After 14 months of the vast majority of ships not sailing, NCLH head Frank Del Rio shares the details -- and the desired outcomes -- of the company's new Safe to Sail awareness campaign.
Del Rio said, "I think that with good communications and pure motives, that we can work together (with the CDC) to restart the cruise industry."
Here's where you can learn more about the Safe to Sail campaign.
Colleen McDaniel: Hi everyone! I'm Colleen McDaniel, Editor In Chief of Cruise Critic. Today we're talking with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio about the 'Safe to Sail' initiative. The company has launched this initiative as the cruise line aims to resume sailing from U.S. ports. Thank you so much for joining us today, Frank -- it's great to see you.
Frank Del Rio: Always good to see you, Colleen. Thank you for having me.
CM: You're welcome! Well let's just go ahead and jump right into this. Tell us about this 'Safe to Sail' initiative that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is supporting.
FDR: Well, Colleen, we think it's ready to go back on the high seas. We have put forth a very comprehensive and robust proposal to the CDC that has as its cornerstone that everyone must be vaccinated to come onboard -- both crew and guests --and we're going to combine it with the Healthy SSail Panel recommendations which, as you know, is 74 protocols developed by the leading scientists in the country; a panel that was co-chaired by the former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt. So we're confident -- beyond confident -- that we can keep COVID off the ships if everyone is vaccinated and we follow these protocols. And that's why we've launched our campaign 'Safe to Sail,'' which you can activate -- everyone on Cruise Critic -- can activate by simply texting CRUISE to 52886. This is a comprehensive campaign where you can write letters to your congressmen, your senators, the White House and the CDC itself to raise awareness because, quite frankly, I'm always surprised at how little Washington knows and this is no exception. And so we're getting great traction and we believe that we've begun to make progress with the CDC and with the authorities because of this grassroots effort that we've launched. And we need everyone's support -- every letter counts. In less than a week we've already had more than 20,000 communications from the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings family of past guests to government officials and, of course, there's no better place to activate this campaign that on Cruise Critic. Everyone, no matter what brand they they cruise on, is a cruiser. I know you all want to get back to your favorite brands and your favorite ships, and so this is one way that you can really help us get back to cruising out of U.S. ports by this summer.
CM: That's terrific. And what do you hope is the outcome of this campaign?
FDR: Well the outcome is get us back to cruising sooner than later. You know we've been now stopped going on 14 months and, as you know, it takes a good 90 days to stand up ships to get them ready from their cold layup status that they are today. So when you add 14 plus three more months -- at 17 months, almost a year-and-a-half without cruising, at a minimum. And so it's time, and we we want to get back to cruising this summer. We want to be able to save the Alaska season -- at least, the latter part of it. The folks in Alaska greatly depend on tourism and on cruise tourism as a major source of their economic activity, and it would be just an outright shame to allow them to go two years in a row without any revenue. I know what it is to have to operate a business without revenue, and it's no fun.
CM: Well one of the things that we've seen is that the Cruise Line International Association has also announced a similar initiative. How are you working together with them?
FDR: Yeah, CLIA is doing a great job of also creating awareness and we're working jointly with them. CLIA is focusing travel agents and other businesses that do business with the cruise industry like, the onshore suppliers and we're focusing on the consumer, both at our our company with our past guests -- and, of course, with Cruise Critic-- and the past guests and future cruisers on all brands.
CM: And you've also mentioned the CDC, which is sort of, you know, at the heart of this No Sail Order. How will you continue to work with the CDC?
FDR: Well, we continue to be hopeful that they'll come to the table in a constructive frame of mind so that we can work together. Look, their job is public health our job is to run a cruise company. I think that with good communications and and pure motives we can work together to restart the cruise industry. Recently we've gotten some green shoots of hope that that's exactly where their mindset now is, and certainly with more vaccinations rolling out every day. I mean, vaccinations are the key here; they're the game changer. Every day another four million to four-and-a-half million Americans get vaccinated. And so before you know it -- sometime in mid-May -- theoretically 70 percent of the adult population in the United States can be vaccinated, and by mid-June it's 100 percent. So we're not saying we want to cruise today or tomorrow, but we want to cruise sometime in July, and we think if we all have a sense of urgency and get to the table and work in earnest, we can accomplish that.
CM: Boy, wouldn't that be terrific. We can save some of our summer vacations that we've really been excited about. Finally, Frank: What would you tell cruise fans who are just eager to get back to sailing?
FDR: Patience is a virtue, right? We're all being tested. But, look: Future business is very very strong -- so incredibly strong. Just to give you an idea -- and we we mentioned this in our earnings call a few weeks ago -- our bookings for 2022 sailings are better booked than they were at this point for 2019, and 2019 was a record year. Pricing is firming -- you haven't seen massive discounting because, quite frankly, there's so much pent-up demand. You know, if 33 million people around the world cruise every year; if we do go roughly a year-and-a-half without cruising, that's 50 million people that would have cruised in the last year-and-a-half that haven't, and they want to cruise again. And as we as we ramp up cruising gradually -- because it won't be overnight, even if we wanted to, Colleen -- we can't turn the ship the entire fleet on overnight. So you're going to have an inflection point of so much demand and such little supply over the next year or year-and-a-half that pricing is going to go up. So what I would tell your valued Cruise Critic fans is book early. Because 2022 inventory is going fast and prices are only going to go up.
CM: Well I'm so glad to hear that and we're definitely hearing that from the industry that 2022 is looking really positive. But, of course, we're hoping that we see some some sailings in 2021 as well.
So thank you so much, Frank. I always appreciate talking to you.
FDR: Take care.