Norwegian Cruise Line promotes Hawaii sailings with free-air offer

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Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America docked in Hilo on Hawaii's Big Island.
Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America docked in Hilo on Hawaii's Big Island. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

HILO, Hawaii -- Norwegian Cruise Line will offer free or reduced airfare to Hawaii in a limited promotion aimed at boosting sales for its Pride of America ship and more broadly raising Hawaii's profile following the Kilauea volcanic eruption from May to August.

Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Andy Stuart said the air deal will start Oct. 4 and be an option among five in its "Free at Sea" promotion for Hawaii.

Already, Norwegian had included discounted air and a pre-cruise hotel stay in "Free at Sea," with prices of $350 or $399 roundtrip for Hawaii bookings.

At an event at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Stuart said making the offer free was meant to showcase its value. "We really think it's going to stimulate demand and get people excited to come back."

The free airfare is being offered from five gateways on the U.S. West Coast. At 33 other gateways, roundtrip air will be offered from $299 in some Western states to $799 in Miami.

Norwegian tiptoed into free air in Alaska, conducting a one-day sale with free air for bookings of the Norwegian Joy, which was shifted from China to Alaska for 2019 on relatively short notice.

Stuart said the offer for Pride of America will be longer than a day but will be for a limited time.

In an interview, he said that there are no other free-air offers in the works currently, but that it had worked well for the Norwegian Joy and if it works for the Pride of America, it could be used in the future.

While luxury lines often use free or reduced air to help book slow sailings, it is relatively rare for mass-market lines to do so. 

Steam venting from Fissure 8, one of the prime sources of lava that added more than 800 acres to the Big Island during the Kīlauea volcano eruption from May through August.
Steam venting from Fissure 8, one of the prime sources of lava that added more than 800 acres to the Big Island during the Kīlauea volcano eruption from May through August. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Tourism to Hawaii, particularly to the Big Island, has been hit in 2018 by the one-two punch of a significant volcanic eruption, starting in May, and a tropical storm, Hurricane Lane, in September.

However, lava flows tailed off from the Kilauea volcano about a month ago and are currently "paused," allowing for a partial reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near here on Sept. 22.

Tour companies have started to revamp their offerings to reflect the changes triggered by the eruption, which added about 820 acres to the Big Island.

The eruption drained the lava lake at the Kilauea Crater and expanded the crater's size as it collapsed inward. Large new fields of solidified black lava are evident from a helicopter tour of the area, as well as continued steam venting, particularly from the rift known as Fissure 8.

About 750 structures were destroyed or isolated by the fast-moving lava, according to Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

Birch pointed to several reasons for visiting the Big Island now, beyond seeing the incredible changes wrought to the landscape. 

The absence of molten lava, which emits sulfur dioxide and other noxious fumes, has notably improved the air quality, he said. Airlift is relatively plentiful and because demand has been temporarily reduced, hotel rates are favorable.

Stuart also said it is a good time to book a Hawaii cruise, following the tremendous media coverage of the eruption.

"We had a little slowdown during that period. I would say demand is now similar to what it was before all of that news coverage, but we had a period of time where business was a bit below, so that's a gap you want to make up over time," Stuart said.

"The destination is open, we just need to spread the word," he added.

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