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Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) recently hosted its annual national sales meeting, and Katina Athanasiou, chief sales officer for the brand, spoke positively about the highly anticipated resumption of cruising in 2021. During an interview with TravelAge West, she discussed the line’s Partners First approach and what remains to be done across the industry before clients can set sail again.
So be that confidant, be positive and be confident in talking about your travel experiences because that positivity translates to your client.
How is NCL evolving its sales approach in response to suspended sailings and in preparation for their eventual resumption?We just had our first-ever virtual sales conference, and what we looked to do was really take our Partners First mentality to the next level and make sure that everything about what we do — our strategy with our trade partners moving forward and the structure as a result of the revised strategy — was all centered around that.
We have enhanced our sales strategy to forward our partners better than ever and to really look at them as true business partners. Not only at Norwegian but with our sister brands as well, it’s no secret that we are a marketing-driven organization, and we believe that our market-to-fill philosophy and marketing strategies can help drive incremental demand to our travel partners in what I call a new and better normal.
What support is NCL giving travel advisors during this transition?What I've learned from a support perspective is that it's not great to try to be one size fits all. So, what I really wanted to do when we spoke to our leadership team was look at support a little bit differently. We realized the amazing pool of talent that we had across the team, and we started to re-strategize.
Part of that included thinking maybe we don't have to be the “Jack of all trades, master of none.” But let's really home in on the talent and the subject matter experts that we have to help all of our partners be the best within their space.
What is the current outlook on reservations and the balance of rebookings versus entirely new ones?From bookings that are currently coming in, we are actually seeing that the majority of them are new bookings — brand new without having an FCC (future cruise credit) attached to it.
A lot of our FCC customers were traveling in early Q1, Q2 of last year, and they rebooked quickly. And they may have been unfortunately suspended a second time. So, I think a lot of our FCC holders are looking to push their cruise vacations out a little bit further.
But the new bookings that we are getting, especially for the back half of 2021 and into 2022 with a lot of our fantastic new itineraries, are brand-new bookings.
How close is NCL to resuming cruises from the U.S.? Is progress being made with government authorities such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?Progress is being made. We have formed a great relationship with CDC and are in constant communication with them, and really have come a long way in terms of things that may have been unclear. But exactly when we will be back in the water is the crystal-ball question that we do not have an answer to.
We’ll be in the water the minute we know we're 100% ready.
What I will tell you is that we are ready and our teams are ready. We have committed, and Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of parent Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., has been passionate in discussing both internally and externally that we will not return to the water until we are 100% prepared. He's not in a rush; it's not a race. The confidence that he has instilled in all of our teams to execute flawlessly on bringing our ships back safely has been fantastic.
Are there more details about what clients can expect onboard and off when cruises resume?It is a continued work in progress and something that is worked on every single day. When you think about not only with CDC but the various ports of call that we visit and the various areas, there’s a lot [to consider]. So, things are progressing, but we're not exactly ready to share because we haven’t received all of the input from all of the constituents that make up the cruise experience.
But when we get to a point where we are locked, we are going to create marketing collateral: videos, flyers and opportunities for both guests and our travel partners to learn, understand and feel comfortable that everything we are doing and have done is going to give them the safest and best vacation.
What should travel advisors be doing in the meantime?Our travel partners have been nothing short of amazing. A lot of them are continuing to remain in front of their customers and engaged [with them], and I think that's No. 1.
What they should continue to do is communicate with clients. The really great travel partners are finding ways to communicate meaningfully, and they have different messages that they're sharing with their different audiences. Segmenting that communication has been successful for a lot of our top travel partners.
Sharing your personal stories about what you have gone through, your best vacation experience, your best port of call and what you experience with your own family has also proven to be really positive for a lot of consumers.
Now is the time when consumers really need a trusted advisor. So be that confidant, be positive and be confident in talking about your travel experiences because that positivity translates to your client. After they hang up the phone with our travel advisers, they sit back and talk to their spouse or significant other and they say, “You know what? We deserve this. We deserve an opportunity to get back to vacationing and to get back on a ship, and yes, we're ready to start planning.”The DetailsNorwegian Cruise Linewww.ncl.com