News about advances with Covid-19 vaccines is good for the travel industry, but for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), nothing beats good old product marketing.  

Speaking on a Zoom chat, Travel Leaders Group (TLG) president John Lovell told NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio that TLG's U.K. offices experienced "a great uptick in sales" for travel in Q2 and beyond, related to the recent vaccine news. Del Rio said that on this side of the pond, marketing has been a far more effective way to spur bookings than vaccine news.

"We saw a very small bump when the vaccine was first announced," Del Rio said. "We didn't see a huge spike. What we have seen is every time we do any kind of marketing, the bookings just pour in. Our philosophy has always been market to fill, not discount to fill. When you stop the marketing, you literally shut down the sales tube. And for a long time we did because there was so much uncertainty."

Travel Leaders Group president John Lovell and NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio speaking on a Zoom chat.
Travel Leaders Group president John Lovell and NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio speaking on a Zoom chat.

He cited record booking days for NCLH's Regent and Oceania brands, such as an Oceania Labor Day promotion and the marketing of Regent's 2022 World Cruise, which shattered by 40% its previous best booking day ever.

"I worry about just about everything these days," Del Rio said. "But consumer demand is not one of the things I worry about. It's there, and it will be there and it will come back quickly."

Related report: Norwegian is looking into the legality of vaccination requirement

Del Rio said the line is still being cautious about overmarketing, despite the amount of pent-up demand for cruising. 

"All you have to do is tickle that customer a little bit and they come running. But we don't want to do too much of it until we know for sure when we're cruising. It's not fair to them, it's not fair to the agency community to do work unnecessarily and it's not fair to us," Del Rio said. 

NCLH will look at speedier commission payments
 
Lovell asked Del Rio if there is a way for NCLH to accelerate commission payments to travel advisors, citing the hardship on agencies of having to wait until ships sail to get commission. Del Rio responded that NCLH is "looking at it, and we want to be able to help and there may be some ways to do it." 

"Once we know we're up and going, once I have the confidence that I don't have to keep hoarding cash for our own survival, we can all be a little more flexible and liberal knowing we're back to the same cash flow timing that allows us all to flourish," Del Rio said. 

He told Lovell that he's "cognizant of the hardship that your members are going through." 

"They have cash burn out the door like we do," he said, adding that unlike NCLH, which being a public company has  been able to raise more than $5 billion this year, the majority of agencies don't have that kind of access to investment. "We're going to see what we can do when this thing begins to turn to alleviate these issues." 

"I don't know of a more symbiotic relationship in the industry than the cruise industry and travel agent community," he said. "We're cognizant of that, and we want to see how we can help. We, too, have cash flow issues, and because we keep canceling cruises further and further out, we're not taking full payments. There are very, very few full payments these days because of the uncertainty. So we're all in this incredibly awkward situation together."

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