People in the know will tell you that Oceania Cruises, part of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), is a world apart when it comes to sailing the seas. The small cruise line has a fleet of six smaller, luxurious ships carrying around 600-1200 guests, offering a five-star product with an emphasis on expertly curated travel experiences.
Last week, company executives arrived in Israel on their first visit since the outbreak of corona to meet with a new dedicated PR office set up by Sunorama Cruises, Oceania Cruises’ preferred partner in Israel, and to express “confidence in the Israeli market in general, and more specifically in Sunorama Cruises and our many travel agents.”
One of the visiting executives is Riet Goetschalckx, Director of Sales for Mainland Europe, Middle East, and South Africa, now 13 years at Oceania Cruises and hailing from Belgium. She gave Passport News a special interview, offering some great insights into the industry’s challenges and some of the biggest post-pandemic trends.
Much like other cruise lines, Oceania had big plans for Israel before COVID. Is that something you’re contemplating again?
We’ve always been active in Israel, love Israel and our partners here, and have always had great confidence in the Israeli market.
Yes, we were severely hit during COVID, mainly in markets like South Africa and Israel. Both were closed for longer than in other countries, so reaching travel agents and getting back in business wasn’t easy. But thankfully, things are turning around quite nicely, and we see a bright future ahead of us.
What we see now, since April, is that our whole fleet is in the water, including the refurbished ‘Oceania Next’ Nautica, with bookings going strong. So we are in a good position, we see an excellent booking curve for 2023-24, which gives us confidence that people are very loyal to the brand and are eager to travel and come back.
The aviation world is now struggling to meet demand with a massive shortage in the workforce. Do you see this happening on cruises as well?
From personal experience, I can say that these airport problems are real, as my flight from Brussels was canceled yesterday.
As for the cruise industry, many cruise lines had to start from scratch with basic training. We hear that some companies have problems recruiting.
Thankfully, since we are part of NCLH, we managed to keep active; we’ve been able to keep our jobs, so we don’t need to recruit from scratch, we don’t have that problem. I believe that solid cruise lines, airlines, and travel agencies, seeing the big picture from the beginning, can weather the storm more easily. We even plan to add two ships to our fleet, one in 2023 and one in 2025.
What sets you apart from other cruise lines?
As you know, we operate with only six ships, four of them with a capacity of around 600 guests and the other two with about 1250. We’re a luxury line, probably the best in the world in cuisine, but we try to be humble.
We know how to react to global changes. For example, we still operate in the Baltics in the summer season (though not in St. Petersburg right now), but we change the itinerary where needed, adding other overnight stays in Scandinavia, for example. If something goes wrong, we make the necessary changes. Unless it is absolutely required, we don’t just cancel on a short notice base, like what happened yesterday with my flight.
One of the most significant advantages is that smaller ships can dock in any harbor. And we like to stay longer in some of our ports of call. We often stay overnight, and even two nights in some popular destinations like Bangkok.
Our guests are typically a bit older, more experienced globetrotters. They like the luxury, the authentic experiences, and the more local, greener, and culinary excursions, not the traditional ones. Our guests really love the ambiance onboard our ships. We offer a luxury 5-star product in food and service, and the atmosphere is elegant but very casual. It’s good value for money for people looking for something extra.
And in terms of destinations?
Unlike some cruise lines that operate in the same areas and offer identical itineraries, we cover nearly the whole world. We dock at more than 450 ports across Europe, Alaska, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, New England-Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Tahiti, and the South Pacific. We offer the epic 180-day Around the World Voyage, which usually sells quickly, this year our Around the World voyage sold out in just 24 hours.
How come it’s so popular?
It has to do with some of the biggest trends we see right now, especially post-COVID. First, guests gravitate towards smaller ships, they want more pampering (they book bigger suites), and instead of just ten nights, they want a grand voyage, 40 nights, and more. It saves them a lot of flight time; they feel they have a home away from home.
Exotic destinations are also going strong now. We have a sailing around Australia on Dec 23; we have French Polynesia, Dubai to Mumbai, South America, Cape Town to Portugal, and much more.
How do you see the Israeli market? We can be pretty demanding, as you probably know.
I would not call Israelis demanding; I’m now working 13 years with Oceania, and let me tell you, Israelis are not the most demanding. But, yes, as a client, you have the right to be demanding, but if nothing goes wrong, if we sell the right product to the right person and do the job well, there’s no reason to be demanding.
Also, you must remember we have smaller ships, so if the guest is unhappy with something, we can always react rather quickly.
Internationally your name precedes you, but Oceania Cruises is still not as well-known in Israel. How do you plan to change that?
There is a difference between mass-marketing big ships, when you have to shout aloud, and a small bespoke company. But yes, we need to work on this. We have a small fleet and a great marketing department that does an excellent job. As a small boutique cruise line, we want more exposure and to pick up the message again.
Word of mouth is very important to us. Like many small boutique hotels, we don’t shout; we target many repeat customers, but we need to reeducate the agents, which takes time. What makes us a success story is that many guests come back for new destinations. That way, they enjoy the same atmosphere and method of discovering the world. For travel agents, it makes the job easier: after their clients’ first experience with Oceania Cruises, they will simply book their next one onboard, and the agency will be informed within 48 hours of the new booking, including the full commission.