Frank J. Del Rio
President, Chief Executive Officer and Director at Norwegian Cruise Line
Thank you, Mark, and good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. And as always, I hope that all of you as well as your loved ones remain healthy and safe. Before going into my main commentary, I'd like to address the recent geopolitical issue, which escalated last night. The tense situation in Ukraine is regrettable. And our hopes are that the conflict ends quickly with minimal impact to the safety and welfare of those in the region. We are following the situation carefully as it impacts our voyages in the area. We have no vessels in the region until late May. And we will be updating guests on our plans and about affected itineraries as needed. We have quite a bit to share with you today, ranging from our resumption of operations to the impacts of the Omicron surge to recent developments with the CDC.
We'll also cover the booking and pricing landscape in our plans for the return to service of the balance of our fleet. So let's get started. It seems like just yesterday that we launched our Great Cruise Comeback in late July of '21 after 500 days of no cruise operations. In the five months that followed through the end of 2021, we safely carried over 230,000 happy guests around the globe, everywhere from Europe to Alaska and points in between, delivering the unique and upscale vacation experiences that only our three award-winning brands can provide. This is evidenced by our brands having achieved the highest customer satisfaction scores in our history and a reflection of the deep commitment from our crew members, who are as energized as ever to be back in the high seas serving our guests. In addition, onboard spend by guests during the quarter continued to exceed all expectations and reached all-time highs. And we delivered these unparalleled vacation experiences in the safest manner possible with protocols that are unmatched by any other area of the hospitality sector.
I'll repeat once again that our number one priority is and always will be the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we serve. And that commitment has never been more evident than in a month since our return to service. With over 230,000 guests sailing on our vessels in 2021, our COVID positivity rate was miniscule and certainly a fraction of what has been the case in the population at large. Our science-backed protocols, centered on vaccination and preboarding testing, provide a safe vacation experience that is not duplicated anywhere in the world. Today, and because of the rapid decrease in prevalence and in severity, the prospective view of the pandemic is rapidly changing across the globe. Municipalities, cities, states, countries, schools, institutions of all kinds and private businesses alike are all moderating protocols as the public health environment improves. In the past, protocols were usually pared back slowly and only when cases had receded. But we have seen many instances, Denmark and Iceland being one of the best and most recent examples, where protocols and restrictions have been moderated despite high or even increasing caseloads. This latest normal now takes into account the diminished severity of the virus and balances the extent of necessary protocols with the need to resume daily life.
The confidence for society to take these actions is mainly due to the availability and widespread uptake of vaccines, new therapeutics and broad immunity. And an NCL cruise ship is one of the few places in the world where you can be assured that at least 95% of the people around you are fully vaccinated. And we're pleased to report that the rapidly improving public health environment has allowed us also to follow the easing of COVID-related protocols occurring in broader society. You can see on the return-to-service plan on slide four, a new phase, returning to normal, that reflects those changes and advances. Our brands recently announced that effective March 1, masking for guests across our fleet will be optional while taking into account local guidelines, if any. Also, beginning March one and in conjunction with the new CDC guidelines, which I'll discuss in a moment, the Norwegian brand will begin allowing all guests under the age of 12 to sail on an ship fleet-wide.
These two steps greatly expand the addressable market for our largest and most family-oriented brand by allowing families to travel together regardless of age and without the mandate of wearing a mask. This announcement was scheduled to provide plenty of time and opportunity for families to plan their summer vacations with us. And all this comes at a time when last week, we had the lowest number of positive pre-embarkation cases per 1,000 guests by far since launching service last July during the Delta surge. Recently, we were happy to see significant regulatory progress being made as we received clarification from the CDC on updated protocols for sailing originating from the U.S. ports. Back in January, our three brands were the first in the industry to opt into the CDC's voluntary COVID-19 program for cruise ships operating in U.S. waters. When our brands first opted in, the program had not yet been finalized. However, last week, as protocols to the program were confirmed, our brands reaffirmed their commitment made in March and mid-January of opting into the program, demonstrating once again our industry-leading and unwavering dedication to health and safety with protocols that appropriately reflects the public health environment.
The program our brands have opted into calls for at least 95% of vaccine-eligible guests and crew be vaccinated. Given the differences in demographics of our brands, a vaccination requirement will differ somewhat with Norwegian requiring guests aged 12 and over to be fully vaccinated while Oceania and Regent will continue to require all passengers to be fully vaccinated. Regardless, we will continue to require that 100% of crew across our fleet be fully vaccinated and are working towards having all crew members boosted by April one. The new updated protocols also allow for mask wearing to be optional as is the case with more and more societal activities. All the industry has ever asked is to be treated the same as other areas of society. The CDC's new voluntary program is a positive step in that direction, which we expect will lead to further easing of protocols as the pandemic continues its retreat. In the meantime, we will continue to maintain best-in-class protocols centered on vaccinations and testing for the health and safety of all onboard and to offer guests the safest vacation experience possible. The resumption of service across our fleet was not without its challenges.
As difficult an endeavor as it was to pause and find safe haven for our entire fleet back in the spring of 2020, it is even a greater feat to smoothly bring back the fleet into operation and to deliver the world-class level of hospitality and service our brands are known for. I want to thank team members across our organization, from shipboard to shoreside, for the hard work, dedication and passion they displayed in returning our fleet to service. I also want to thank our loyal past and new-to-brand guests for entrusting us with what, for many, has been their first taste of travel since the pandemic began two years ago. And a special and heartfelt thanks to the travel agency community, who have weathered the pandemic like no other. We stuck together through the industry's toughest times and are now reengaged to bring us all back stronger than ever. And finally, a thanks to our shareholders, lenders, shipyard partners and the broader financial community for your support and confidence in our company, supporting our growth story and the opportunities that lie ahead.
The story of the past quarter was obviously all about the Omicron wave. Unfortunately, Omicron did not pick the best of times to make its appearance. Just as we were experiencing a solid rebound in bookings during October and November after the Delta wave began to wane and buoyed by a very successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions, the impact of Omicron began to appear in early December. First, a Norwegian vessel, whose itinerary featured multiple calls to South African port, had its operations paused as Omicron quickly spread there and additional travel restrictions were imposed. Canceling targeted sailings on certain vessels operating in the Caribbean and South America during the quarter also became necessary as an addition to travel restrictions, ports began implementing difficult, sometimes onerous requirements for docking. Concurrently, booking volumes slowed and cancellation of existing bookings increased. While Omicron did impact our business in the near term, primarily for close-in sailings in the first and second quarters, it did provide the opportunity to once again demonstrate our resilience as a company and as an industry. Our ethos throughout the pandemic has emphasized being nimble and ready to adapt. Our management team has maneuvered to what no other industry has ever had to do and has done a remarkable job doing so.
The silver lining to this pandemic is that it has brought our team even closer together and fortified the strong collaborative culture we already enjoyed and that we truly believe is one of our competitive advantages. As we return to normalcy, that positive culture will only grow stronger. Now for some good news. The impact of Omicron are waning week-by-week. While the short term has been impacted, the following points illustrate the strong underlying consumer demand that gives us confidence about the trajectory of our business in the future. First, of the guest cancellations that occurred during December and the January period, the majority were for sailings in the first and second quarters of 2022, demonstrating sustained consumer confidence in sailings further out. Second, beginning in mid-January, net booking volumes began improving and continue to do so and accelerate sequentially week-over-week. Third, booked position for each quarter in 2022 when compared to 2019 sequentially improved over the prior quarter. Fourth, despite the erosion in booked position due to the Delta and Omicron surges, as of today, second half 2022 booked position is in line with what was an extraordinarily strong 2019, while 2023, compared to pre-pandemic 2020, is in an even better position, in fact, a record booked position. Fifth, again, as of today, pricing for 2022 and 2023 sailings remained higher for the full year versus 2019 and pre-pandemic 2020, respectively, even when including the diluted effect of future cruise credits.
Our core go-to-market principle of marketing to fill versus discount to fill is performing like a champ as we have not and will not chase short-term occupancy by sacrificing price, which only results in long-term and perhaps even permanent damage to brand equity as we have seen over the years in other situations. Sixth, despite sailing cancellations and slight changes in our return-to-service plans due to Omicron, all of our vessels are expected to sail by early May and in time for the peak summer season. And lastly, we are seeing our largest and most important distribution channels coming back to full strength. Every day, we are seeing more and more business being booked by our travel partners in a shift which bodes well for the industry as the vibrant travel agent community is vital and amplifies the reach of our message to consumers, which translates into more and better bookings.
I want everyone to recall that in the past, our industry was accustomed to successfully managing through bumps in the road. Whenever there was a natural or geopolitical or some other black swan-type event that impacted bookings, you could almost count like clockwork that after eight to 10 weeks of quiet, booking patterns would rebound. We've seen this pattern occur twice already during the pandemic, once last spring after the initial variant ceded and vaccinations became prevalent and most recently, last fall, right after the Delta surge began to wane. With the public still a bit shellshocked by the sudden emergency -- emergence and equally dramatic decline of Omicron, what our business needs now is a few weeks of quiet with no new variants or surges for confidence to return and momentum to take hold. Our experts in the SailSAFE Global Health and Wellness Council, headed by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, believe we're at that point right now. So while Omicron did indeed have an immediate but short-term impact on our business, it was an impact that simply shifted expectations and the timing of our recovery by about three months. That shift in timing is coinciding with the shift in societal attitudes that I mentioned earlier from avoiding the virus at all cost to living with it. It's something we really didn't see after the Delta wave but is gaining more and more momentum post Omicron.
We are seeing more and more living of life. And we once again began hearing the term revenge travel being batted about. These shifts bode well for our company as vacationers look to once again explore the world but to do so in a safe manner. I'll be back shortly with closing comments. But for now, I'll turn the call over to Mark for his commentary and the progress of our financial action plan. Mark?