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Frank Del Rio knows what the standard worry among cruise industry investors is these days: that a recession might loom as the global fleet is growing, potentially leading to costly new ships with a public too cash-strapped to sail on them.
The Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO just doesn’t see it playing out in his own business. During a call with analysts Wednesday, he acknowledged “a heightened level of chatter among some investors about the possible impact from the rising risk of a near-term recession, coupled with known increases in supply growth.”
But, Del Rio said, so far 2019 bookings are coming in nicely, with occupancy and pricing for the year higher than at the same time a year earlier. And the company even saw an record response after opening some 2020 trips for sale on an upcoming luxury ship.
“I’ve always believed that market analysts and government watchdogs should consider the cruise industry booking curve as a leading economic indicator because of the extended timeframe and future visibility of consumer confidence that cruise sales represent,” he said. “Today, we want to confidently tell you that we do not see any evidence of recessionary pressures on demand or on pricing as a result of global or domestic macroeconomic
conditions or that the increase in supply growth coming online over the next few years is causing any disruption in the marketplace.”
His comments echoed those by Royal Caribbean executives last week. And like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian increased its expectations for the full year.
For the first quarter, the cruise operator saw revenue increase 12.4 percent to $1.3 billion. Profit jumped from nearly $62 million last year to more than $103 million this year. Still, the share price was down slightly more than a percent to $53.19 midday.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings owns Norwegian Cruise Line, a mass-market line; the upscale Oceania Cruises; and the luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The company started sailing in China last year, a market that has been rocky of late, but Del Rio said he feels “better about China today than I certainly did six months ago.”
Capacity is dropping in China, while prices appears to be rising. And Norwegian is looking to introduce a concept there that has worked in other markets: bundling certain incentives such as dining or drinks in the cruise price.
“We’re going to test to see whether the Chinese consumer likes free stuff just like the rest of the world does,” Del Rio said. “And I’m hopeful that they do.”