Cruising will be back to its historical levels of popularity as soon as cruisers are convinced it’s safe to sail again, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio said as he continued his media blitz.
NCLH is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Speaking to Travel Weekly, Del Rio said: Over time, demand will build as people regain confidence that cruising is safe. And there will be scientific breakthroughs: a vaccine, therapeutics, more efficient, faster, cheaper testing, or herd immunity. Those two factors will meet and, sometime in the future — it could be at the end of the year, maybe a little bit longer — demand for cruising will return to normal or near normal levels.”
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, the cruise industry was sailing full speed ahead with year-on-year growth of over 5 percent and expectations of another record decade. However the COVID-19 outbreak has left cruise lines facing a total suspension of sailings and a liquidity crisis.
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO: Bookings still strong
Del Rio, who had warned at the beginning of May that NCHL could sink, has since raised some $2 billion in liquidity and, knowing that he now has the reserves to sit out a prolonged crisis, has become one of the more confident voices in the industry.
With enough cash in the hold to stay afloat for around 18 months even with zero revenues, Del Rio told CNBC that the company now had the “encouragement and confidence to go forward.”
The world’s highest paid cruise executive, with total compensation of $17.8 million in 2019, said that NCHL had also received a tailwind from positive booking figures.
“Customers are still booking,” he said. “It’s hard to believe … but today we are only slightly below in load factors compared to where we were at this time last year for … 2021 sailings. So our loyal guests are still behind us, pricing remains strong and it’s a question of how soon we can get back to doing what we do best.”
Safer on board than at home?
Having brought on board Dr. Scott Gottlieb to develop health protocols for Norwegian, Del Rio said he had been assured by the former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner that testing would become ubiquitous and that would be a major factor in helping to get ships back in the water.
Del Rio told Travel Week that while he expected to see cruises initially adopt protocols such as social distancing, masks and repeatedly washing hands, once results are seen onboard it could become possible to roll back some of those protocols.
But until that time continued, NCHL planned to be extra vigilant, he said.
“We’re throwing the kitchen sink at it. We all want safe, healthy environments and need to rebuild trust. This is not, ‘let’s do the minimum amount required to get by’ or to get the green light from the CDC. Quite the contrary. I want to be able to look my mother in the eye, my kids in the eye, my grandkids in the eye and say, ‘You are safer going on a Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings vessel then you are staying in your community.’”
Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that its opening bookings for 2021 through 2023, with voyages to over 20 new destinations across all seven continents.
“At this moment, we are in our respective corners of the world destination daydreaming,” said CEO Hary Sommer. “We wanted to use this time to provide our loyal guests with the best-of-the-best itineraries. We’ll set sail to more than 20 new incredible destinations including Antarctica, Greenland and South Africa while also sailing to the over 300 destinations our guests have come to love.”
Among the new destinations for 2021 are Antarctica aboard the Norwegain Star, taking in stops in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands, and sailing (without disembarkation) past Deception Island and Elephant Island/Cape Lookout.
The Norwegian Star will also make the line’s debut in Greenland sailing to Nuuk, Qaqortoq and Nanortalik from Reykjavik, Iceland.
Both voyages are part of Norwegian’s Extraordinary Journeys series.