Norwegian targets Asia’s booming cruise markets

Steve Odell, NCL’s senior vice president & managing director for Asia Pacific
Steve Odell, NCL’s senior vice president & managing director for Asia Pacific

Norwegian Cruise Lines is aiming to tap the fast-growing Asian cruise market with the launch of a series of new products and itineraries across the region.

Speaking to Travel Daily on Tuesday, Steve Odell, the company’s senior vice president & managing director for Asia Pacific, said that this expansion strategy was already well underway, and that the next few years will see a major increase in Norwegian’s regional activities.

“When I started [in October 2015] the key objective was to establish our own offices and to appoint our own people. We’ve now hired about 90 people and opened offices in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Delhi and Mumbai,” Odell said. “This demonstrates our confidence in the region.”

Norwegian Cruise Lines will return to Asia in 2016 for the first time in more than a decade, when the Norwegian Star sails to the region. And while Odell said this would be more of a “journey through”, as the ship visits Asian ports en route from Europe to Australia, plans are in place to base ships within Asia in the coming years.

“Previously we had an association with Star Cruises in Asia, but now that has ended we’ll be bringing Norwegian Star to the region,” Odell said. “[We’re also] planning to homeport in Asia in 2018.”

Norwegian Star (credit: Studio Porto Sabbia)
Norwegian Star (credit: Studio Porto Sabbia)

This as-yet-unannounced Asian deployment will see the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship spend half of the 2018 season in Australia and half in Asia. And Odell revealed that he is currently considering homeport locations in both Southeast and Northeast Asia, with Singapore and Japan the most likely options.

Another vessel, Norwegian Joy, will homeport in Asia in the coming years. Currently under construction, this brand new ship is being designed specifically for the Chinese market and will be based in Tianjin and Shanghai following its launch in 2017.

Odell told Travel Daily that Norwegian Joy would mainly operate shorter cruises on a re-chartered basis, whereby the cruises are chartered and re-sold via agents. It will primarily focus on group travel and cruises will only be marketed in China.

Norwegian Joy forms part of the company’s new Breakaway Plus Class, and will be joined by Norwegian Bliss in 2018 and another as-yet-unnamed vessel a year later. All three ships will be in excess of 168,000 gross tonnes, making them the largest vessels in NCL’s fleet.

Discussing the possibility of launching these new vessels in the Chinese market, Odell said that this option is “definitely on the radar, but no firm decisions have been made as yet”.

It is unlikely however, that Norwegian will develop any Chinese-focused vessels for its two upscale brands, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

“I don’t see that happening – at least in the near future,” Odell stated. “Luxury Asian travellers tend to look for something more exotic – Europe, Alaska etc. – and they tend to prefer longer cruises, compared to shorter local cruises. But we’re looking to put some shorter cruises into the itinerary set.”

Overall, Odell said that Norwegian is “very excited about China”, but that other Asian markets also offer significant opportunities for growth.  “Japan shouldn’t be overlooked,” he said. “Taiwan has a very high propensity to cruise, and India can’t be ignored.”

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