A combination of tactical consumer promotions, close engagements with travel trade partners, and emphasis on onboard health and safety procedures has helped Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) to establish a strong and regular forward booking momentum in Asian source markets so far this year.
In an interview with TTG Asia, Ben Angell, vice president and managing director, APAC revealed that there has been a “very positive level of demand” out of Asia despite ongoing travel challenges and, even more encouraging, is that bookings are bucking Asia’s last-minute booking trend.
Said Angell: “It is no secret that many markets in Asia typically book closer in compared to other markets around the world. Despite that, we’ve seen those booking curves lengthen and some Asian guests have told us that they are excited to travel on 2022, 2023 sailings.”
Asian customers are gravitating towards a mix of itineraries, from the all-time popular Europe, Hawaii and Alaska voyages to close-to-home itineraries.
According to Nicholas Lim, general manager, sales Asia, Chinese New Year sailings out of Hong Kong in 2022 as well as Japan voyages for next year’s cherry blossom season have attracted the healthiest forward bookings out of Asia. Strong source markets for NCL now are Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and parts of China.
Lim expects more bookings to surface as more travel bubbles are formed, such as between Singapore and New Zealand or Singapore and Australia.
Angell and Lim observed that the promise and delivery of value is more important than ever in cruising today.
“It is not necessarily the lowest price that will convince somebody to put a booking down. It is value that will influence decisions, and we know that value is a complicated mix of price point, promotion, onboard experience, brand quality and so on,” Angell explained.
Lim added that the value mix has to be supported by trade partner engagement and bespoke solutions to help each of them get business in the books.
To overcome the present challenge of a strained travel retail landscape where agency operations have been disrupted by the travel freeze and past contacts may have disappeared, NCL is focusing on partners that are still active and helping them to grow their bookings.
While solutions would differ across agencies, Angell said the one common assistance rendered by NCL is an aggressive marketing investment to drive consumer demand to partners.
These activities included the best Deal of the Year promotion in late-2020 to trigger year-end bookings for 2021 and 2022 voyages; the CruiseFirst programme for loyal customers; an emotional campaign bearing the slogan “Break free”, launched this year; the Take 5 offer which dishes out freebies, special packages and reduced rates; as well as ease of bookings through a smaller deposit requirement and full payment closer to date of voyage.
NCL would be increasing these investments so as to “position the NCL brand as the brand of choice, for fly-cruise in particular but also for domestic deployment in Asia”, said Angell.
Although NCL has chosen to make its great cruise comeback first in the western region from July to August this year and not in Asia, careful preparations for the widely publicised return to service have boosted customer confidence here.
When asked if NCL had considered deploying cruise-to-nowhere programmes in Asia, which have been successful for competing cruise lines, Angell said “many considerations had been weighed up” and the company would deploy ships “when the best opportunities arise”.
He also expressed a commitment to expanding deployment in Asia, a region that has delivered the fastest growth for the organisation.