Norwegian Cruise Line is plotting a course to recovery

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Harry Sommer explains to Sam Ballard how he is helping to lead his company – and the wider cruise industry – out of trouble and back to full operations

Norwegian Cruise Line is plotting a course to recovery
Norwegian is implementing Healthy Sail Panel recommendations across its fleet

Whether it’s growing the new-to-cruise market, fighting for market share in an extremely competitive sector or overseeing a multibillion-dollar order book, the life of a cruise line president is rarely an easy one. The person at the top is responsible for thousands of guests as well as a vast workforce – not to mention being answerable to various stakeholders and investors. However, despite their adeptness at handling crises, virology policy and pandemic response were unlikely to be high on their 2020 agenda.  

These two concerns became top priorities when Covid-19 led to a ban on sailing in March 2020. As it stands, many countries have implemented travel restrictions and cruise holidays are not possible for many. Consequently, the cruise industry is now going to need to call upon all of its experience and innovation skills to rebuild and resurrect a sector that is on its knees. For Norwegian Cruise Line, that starts with a roadmap of guest reassurance and looking after its key assets. 

“The health and safety of our guests and crew are of the utmost importance to us,” says Harry Sommer, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. “For the past 10 months, the pandemic has heavily impacted industries across the world, including the travel industry and the cruise business specifically. As a result, both our shoreside team members and our crew members have been affected personally and professionally.”  

For Norwegian (and its competitors), the pandemic has caused operations to grind to a halt and put the lives of crew members on hold. New policies have been developed to better look after crew members’ mental health, including enhancing the wi-fi so that they can access streaming platforms and stay connected with family back home. Unfortunately, however, plans to rev up operations at the end of 2020 – which involved flying crew over to the USA – turned out to be premature. The restart was again delayed and Norwegian was forced to continue its pause in operations. The crew have been flown back home. 

The continued pause in sailings is something that hurts the entire industry and, given the assault on cruise ships by the news networks and newspapers, the next steps taken by the likes of Sommer are being even more heavily scrutinised than ever before.  

The industry has responded admirably. There has been cross-sector support and investment into initiatives such as the Healthy Sail Panel, which was co-founded by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings along with Royal Caribbean Group. The panel, which is made up of 11 recognised health experts, submitted a 65-page report to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It details best practices across five areas of focus to improve health and safety for passengers and crew, and reduce the risk of infection and spread of Covid-19 on cruise ships,” says Sommer. “These recommendations will be implemented across our fleet to enhance our already robust health and safety measures.” 

Among the recommendations within the report are all-new air filtration, increased sanitation measures, enhanced screening protocols and advanced medical resources onboard. All guests and crew will be tested prior to boarding and will not be allowed on the ship unless they show a negative result. The Healthy Sail Panel is a direct example of the incredible collaboration that is virtually unique to the cruise sector – where else do multinational competitors come together to develop best practice for the good of their overall industry?  

However, while much of Sommer’s attention will be focused on restarting cruise operations, he is also managing Norwegian’s order book, which stretches out until at least 2027. Although shipyards have also had significant challenges to contend with throughout the pandemic, Norwegian is still on track to debut its much-feted Leonardo class of vessels in 2022. 

“We are gearing up to launch the first of our Leonardo-class ships, which will be delivered as planned from 2022 to 2027,” says Sommer. “Our six Leonardo ships will carry around 3,300 passengers and are 140,000gt. The groundbreaking design will offer our guests a flexible onboard experience along with some further exciting innovations. Our first Leonardo vessel is currently scheduled to be delivered on time in the third quarter of 2022.” 

In addition, the company has refurbished Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Spirit, including a doubled Mandara Spa on the latter, as well as other new dining venues and adults-only areas. 

With the likes of Sommer at the helm, it is clear that Norwegian has all the expertise, knowledge and skills it needs to plot a course back towards a full operation soon.  

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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By Sam Ballard
19 April 2021

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