Travel Trade Journal
It’s time to …. CRUISE AHEAD!
For an industry that was full of optimism and excitement, expanding at an exponential pace, thanks to overwhelming demand for what it offered the customer. The COVID-19 pandemic was a stake right through its heart, leading to an all anchors down situation. Something the industry had never expected, nor experienced. A lot was at stake and the industry was under extreme pressure with some cruise lines closing down and almost 35 cruise liners being scrapped during the last three years. However, 2022 did come with a ray of hope. With the rise of 2023, all are now hoping for the sun to shine brighter. TTJ interacted with some of the leading cruise industry stakeholders as they shared their optimism for 2023.
Amulti-billion-dollar industry vertical that has elements of transportation, hotels, fine dining, and entertainment all bundled together on one platform which the cruise industry manifests through its cruise liners. It is like juggling many hats simultaneously, even though individually these segments revived and recouped much faster. The cruise industry was put under the lens and was among the last to receive the green flag.
Nevertheless, an industry known for managing all elements like clockwork to provide a memorable experience was not one to be bogged down. It was time for some serious introspection, restructuring, and repositioning. The cruise lines are now All Ahoy! Closer-to-home River cruises are again happening and India’s own homegrown cruise brand is talking about fleet expansion.
The year 2022 and learnings from the pandemic
Manoj Singh, Country Head-India, Norwegian Cruise Line: It’s been very encouraging to see travel pick up after the pandemic. All our ships got back to sailing and we’re back to doing what we do best - delivering exceptional holidays at sea! Through the pandemic, we didn’t sit back to wait for the tide to change. Instead, we looked at the pause as an opportunity to reinvent our operations and reassess our offerings with an aim to enhance guest experiences. We were busy making our products better and safer, through our comprehensive Sail Safe health and safety protocols, our ongoing fleet enhancement program, and our global deployment planning for all 18 of our ships.
More specifically, in 2022, we launched our most anticipated ship to date, Norwegian Prima, the first of six vessels in our groundbreaking new Prima Class. Norwegian Prima notched up the single-best booking day and best initial booking week for any of our new-build sales in our 56-year history! Norwegian Prima also features multiple first-at-sea innovations, including a three-story transformational nightclub, ‘The Prima Theatre and Club’. We are very excited to elevate the overall cruising experience with this new generation of ships.
Raj Singh, Founder Chairman-Group, Antara Luxury River Cruises: 2022 has been a good year for us as we resumed full operations after a hiatus of at least two years. It was very reassuring and motivating to see travellers show trust and enthusiasm for responsible post-pandemic travel. Our guests have been kinder, nicer, and enthusiastic, and serving them has been a great rush for our teams. Furthermore, we launched a new ship - Ganga Vilas, which has embarked on its maiden voyage to Varanasi to get onto the longest river cruise in the world, setting sail on a 51-day itinerary from Varanasi to Dibrugarh. I think what we learned from the pandemic was to be self-reliant and self-sustainable in our own microcosms.
Oneel Verma, Chief Operating Officer, Cordelia Cruises: 2022 was definitely a year of success and learnings, as we know we embarked on this journey amidst the pandemic and sailing through it all to become India’s favourite cruise destination was definitely a benchmark that we have set for the Indian domestic cruising industry. What we have learned is that customer comes first and understanding the audience and aiming for their absolute satisfaction is a way to go in the hospitality industry. We are happy to have served more than 1 lakh guests since the time we established ourselves, and we are nothing but excited to see where this journey takes us.
Nishith Saxena, Founder and Director, Cruise Professionals:
The year 2022 has been a year of many uncertainties. While there was enough evidence that pointed towards a recovery in the cruise business, we took a stance of cautious optimism and waded through the choppy waters gradually. We were pleasantly surprised when the COVID-19-related restrictions were removed earlier than anticipated and the business recovery took place beyond our expectations. In the last 36 months, what we have learned is not to be extravagant and use resources wisely. We learned to work with a smaller but very focused team and take good care of our distribution in terms of service and efficiency of responses.
Dipti V. Adhia, Director-Discover the World: In May 2022, Carnival Cruise Line became the first major cruise line in the U.S. to achieve the milestone of restarting its entire fleet. Currently, we have 24 ships sailing from 14 different U.S. homeports and two homeports in Australia. 2022 was also the year of our 50th birthday, and we completed an incredible year of special celebrations on board our ships, and on land. The arrival of our newest Excel class ship, Carnival Celebration, and the vastly remodelled new Terminal F at Port Miami.
Carnival Luminosa joined our fleet, and she became the first Carnival ship to homeport in Brisbane. Carnival now has two ships sailing in Australia – Carnival Splendor from Sydney year-round and Carnival Luminosa seasonally from Brisbane.
Strategies employed to stay afloat in 2022 and generate business
Manoj Singh: Other than working extensively on upgrading our consumer offerings, we have also been working very closely with our trade partners who are an integral part of the NCL family to help accelerate our sales. As a part of our ‘Partners First’ philosophy, we launched two new platforms for trade partners — Book-ABDM and Norwegian Central Asia. Book-A-BDM enables travel agents and tour operators to seamlessly communicate with NCL’s regional Business Development Managers (BDMs). Norwegian Central Asia is a brand-new knowledge hub to help travel partners in Asia and India learn about and market NCL holidays by logging in to Norwegian Central, partners gain direct single log-in access to NCL’s travel agent training platform, NCL University (NCLU). We also stayed connected and engaged with our valued partners through our dedicated Partners First Facebook Group.
Raj Singh: I think in 2022, we just put our heads down and worked
towards achieving small targets that took us steps closer to our eventual goal. Our teams have worked hard on being all the more self-reliant, working together and being responsible towards the lands we traverse. Through this year, our focus was to re-evaluate ourselves and our brand; and to re-oil our systems to provide our guests a smoother sail going forward.
Oneel Verma: Adding the local Indian touch and flavour to our product offering has worked to our advantage. Providing services and amenities that are in line with international standards but are also through and through Indian. At Cordelia Cruises, we have employed the theme of ‘Glocal’- Global yet local, wherein we provide global-level infrastructures, services, and amenities coupled with the best entertainment, and delicious cuisine with the Indian culture lying at the core of it all. This is something that has really worked out for us.
Nishith Saxena: The simplest and most effective strategy which we follow is “Not to get distracted” and “Focus on what we deliver best”. With the cruise business getting severely affected, it was highly probable for us to drift into other businesses but our belief in the cruise industry and the business potential inspired us to remain positive. Therefore, when the queries started to flow in, we achieved a near 100 per cent conversion and have many more happy customers who have returned from their 2022 cruises. Further, there are a whole bunch of new travel agencies which are added to our distribution – all because of the neutral way in which we pursue our dealings.
Dipti Adhia: Carnival Cruise Line’s restart operations began in July 2021. We led the industry, becoming the first major cruise line to return its full fleet to operations in May 2022. Beyond returning to normal operations, we’re in the midst of an exciting period of growth, with Carnival Celebration and Carnival Luminosa, which began guest operations in November, and three additional ships joining the fleet by 2024.
Exciting Itineraries for 2023
Manoj Singh: In August 2023, we are launching Norwegian Viva, the second Prima Class ship that will offer select round trip seven-day Greek Isles voyages from Athens (Piraeus), Greece, as well as 9-11-day open-jaw sailings between Haifa, Israel; Athens (Piraeus), Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey from May through November 2025. The voyages will call to highly rated ports such as Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, and Iraklion, Greece; offer 15-hour long port stays in Jerusalem (Ashdod), Israel, and call to Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt, allowing plenty of time for guests to visit the pyramids. We sail to nearly 400 destinations worldwide, so cruisers have a wide range of itineraries to choose from as per their tastes.
Raj Singh: Well, 2023 has a lot lined up for all our guests. Not only would Ganga Vilas embark on its 51-day long cruise, but we would also be traversing the mighty Brahmaputra, a whole experience in itself. We have also got a presence coming up in the national parks of Odisha.
Oneel Verma: Our itineraries range from 2 nights, 3 nights, 4 nights, and 5 nights sailings to suit different schedules and requirements, and these are all available for the coming year of 2023. Looking at the demand and to cater to the needs of our guests, we have introduced new routes to Sri Lanka for our upcoming 2023 sailings as well.
Nishith Saxena: In 2023, the focus would continue to remain on itineraries where we have an exciting deployment of ships. We have always maintained that the destination is the key and the onboard experience on any cruise ship should complement the journey to these exciting destinations. Considering the 6 premium and diverse cruise brands we represent in India, we’re very excited with the line-up of over 10 ships in Alaska, 8 ships in Europe, 5 ships in Australia, and 7 ships specifically deployed in Coastal Norway. We would be making a strong pitch for Polar cruising covering both Antarctica and Artic region as these are emerging destinations and there is a very strong demand for the same going forward.
New developments and innovations
Manoj Singh: To begin with, 2023 will mark the debut of Norwegian Viva -the second ship in our Prima Class. She will sail through breath-taking Mediterranean itineraries covering Lisbon, Athens, Rome and Venice and will mirror the upscale design and structure of her record-breaking sister ship Norwegian Prima. We will also continue our investment in travel trade in India next year, developing tools and resources that will help travel partners maximise their selling potential.
Raj Singh: Our ships are getting more and more design focused, thus enhancing our guests’ onboard experience. We are constantly evolving our food and beverage to give our guests a more fun dining experience. Guests can now expect more hyper-local menus, more curated regional farm-to-fork meals, and twisted cocktails. 2023 gets a more reliant, more fun, and more active Antara Luxury River Cruises.
Oneel Verma: We are already looking at exploring major ports of the country and beyond. With great demand and customer satisfaction. The coming years definitely look great and we are planning to launch more ships in the coming years.
Dipti Adhia: At Carnival, one of our big themes this year is to “Choose Fun Together.” Our new flagship, Carnival Celebration, introduced some great new youth programming options for families that have been very well received, and now we are implementing many of them fleet-wide. This includes a new Turtles Program for Carnival’s youngest cruisers – under the age of two – and several new activities for Camp Ocean and our teen programs. Carnival Cruise line will also have three ships with roller coasters in 2023 – Mardi Gras sailing from Port Canaveral, Carnival Celebration sailing from Port of Miami, and Carnival Jubilee in December sailing from Galveston.