Norwegian Cruise Line courts Israeli market

Do you want to explore the world without having to fight the lines at the airport and be informed on the way to the airport that your flight has been canceled? Go by boat.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE’S ‘Norwegian Epic’ ship. (photo credit: Courtesy)
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE’S ‘Norwegian Epic’ ship.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Cooped up at home for two years, a travel-starved world is now taking to the air in a frenzy that is creating mammoth lines at understaffed airports and wreaking havoc on airlines that often don’t have enough pilots or planes to meet the demand.

The result: canceled flights, lost luggage and badly frayed nerves. You call that a vacation?

Nick Wilkinson, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) regional vice president of business development Israel, Middle East & Africa, has a remedy – cruises. Do you want to explore the world without having to fight the lines at the airport and be informed on the way to the airport that your flight has been canceled? Go by boat.

Wilkinson is bullish both on the future of the cruise industry – something that might sound counterintuitive after the COVID-19 pandemic – and the future of the Israeli cruise market.

“The Israeli market is very important for NCL,” Wilkinson said in an interview during a recent visit here. “When you go back to 2018 and 2019, Israel was one of the top 10 source markets for cruises with NCL. That is an incredible position when you have a population at the nine million mark, and you have more people per capita on cruises than in many other larger countries around the world.”

 Nick Wilkinson. (credit: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE) Nick Wilkinson. (credit: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE)

“The Israeli market is very important for NCL.”

Nick Wilkinson, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) regional vice president of business development

In 2017, for instance, some 85,000 Israelis set sail on cruises, or about 1% percent of the population.

What makes the Israeli numbers even more impressive, he said, is that for the most part, Israelis were flying abroad to embark on the cruises, since except for the Israeli Mano Cruise line, the big cruise lines didn’t embark from here.

That is changing. Royal Caribbean is beginning to sail from Haifa this summer, and NCL will have a cruise of the Greek islands and Italian ports leave from Haifa in November.

Having the ship embark from Haifa is part of the company’s cultivation of Haifa as a home port, with another one of its ships scheduled to make stops at Haifa on five other occasions this year.

“People ask me who our competition is,” he said. “Our competition is not the other cruise lines, it is the land-based resorts. We are a floating resort. The one thing that we can do [is] that the land-based resorts can’t change the scenery every day, and that gives the passengers so many new opportunities.”

Wilkinson said there were certain characteristics of the Israeli market to which his company caters.

Why is this good for Israelis?

The first characteristic is that many Israelis travel by “tribe,” meaning that it has more multigenerational families on board than most other countries in the world: grandparents, parents and their children. As a result, he said, “you want to make sure that on every cruise there is something for every age group.”

Secondly, he said, Israelis want freedom once on board. As such the cruise line has no assigned dining and entertainment times, and no formal dress codes.

And, finally, the Israeli market is characterized by a large number of people who keep kosher.

“We offer kosher meals on every one of our ships — prepackaged meals, and we provide a full menu to choose from for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.

In addition, Wilkinson said the chefs on NCL ships accommodate kosher diners who are interested in eating fish that is double-wrapped in foil and cooked separately. Although Wilkinson did not know exactly how many kosher travelers came from Israel, he said the number is “staggering,” and that – taken together with kosher passengers from other parts of the world – “we offer on board tens of thousands of kosher meals a year.”

Wilkinson also used the word “staggering” in another context as well: describing post-corona interest in cruises.

NCL has 17 ships sailing to over 300 destinations, and after a 500-day suspension of its sailings because of the coronavirus, it is now up and running at full speed. In addition, it is building a new class of six ships, with the first – the Norwegian Prima – set to sail in late August from Iceland

“Our CEO said that as long as we don’t have another black swan event, 2023 will be our most successful year yet,” he said, adding that what is true globally, is also expected to be true in Israel.

 “The Israeli passion for travel is infectious,” he said. “The percentage of Israelis who are not in Israel in July and August is incredible: they want to travel, see the world and explore.”