AGENT REACTION was overwhelmingly positive to
Norwegian Cruise Line's decision to pay 10% on the
noncommissionable portion of the cruise fares to agencies that
double their business -- and to continue paying 10% commission on
air to those agencies. Several agents said NCL was being
"innovative" with the plan, and Scott Keopf, vice president of the
Cruise & Vacation Specialists consortium said it was an
"interesting take ... rather than just a bonus commission." Still,
many pointed out that agents who don't double their sailed
passenger numbers (or increase those numbers by 85% if they're a
high-volume producer) will see their air pay drop to 5% after Feb.
28, a move that NCL has avoided for more than a year. Once agents
hit the incentive target, the commission is retroactive to bookings
made in 2003 and available on all future 2003 bookings.
PASSENGERS on the Sun Princess are reporting
symptoms of what is suspected to be a Norwalk-like virus. Since the
ship departed Los Angeles Jan. 25 for a round-trip Hawaii cruise,
about 229 passengers -- about 11% -- and 26 crew reported to the
ship's infirmary with gastrointestinal illness. Princess said it is
working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and stepped up
its onboard cleaning, which it said includes "sanitation of every
aspect of the ship." Passengers with symptoms are not being allowed
on shore excursions in Hawaii; Princess said those passengers will
receive full refunds on those tours.
CRUISE ANALYSTS are giving mixed reviews to
this year's Wave season, a period of typically high-volume sales.
Booking rates for the Wave period so far have equaled or slightly
exceeded the comparable 2001 timeframe, Tim Conder of A.G. Edwards
said in a research note, but "greater than expected" seasonal price
erosion also is taking place. Jason Ader, a Bear Stearns analyst,
added: "The booking pattern remains close-in, perhaps decreasing,
if only slightly, the significance of Wave season relative to
ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES president Jack Williams
echoed that sentiment, saying that although Wave is still "very,
very" important, its use as a gauge of the year has diminished a
bit. For RCCL, bookings made 90 days or closer to the sail-date
increased to 40% in 2002 from 31% in 2000, the company said. Wave
season bookings for the line were slower than expected and a softer
booking trend has been under way since about December, the line
said. CEO Richard Fain attributed the slowdown to Norwalk-like
virus reports, fear of conflict with Iraq and the economic
downturn. Still, the company added, a strong booking period through
November 2002 will help keep first-quarter yields buoyant, likely
raising them 2% to 4% year-over-year.
BREAKING UP is hard to do, but Royal Caribbean
Cruises Ltd. picked up a $33 million termination fee tied to its
thwarted combination with P&O Princess. The fee contributed to
RCCL's reported net income of $351.3 million for 2002, a 38%
increase over 2001. Revenue for the year was up 9.2%. For
fourth-quarter 2002, Royal Caribbean recorded earnings of $38.3
million, compared with a net loss of $39 million during
TWO CRUISE LINES, we hear, are trying to ensure
that it's not just Norwegian Cruise Line that gets to sail
interisland cruises in the 50th state. Holland America Line and,
according to reports, Princess Cruises, are pushing to introduce an
amendment to the 2003 appropriations bill that contains a provision
to allow NCL to operate up to three interisland cruises in Hawaii.
The amendment would allow up to five foreign-built ships from
various lines, plus one of NCL's Project America ships, to operate
the interisland sailings.
CELEBRITY CRUISES cancelled two Hawaii sailings
on the Infinity because of propulsion problems. The line will send
the Infinity into dry-dock and replace ball-bearing units in the
ship's propulsion system; the Feb. 2 and Feb. 13 sailings are
affected. This is the third time the Infinity has entered
unscheduled dry-dock because of ball- bearing problems, noted Robin
Farley, an analyst with UBS Warburg.
WINDJAMMER BAREFOOT CRUISES said its
72-passenger Mandalay will homeport in Colon, Panama, this summer,
the first regularly scheduled Windjammer cruises from that port.
The ship will sail to the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama
between June 9 and Sept. 15.