Two cruise lines regroup after Caribbean setbacks

The Norwegian Sky in Havana in a 2017 photo.

Norwegian Sky outside Havana Port, Cuba.

Two cruise companies affected by sudden upsets in the Caribbean and Bahamas region are slowly regaining their footing.

For Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), the big blow was the abrupt end to U.S. cruises to Cuba in June. NCLH had bet heavily on Cuba’s reopening, scheduling not only short cruises on its contemporary Norwegian Cruise Line brand but longer visits by its two premium brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

As detailed in a conference call with investors, the U.S. government decision to shutter Cuba with no advance warning hit NCLH third-quarter earnings big-time.

“Given the suddenness of the termination and the lack of lead time we had to make any meaningful fleet redeployment changes, the third quarter bears the largest negative earnings impact from the Cuba travel ban,” said Frank Del Rio, the company’s CEO.

The hit was more than $47 million.

Overnight, high yielding routes to Cuba for the Norwegian brand turned into low-yielding routes to the Bahamas. And several months later came Hurricane Dorian, which made its own dent in NCLH’s earnings through cancelled sailings and reworked itineraries.

Del Rio said Norwegian plans to redeploy half of its Bahamas capacity to higher-yielding areas such as Alaska, the eastern Mediterranean and Asia, and will slowly get out from under the Cuba aftermath.

Even more impacted by Dorian than Norwegian was Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, whose only destination is the Bahamas.

It suspended its two-day sailings to Grand Bahama for most of September, filling in the time by providing much-need relief and evacuation services.

The silver lining, of sorts, is that Dorian forced Bahamas Paradise into a new market, Nassau, which was not much affected by the storm. It now runs one of its ships from West Palm Beach to Grand Bahama and the other to Nassau.

Bookings for Nassau started slow, said Francis Riley, senior vice president of sales and marketing, but are now on par with those to Grand Bahama. Part of the attraction is the Cruise & Stay program where guest can vacation for two or four nights at one of four Nassau hotels:  Atlantis, The Melia, the Comfort Suites Nassau or the SLS Baha Mar.

Bahamas Paradise has a similar program in place on Grand Bahama with the Lucayan, which has reopened, and the Viva Wyndham, which plans to reopen Dec. 10.

Unlike Norwegian, Bahamas Paradise doesn’t have plans to go elsewhere, and it is busy selling the Bahamas to Canadians and New Yorkers, who have just started getting the frosty temperatures they can look forward to until next spring.

Norwegian Cruise Line boss nets $1.3m in the share sale

Image result for andy stewart nCL

Norwegian Cruise Line boss Andy Stuart netted $1.3 million from the sale of shares.

He sold 25,000 shares in parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in two tranches last week, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The sale at $50 per share came after the company reported record second-quarter financial results with earnings of $240.2 million for the three months to June 30.

The lift in profits came despite the impact of the abrupt US government ban on cruise ships calling into Cuba and a technical problem with the ship Norwegian Pearl which forced one cruise to be amended and another to be canceled.

Company president and CEO Frank Del Rio said at the time: “The underlying fundamentals of our business remain strong across all core markets, and we continue to expect record financial results in 2019, despite the impact from the change in federal regulations which resulted in the cessation of premium-priced Cuba sailings.”

NCLH has a market capitalization of $10.88 billion and controls NCL alongside Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Norwegian CEO Del Rio enthused about return to Turkey

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Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said the company’s decision to return to the Eastern Mediterranean in 2019 is working out so far.

After pulling out of the region in 2016 because of terrorism fears and political instability in Turkey, NCLH has scheduled 12 sailings this year and has an additional 20 on the calendar for 2020.

“All 12 sailings in 2019 are better loaded and at higher pricing than the surrounding sailings that do not include Turkey,” Del Rio said.

He told investors on a conference call to discuss fourth quarter and 2018 earnings that Turkey is the key to the itinerary.

“The fact that the North American consumer, who is the one booking most of these Eastern Mediterranean cruises, seem to want to come back to the eastern Med and is willing to pay a premium price bodes very well for 2020,” Del Rio said.

The risk is that itineraries must be developed and sold 18 to 24 months in advance of sailing, he continued.

“So you test the waters, you see what happens, and it takes you a while to really ramp up. So at this point, assuming there are no other disruptions — reasons to not go to the Eastern Med — I expect that we along with the rest of the industry will probably increase the number of deployments to the Eastern Med beginning in 2020 and even more in 2021.”

Del Rio, who has a hand in all itinerary planning at NCLH, said that when the eastern Med is good, “it’s as good as any, if not the best, of all itineraries.”

On the call, Del Rio said NCLH enters 2019 in the best-booked position in its history, giving yield managers more leeway to raise prices.

“We’re pushing prices higher wherever we can,” Del Rio said. “While we still have a lot of cabins to fill, the emphasis will be on raising prices — on all three brands.”

In addition to Norwegian Cruise Line, NCLH operates Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The company had net income of $954.8 million in 2018, up 25.6% from the $759.9 million recorded a year earlier. Revenue rose 13% to $6.1 billion.

Last year, NCLH decided to redeploy the Norwegian Joy from China to Alaska, where it will cruise starting in April alongside sister ship Norwegian Bliss. That will increase NCLH’s presence in Alaska to 9% of total capacity, up from 7% last year.

Capacity in the Asia Pacific region will drop to 6% from 12% last year. NCLH will have six ships in Europe this summer and capacity there increases to 23% from 20% last year, while year-round capacity in the Caribbean is pegged at 36%.