest travels, the more they value a vacation. And when a guest values a vacation more, they’re willing to pay more for it, both in terms of the ticket price and when they’re onboard in terms of the activities they do onboard the ship.”
Conversely, Sommer said, cruisers that drive to a port are willing so pay less for their cruise, book closer in and don’t want to spend money on extras like shore excursions. They also have lower guest satisfaction rates.
NCL – like travel advisors – want happy clients, because those are the clients that come back again and again.
Other Secrets Revealed
The secret to happy clients wasn’t the only secret Sommer spilled. During the christening ceremony for Norwegian Prima, he revealed Norwegian Viva’s christening will also be in Europe when it debuts next August.
And, while he didn’t get into specifics, Sommer also essentially confirmed that Greece will remain a part of the line’s deployment plans well beyond what they line has already officially published. Same for Israel and South Africa.
He also essentially confirmed a Prima-class ship will be using Southampton, U.K. as a homeport in 2025, as well.
Few Inflation Worries
When asked about how inflation might be a problem for Norwegian Cruise Line, Sommer said it’s not.
“We work very closely with some of the larger investment banks to give us predictions for the future,” he explained. “We just had our last board meeting a couple of weeks ago and we had Goldman Sachs in. They think inflation is going to calm down. They believe it’s a short-lived phenomenon and things will start returning back to normal as soon as Q4.”
Signs of improvement are already happening in the U.S., Sommer added.
“We saw negative inflation on wholesale side last month. We see fuel prices starting to come down, actually quite dramatically over the last four to six weeks.”
Record Breaking Year Ahead
Rather than being worried about the future, Sommer said NCL is bullish on what’s ahead.
“We continue to be at a record booking position for ’23, record prices, record load factors. We’re very optimistic about the future.”
The announcement three weeks ago that all the NCL Holdings brands would allow unvaccinated guests back onboard starting in September was particularly impactful, he added.
“Since then, for these last three weeks, our bookings for 2022 are actually higher than the same weeks in 2019 across all three of our brands by a measurable amount. We are very pleased by the trajectory… if trends continue, 2023 will absolutely be a record year.”
Trade Bouncing Back
Contributing the company’s record-breaking paces is a resurging travel trade, which Sommer said is nearly back to 2019 booking levels.
“We can’t win without trade support,” he added. “I can say without hesitation, without caveat whatsoever that they are a cornerstone to the success of this company. We couldn’t do it without them.”
Sommer also spent a little time talking about Norwegian Prima, which is the first in an all-new class of ship for Norwegian Cruise Line.
The ship, which builds on the footprint of the line’s Breakaway Plus class is similar yet distinctly different from NCL’s other ships.
“Our goal was to create something that didn’t look like a cruise ship,” he said. “When you’re on board you think you’re at a beautiful resort anywhere in the world. We didn’t want huge, gaudy public rooms. We didn’t want over-the-top plastic decorations. We wanted something that was really upscale.”
When asked if the line is already envisioning any changes to the Prima footprint, Sommer answered yes… and no.
“Viva is going to be very similar to this ship, but I think from number three forward there will be changes. But we are committed to this premium, elegant footprint.”
Changes will mostly be subtle, he added. Rooms might get 10 or 15% bigger but NCL wouldn’t triple the size of a lounge. And Sommer doesn’t envision the race track expanding to a fourth level.
“The bones will essentially be the same because we think this is a really good platform but there will be some nice changes.”
Sommer didn’t address the challenges NCL is facing on Pride of America. Instead, he focused on a push later this fall to hire more crew onboard the rest of its fleet, pushing crew occupancy above 100%.
“When we restarted, our ships were maybe 50 to 60% full be we had crewed them to 90%. We saw this interesting phenomenon that when we had almost all the crew but only 60% of the passengers, the guests had a better experience. So, what can we do to continue that magic once the ships get to 100% full?”
The answer, NCL is betting, is to add more waiters, bartenders and cabin stewards, even if it means taking a passenger cabin or two out of inventory.
“We did the calculus and said this is worth it, we’re going to give this a shot. Starting in October, which is when we broadly think the ships will start regularly approaching 100% in our non-exotic trades, we’re going to start increasing staff. Hopefully by January we will have this higher staff level and we’re going to see how it goes.”