Whilst cruising off into the sunset is currently just a daydream, it is slowly becoming more of a reality. With just four months remaining in 2020, cruise lovers can now safely book their trips on Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet of award-winning ships for the 2021 season.
It’s exciting to see that there is a general optimism around cruising and we took some time to chat with Nick Wilkinson, Regional Vice President Business Development Middle East & Africa, to hear more about how NCL is ensuring the safety of their passengers at sea.
With cruising currently on hold, how does the future of cruising look? What are the current trends which are emerging?
The South African market amazes me. We are going through these challenging months but we see consistent inquiries and bookings from South Africa every week. They are looking at 2021 and beyond through to the Mediterranean, the Baltics or further afield down to Antarctica. There is a clear appreciation to cruise and this is not diminishing at all. I have the pleasure of seeing different things from the search results and in South Africa the demand is very strong. Many have missed their holiday this year and they want to confirm and book so they have something to look forward to. Customers are looking to cruise from Q2 and Q3 2021 onward. I think one of the reasons for this is our style of cruising.
We are more of a floating resort than a cruise ship with multiple dining and entertainment options. What we want to do is really give you freedom and flexibility to choose what you want to do. Like a land-based resort gives you that choice, we give even more choice in a much smaller space. Someone said to me a couple years ago, you’d never think of having a two-storey carting track on a cruise ship. We now have them on a number of our ships. It’s the facilities that we offer to give that real resort feel. What a land resort can’t do is, we guarantee to change the scenery every day. You’re combining this incredible floating resort with some exceptional places around the world.
What can South African travellers expect from the world of cruising?
The South African market is growing considerably but in particular areas. They’re looking into the Mediterranean, the Baltics, Asia, South America or even now into Antarctica. Our style of cruising resonates with what they are looking for. We also have to look at what tomorrow looks like which we have done with our Sail Safe Program to make sure that we are listening to the customer and that we actually are giving them the information they want to know that we’re the right choice for them.
How is NCL looking at ensuring safe cruising for its future passengers?
NCL has six key areas we’ve announced so far. We’ve also joined with our competition, Royal Caribbean Group, to create the Healthy Sail Panel which is a panel of leading experts in pandemics from different segments working behind the scenes to design these health and safety protocols. This is key in the decision making of the future customer. We also want to make sure we can drive confidence and we want to give customers peace of mind.
Screening protocols aren’t just about embarkation. It’s when you’re visiting ports or when you’re going through to dining. We looked very carefully at the increased sanitisation of what is already of a very high standard. We’ve looked at what responsible distancing will be like and we’ve enhanced the medical facilities onboard. Whatever we do onboard our ships, we have to extend to shore-side.
We’ve also introduced our Piece of Mind Policy. This means customers can book a cruise with NCL – sailing between January and the end of October 2021 – and they can cancel their cruise receiving their money back in future cruise credit up to 15 days prior to sailing.
Tell us a bit about the new cruise destinations for the South African market for 2020/2021
If you’re looking for 2021 and beyond we’ve unveiled a years’ worth of aspirational voyages going right through to 2023. 20 new ports of call and itineraries right across the 7 continents including Antarctica. I’m personally looking forward to a particular cruise and I’ve wanted this for a number of years. I’ve been coming to South Africa for over 18 years and 2020 was the first time we had a Norwegian ship come into the waters of South Africa. 2021 though is when we’re going to make history. It’s the first time we’ll do a home port in Cape Town. We’ve got five sailings going out of Cape Town which include from Richards Bay up to Durban, Port Elizabeth and Walvis Bay in Namibia. It’s a really great itinerary for 12 nights and already the global demand for these itineraries is incredibly strong.
We’re global in our itineraries and if you look at the South African market the world is shrinking. The most popular itineraries are still the Baltic – 9 hours from Copenhagen, cruising out of Reykjavik around Iceland to Greenland. Also the Mediterranean – 10 or 12 nights out of Rome taking the best of the western and eastern Mediterranean into one cruise. One thing that’s very clear from the South African market is that the destination is first; the cruise ship is second.
What are customers most looking for currently when it comes to cruising?
Very easy. Peace of mind, freedom and flexibility.