Earlier this week Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) announced that they are changing their affinity group program. Although the announcement came out this week, it will go into effect for new group bookings starting on December 1st of this year, applying to any sailings departing after January 1, 2016. This gives travel consultants plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the program before it goes into effect.
A solid groups program is important for any cruise line, and it appears that NCL has been paying attention to feedback from their travel partners about what we need/want when it comes to booking groups with them.
Group leaders, of course, appreciate earning complimentary tour conductor berths, but NCL also considered other amenities that would make a group appealing to passengers.
According to NCL the new program “offers three customizable guaranteed amenity options for groups of 7-199 staterooms, ensuring that every affinity group will have an ideal package built to their needs.” NCL believes that they are “offering the most flexibility and strongest amenities in the cruise sector” and “is now providing affinity groups with more choices to allow greater customization based on the type of group booked, as well as the most attractive tour conductor policy in the industry.”
The new tour conductor policy will be 1 complimentary berth for every 14 berths sold into the group. However, one of the amenity options available is to make that 2 complimentary berths for every 14 berths sold. Most mass market cruise lines typically offer 1 complimentary berth for every 16 sold, although some cruise lines do offer the ability to use GAP points to reduce that down to 1 for every 12 or 14 sold. Some of the smaller, luxury and river cruise lines do offer a more attractive tour conductor policy (some as low as 1 complimentary berth for a few as 4 rooms, 8 passengers booked). But in the mass market, NCL is stepping up the game.
Other options, in lieu of the 2nd free berth, include either the Ultimate Beverage Package or prepaid gratuities for the first two guests in each stateroom, or a choice of any two of the following options:
- 250 minute internet package per room
- $50 per port shore excursion credit
- 20 image photo package
- $75 on-board credit
- $75 fundraising credit
- $75 bonus commission
- A group cocktail party
- Up to a four-day specialty dining package
Other than the bonus commission, all of these amenities have strong appeal to passengers. As with any group program, there are restrictions that apply, such as a minimum number of rooms required to qualify for the tour conductor berths or other amenities. However, with the announcement coming approximately six weeks before going into effect, everyone has time to become familiar with the group and ask questions of their Business Development Manager or the NCL groups department. NCL is giving everyone plenty of time to adjust, and not just throwing us to the wolves.
I am a strong advocate of blocking group space with cruise lines to lock in amenities as well as lower cruise fares. With this NCL announcement, I would definitely encourage travel professionals to look at blocking group space with NCL starting December 1, 2015 and later, which can help to give you a competitive edge with your clients.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com), she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.