HOUSTON Norwegian Cruise Line launched the Norwegian Sea’s new
year-round “Texaribbean” service from here with two important
announcements for travel agents.
NCL is installing a new reservations system and is again
offering agents the chance for payment on the non-commissionable
portion of fares.
The announcements were made to trade press aboard the Sea for an
overnight cruise from Houston for 1,500 travel agents.
The Sea underwent a renovation earlier this year. “Basically,
every public area on the ship was refurbished,” said Andy Stuart,
executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger
services. “The ship looks completely different.”
The Norwegian Sea was built in 1988, before features like
private balconies became commonplace on cruise ships. The
42,276-ton vessel accommodates 1,518 passengers.
NCL was the first to launch Houston-based cruises in 1997, but
left the port to explore other destinations.
“So far, it looks like it’s been a good decision to return,”
Stuart said. “The customers are coming, and we’re raising more
prices than we’re lowering.”
About half of the passengers are from the Texas drive market, he
“Californians are coming in droves here because the Caribbean is
popular,” Stuart said. The flight to Houston is much shorter than
one-stop or red-eye flights to South Florida homeports.
The Norwegian Sea departs Houston every Saturday and calls at
Cozumel, Cancun, Belize City and Roatan, Honduras.
Meanwhile, NCL's new res system, called Freestyle Connect,
updates the line’s 1984-era technology, Stuart said.
“We believe this is the leading technology in the cruise
industry today,” he said. “It will allow us better customer
While the platform has been installed, it will take time before
the system is fully operational, expected with the April 1
However, one immediate change agents will notice is in the
“It now allows passenger-level accounting” rather than simply at
the total group level, Stuart said, so that payments can be applied
to an individual rather than the entire group.
“This is a huge change for travel agents and their relationship
with NCL,” Stuart said.
Another immediate change is that res agents who have been
trained in the new system will ask for more information about
passengers during the initial contact.
Information such as residence and age will help the res agent
come up with the best price for the client, since there might be
special rates for a certain geographical area.
Freestyle Connect will also be operational for 23 hours a day,
seven days a week, closing daily between 1 and 2 a.m. Eastern time
(10 to 11 p.m. Pacific time). The former system shut down between
11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Eastern time.
Eventually, agents and passengers will be able to also book
additional amenities on the system, such as shore excursions,
bottles of wine, romance packages and tailored air schedules.
“We will have one-stop shopping,” Stuart said.
Agents can choose to have the final confirmation sent by e-mail
instead of fax. The final confirmation will list every item
NCL’s system does not and will not have a consumer booking
engine, Stuart vowed. There will be glitches as the system becomes
fully operational, he said, but added that “we believe this is the
leading technology in the cruise industry today. ... There is no
limitation to this system.”
Stuart also announced the continuation of the incentive program
for payment on non-commissionable fares (NCFs).
The 2004 program sets simpler production goals for agents to
qualify for the 10 percent on NCFs.
For example, agents who increased NCL bookings by 100 percent in
2003 will only need a 20 percent increase in 2004.
Those who increased NCL business by 25 to 49 percent in 2003
will need a 45 percent increase in 2004.
The incentive is once again based on the number of passengers
sailed, rather than revenue, because NCL wants the goals to be
within reach regardless of the pricing environment.