AS NORWEGIAN Cruise Line (NCL) and sister company Star Cruise set out to woo the Middle Eastern market, the company’s director of sales UK, Ireland, Middle East and Africa, NICK WILKINSON told TTN how they are going about it.
What is NCL’s offering and how do your cruises differ from others?
NCL has 11 ships which can carry from 2,500 to 4,000 passengers. While most cruise lines have set dining with two sittings, NCL got rid of this concept completely so on our ships we have up to 14 restaurants. What we are trying to do is give that independence back to the client on board.
Although we are a cruise ship we want to create the atmosphere of a resort. Once the guest finishes their meal they can find any type of entertainment that suits – a Broadway show, a piano lounge, a jazz lounge, it’s their choice. So that creates a difference.
What are your plans for capturing the Middle East market?
We see this market as a great opportunity to introduce three-star cruising with NCL. We know the market leaders in the Middle East are Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises, but we believe that we can offer something different.
We have also realised in the Middle East market, how important it is to cater for families. The facilities we have for children are very important. We want to ensure that once a guest experiences one ship, they will find the same experience on all our ships.
Do travellers from this region have any specific requirements and how do you meet them?
The other thing we have done is looked at the accommodation. The market requires cabins for five to eight. So in our fleet we now have cabins that can sleep up to eight people. For example our Garden Villa has a master bedroom, two separate bedrooms with their own balconies, then in the lounge there are two roll-away beds. The villas have their own private lounge area, deck and hot tub and if guests don’t want to go to the restaurants, a chef will prepare their meal and serve it in the suite.
We also have suites that take five with separate bedrooms. In addition, we can interlink some of the cabins.
What percentage of business comes from the Middle East?
This is a very new market for us to be honest. We won’t get mass numbers straight away, but we are looking at a long-term commitment to develop the market by spending time meeting the frontline travel agents who can help us understand the market.
What is the most popular cruise from this market?
The most popular from this market is the Mediterranean which operates from Barcelona every Sunday in the high season.
Other key departures include Venice through the Greek Islands, but we are a global cruise line – so if clients want the Baltics, St Petersburg, the Caribbean or Alaska, we have the opportunities.
This year is a very exciting year with the launch of the Norweigen Epic (pictured). New features include an ice bar, the largest waterpark at sea and a suite complex with 76 spa, family-type suites.
The Epic will cruise from Miami for 2010 but the exciting news is she will be in Barcelona in 2011 from May to October which for this market is fantastic.
And we also cater for single travellers with studio cabins.
What do you offer the travel agent?
There is a commission programme and we work with preferred sales agents (PSA), we have five in this area. We also offer training and, through our booking engine, we have a section for questions where members of our team take turns to answer each and every one.