Home TravelInternational Norwegian Cruise lines ~ an interview with Nick Wilkinson

Norwegian Cruise lines ~ an interview with Nick Wilkinson

September 21, 2020
The World is opening up and I want to go sailing. As always though, like all travellers, I want to know that every precaution has been taken to ensure my health and safety, and news from Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and indeed the global tourism sector is encouraging. I feel a cruise coming on!

Cruise lines across the globe have been working tirelessly to ready their vessels for safe travelling in a world fixated with COVID-19 protection protocols. Yesterday I received the latest NCL info via Big Ambitions in SA stating that new recommendations from a panel of globally recognised medical and scientific experts say that by relentlessly focusing on prevention and other measures – including the testing of guests and crew members – public health risks associated with the pandemic can be mitigated in a cruise ship environment. The Healthy Sail Panel submitted its recommendations today to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in response to a CDC request for public comment that will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships. The Panel was formed in June by Royal Caribbean Group (NYSE: RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NYSE: NCLH). “The Healthy Sail Panel spent the last four months studying how to better protect the health and safety of guests and crew aboard cruise ships,” said Dr. Gottlieb. “Taken as a comprehensive approach, we believe the Panel’s robust public health recommendations will help inform strategies for a safe resumption of sailing.”

Right before Lockdown I had the pleasure of cruising with Oceania, on Nautica. What can we expect from the industry going forward? Being on a ship is a little like being on a plane- you’re in fairly close proximity to hundreds of people, all the time. So much has changed since March 2020 and travelling anywhere now has its challenges in terms of ensuring no infections and expectations for a super-sanitized environment. To find out more about on-board cruise safety specifics I chatted to Nick Wilkinson, Regional Vice President for Business Development in the Middle East & Africa at  Norwegian Cruise Lines about the status quo, pandemic protocols, and the ongoing quest to be as sustainable as possible on the high seas.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is a holding company that is domiciled in Bermuda and based in the United States. It operates three cruise lines as wholly owned subsidiaries: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises (Nautica, the ship I travelled on), and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. With its subsidiaries combined, it is a leasing global cruise operator in the world.

Nick Wilkinson, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Vice President and Managing Director for the UK and Ireland, the Middle East and Africa.

Q: Please share your thoughts on the future of cruising and trends

Nick: As part of our consumer research to enhance our already stringent health and safety protocols, we discovered 35% of respondents stated that they would choose to cruise with the cruise line that had the highest safety standards. When we asked guests what kind of information they want to see from cruise lines, an overwhelming 73% want to know what exactly is being done to protect their health; specifically, what sanitation measures are in place to ensure their cruise voyage remains safe. We are therefore using the temporary break during the current suspension of our voyages through Oct. 31, 2020 to focus on improving our already stringent health and safety standards even further by continuing to lead and innovate, as we have done for the last 53 years.We have recently announced the First phase of our Sail Safe program; formed the Healthy Sail Panel and Launched our Peace of Mind policy for our guests. I’ll outline all 3 initiatives below. 

Q: The eco factor is often seen as the elephant in the room. As a journalist particularly passionate about the environment I was disturbed to see so many plastic water bottle in circulation on Nautica (Oceania Line).

Nick: NCL is in the business of creating memorable experiences for guests. As such, it recognises the importance of taking meaningful steps to preserve the oceans and the destinations it visits. As part of its sustainability program “Sail & Sustain” the company is constantly working on initiatives aimed at increasing sustainable sourcing, minimising waste to landfills, investing in emerging technologies and reducing CO2 emissions. 

In 2020, for instance, NCL became the first major global cruise company to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles across its 17-ship fleet through a partnership with JUST® Goods, saving over 6 million single-use plastic water bottles every year. This step followed the elimination of plastic straws in 2018 across its entire fleet and its two island destinationsGreat Stirrup Cay and Harvest Caye, saving over 50 million plastic straws each year. 

Further information on the company’s Sail & Sustain program and its initiatives can be found here: https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/ncl/stewardshipreport_2018/index.php#/p/Cover1/OnePage

Q: Is there still significant interest from the South African market?

Nick: Through these challenging months we have seen consistent enquires and booking from our South African travellers about cruises for 2021 and beyond. It is clear that the appetite to cruise has not diminished and that our South African guests are looking forward to getting back on board. 

Q: What can South African travellers expect from the world of cruising, bearing in mind that there is a (temporary) negative perception related to the first C-19 case in SA that was apparently from a cruise ship passenger?

Nick: With all voyages currently suspended through Oct. 31, 2020, we are taking the time to focus on health and safety standards by continuing to lead and innovate, as we have done for the last 53 years. When it comes to enhancing our already stringent health and safety protocols, we are continuing to consult with local and international health authorities, including the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and leading public health and medical policy experts. 

We have recently announcethe first phase of our Sail Safe program, a host of new and enhanced health and safety protocols, on our vessels, including: all-new air filtration, enhanced screening protocols, increased sanitation measures, responsible social distancing, enhanced medical resources and extended ship to shore safety- All details here.

We have also recently announced the formation of a “Healthy Sail Panel”, which consists of experts who are collaborating to develop recommendations that will help us safely resume operations. The results will be “open source” and will be shared with the cruise industry and other industries that may benefit from our findings as we’re all in this together.

Q: New cruise destinations for the South African market for 2020/2021?

Nick: Now more than ever we are excited for the future of our business. We recently unveiled over a year’s worth of aspirational voyages through 2023, including 20 new ports of call and itineraries sailing to all seven continents, including Antarctica.  With itineraries well into 2023, we are offering destination daydreamers more time to plan. 

We are looking forward to the second quarter of 2021 when we will launch our new South African sailings. Norwegian Jade will make NCL history as the first ship in our fleet to offer roundtrip cruises from Cape Town. Norwegian Jade is set to make her South African debut from December 2021 through January 2022. This 12-day Extraordinary Journey sailing, including visits to Lüderitz, Walvis Bay and Durban, and will feature overnight calls in Cape Town and Richard’s Bay along South Africa’s stunning coastline – truly one for the bucket list. 

Q: What are customers looking for most once business starts up properly again? 

Nick: NCL recognises that the customer’s greatest need is for peace of mind, freedom and flexibility.  Customers need the peace of mind that they can book now and have the flexibility to alter their travels should the need arise. In March 2020, NCL has therefore launched its Peace of Mind policy – and has since extended this policy to 2021. Guests sailing on cruises with embarkation dates from Jan. 1, 2021 to Oct. 31, 2021 may cancel their voyage 15 days prior to departure and enjoy the flexibility to use their 100% Future Cruise Credit for sailings through December 2022.

Norwegian Encore at sea

Happy, safe sailing!

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