Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter: Nov. 25, 2003

NATIONAL LEISURE GROUP'S $110 million acquisition of MyTravel Group's U.S. cruise division closed Friday, making NLG the largest provider of cruise vacations in North America, the company said. The MyTravel deal included the CruisesOnly and 1-800-CRUISES brands, the CruiseOne franchise company and the Cruises Inc. independent agent network. It also included destination services provider Ship 'n Shore and meetings and incentives company Landry & Kling. As reported, Carnival Corp. loaned NLG $30 million to complete the deal; both companies have said the loan will not affect the relationships between NLG and other cruise suppliers.

IN AN EXCLUSIVE interview, NLG's senior vice president of marketing Tom Gerace said the company plans to invest in all three cruise brands over the next years by increasing marketing investments, outfitting them with NLG's back-end technology and possibly integrating NLG and cruise-retailer management teams. The cruise division represents "north of 10%" of worldwide cruise sales, Gerace said. But NLG won't stop there: Look for more acquisition announcements and brand investments from the Woburn, Mass-based company. Gerace wouldn't comment on specific acquisition targets, but he said NLG is interested in broadening its distribution reach. "Our focus is on vacations and cruises, " he said, "and we intend to dominate."

OCEANIA CRUISES said next year it won't permit agents to publicly discount its products, becoming the second supplier this month -- the other is Tauck World Discovery -- to clamp down on the practice. Oceania reserves the right to terminate "any and all" relationships with retailers who promote discounted or rebated Oceania cruises at prices lower than what the line offers through its res center, an Oceania spokesman said. Several cruise lines and retailers applauded the move, although others said that cruise discounting has become so widespread that it'll be tough to reign in or eliminate the practice. Oceania brass said that although discounting off the price is verboten, adding value through add-ons -- like using extra commission to tack on a limo ride to the pier or give an onboard credit voucher -- is fine.

CELEBRITY CRUISES will add alternative restaurants and its Concierge-class services to its Century-class ships, the Century, the Galaxy and the Mercury. A spokeswoman said the restaurant plans aren't finalized, so there's no word yet on the time frame.

PLANS FOR PRINCESS CRUISES' largest ship to-date, the Caribbean Princess, are humming along at top speed; in fact, the company said the 116,000-ton vessel will be ready for an early debut next April. The Caribbean Princess' inaugural voyage will be April 3, two weeks sooner than originally planned, which gives the ship time to offer two additional seven-day western Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale. The Caribbean Princess is under construction at Fincantieri in Italy.

RADISSON SEVEN SEAS CRUISES began using its new reservations system, which gives its res agents real-time access to fleet-wide promotions and to company deals in place with individual agencies.

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