Norwegian Cruise Line executive discusses the company’s 3 luxurious options

The Regent Seven Seas Cruise is considered by many to be the world’s most luxurious all-inclusive cruise line. With an onboard spa and a balcony attached to each suite, the US$450 million (HK$3.4 billion) Regent Seven Seas Explorer ship is without doubt the most opulent option from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. However, it’s not the only way to sail the seven seas.

In addition to Regent, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. operates two other lines – the eponymous Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Oceania Cruises.

Steve Odell, senior vice president and managing director of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Asia Pacific operations, recently stopped over in Hong Kong. Based in Sydney, Odell has more than 30 years of experience working in the luxury cruise industry, including 17 years at Silversea Cruises.

Gafencu met with Odell at the Langham Hotel to discuss what Norwegian Cruise Line can offer to different types of customers.

What’s the difference between the three brands?

NCL has the big ships. They can carry 2,000 to 4,500 passengers, and there are 14 ships now. The Regent brand is the top of the pyramid, so there are four ships, which carry around 700 passengers per ship. It’s all suites and balconies – very high-end. And then in between you have Oceania, which has six ships, and they’re slightly larger at 700 to 1,200 passengers. So you’re catering to different markets.

I always try to make the comparison with hotels. If you’re coming to Hong Kong, Regent might be the Upper House, Oceania might be the Langham and then the NCL product is probably more of a Marriott or something in that 4-star range.

What type of cruise appeals most to Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese?

The story differs by brand, but we sell all three brands very well. But most Hong Kong people who take our cruises go further afield. They go to the US, to Alaska and to Europe. They tend not to cruise in their backyard here in the Asia Pacific region.

The China business is almost entirely backyard business. The mainland Chinese cruise market is very focused on cruises out of Shanghai and Tianjin, and the cruises are mostly three to five days. I think the more sophisticated travel markets in Asia, particularly Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, are going further afield. It’s a different market.

What’s the selling point of Regent Seven Seas Cruises?

It’s about giving people the ultimate experience at sea. It’s about making people feel very special, and it’s about attention to detail. One of my old bosses used to call it ‘anticipatory service’thinking about what the customer wants before they’ve thought about it themselves. I think that sums up luxury because our customers come from beautiful homes, they travel business class around the world and they have high expectations. If you can deliver something that is polished and memorable, and something where they feel really special and recognised, that’s what that brand is about.

We just finished building a ship last year called the Seven Seas Explorer and it’s the most luxurious cruise ship ever built. This ship has the widest choice of restaurants we’ve ever had. It’s got six restaurants – all of a very high standard – plus 2,000 pieces of artwork that were personally chosen for the ship. There’s a spa, and even a culinary kitchen where people can learn to cook. The delivery of service and making a guest feel like they’re the most important person there is key.

What sets Regent Seven Seas Cruises apart from competitors?

With Regent we are the most inclusive, and that’s the thing that sets us apart. We include excursions and we don’t charge for speciality restaurants. We include fine wines, champagnes, drinks and gratuities. So once you’ve paid, you really don’t need to spend anymore. We also have the widest dining choices on our Regent ships. And these are really spacious vessels. We carry 700 people, but that kind of ship in other brands would carry about 1,200 passengers, so our big point of difference is the amount of space we give the passenger. It’s the ultimate luxury hotel on water.

What are some of the details that go into the creation of a cruise line that customers may not realise?

We tend to work on a 36-month window for planning itineraries, and one of the challenges today is people are booking earlier and earlier, so we have to commit to itineraries earlier and earlier. Our planning department needs to be talking to ports around the world three years in advance to block availability because, as more and more cruise ships are arriving, it’s becoming more difficult to gain access to ports.

The other thing is giving people new experiences. You can churn out itineraries that repeat, but that’s not good enough because luxury travellers are looking for the next big thing. The best recent example is Cuba. I can remember 25 years ago when I was starting out in the business, Cuba was always a discussion point, and then finally it happened. We had our first cruise into Cuba on 10 March with Oceania, and all three brands, including Regent, now have permits to go to Cuba. That’s the kind of thing that most consumers don’t realise – the amount of work and lobbying, and the political hurdles that we have to get past in order to be able to do something like that.

Text: Emily Petsko

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