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Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) Has a Big New Draw, and it's Not Shows or Buffets

Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020 by Steve Anderson

Norwegian Cruise Line (NLCH) Has a Big New Draw, and its Not Shows or Buffets

The cruise line market may well be the single hardest-hit market in the whole history of the coronavirus outbreak. With ships full of sick people trying frantically to find docking berths and the idea of actually going on a cruise now about as palatable to some as going on safari wearing a suit made of sirloin, the cruise line industry is pulling out all the stops to get cruisegoers back. Norwegian Cruise Line (NASDAQ: NCLH) is no different, bringing in one major new tool to draw the loyal customer back into the fold.

So What's this Big Draw Norwegian Has on Hand?

Normally, when people think “cruise line”, they think of expansive buffets that stretch hundreds of feet featuring exotic dishes from around the world, or maybe exciting new stage shows. No, Norwegian's planned draw takes the customers' biggest fear of getting back on a boat and attempts to address it. Norwegian is putting in a range of new air filtration tools to help coax the concerned back on board.

Norwegian turned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this, launching a range of new safety measures aimed at making their cruises safe again. This includes a range of H13 HEPA filters, which will remove 99.95% of pathogens from the air. These are the same kinds of filters, reports note, that are used on airlines, so that should provide a certain comfort to the worried traveler.  Since the CDC has also suggested the use of HEPA filters during the SARS outbreak in hospitals, that should give Norwegian a leg up.

It's Not Just Air Filters, Either

Norwegian isn't banking the cruise line's future on-air filters alone, either; the company is planning to stage health screenings as part of its boarding process, with those considered “at-risk” (though just what “at-risk” is is a bit unclear) subject to extra screening. Plus, Norwegian will be staggering their check-in times as a way to promote social distancing and taking passengers' temperature checks with wireless operations throughout the cruise.

Then, in a shot that will hurt Norwegian's own bottom line, the company will be sailing with fewer than maximum guests at every opportunity, helping to improve the social distancing factors still further. It's also looking to reduce chances of infection by cutting out self-serve buffets, long a staple of the cruise industry, and also potentially cut occupancy from shared rooms like gyms, nightclubs, and theaters.

Will the Government Get Out of the Way?

All of this sounds like about a solid a plan as could be engineered, but there's one problem: as of right now, it's moot. Even if Norwegian had a plan to execute by firing squad every molecule of COVID-19 that came within a three-mile radius of its vessels, the line couldn't actually sail anyway. The CDC has a “No Sail Order for Cruise Ships” in effect since April, that is set to stay active either through July or “until the coronavirus pandemic is over.”

Norwegian is being slightly optimistic, however, and is looking to restart operations July 1. Given that even the most recalcitrant states have engaged in a large amount of reopening since—Gretchen Whitmer shut down Michigan's stay-at-home order only yesterday—it may not be out of line to see the cruise ships roll again.

Holed Below the Waterline Already?

The question, however, is will this do any good? We've already seen Disney try something like this, attempting to safen-up the Magic Kingdom with mandatory face masks in the sweltering Florida summer, as well as voluntarily taking massive revenue cuts with reduced occupancy.

Norwegian is pulling a lot of the “experience” out of the “cruise experience” concept, and that's not likely to do it a lot of favors in the early stage. Imagine how many cruise-goers will be eager to get on board a ship where the buffets are completely out of the picture, the shows are socially-distanced, and your chances of finding shipboard romance are pretty much nil. Honestly, does anyone think there will be a lot of wistful gazing into one another's eyes from a range of six feet?

However, it's obvious that Norwegian can't leave that fleet of floating fiberglass condos mothballed much longer, not if it wants to be a going concern again. It, like every other business, needs revenue to live. Getting some parts of the cruise experience back up and running, and promising better to come as coronavirus finally fades into the background, is likely to be the only way forward for such operations.

Companies Mentioned in This Article

CompanyBeat the Market™ RankCurrent PricePrice ChangeDividend YieldP/E RatioConsensus RatingConsensus Price Target
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH)1.6$15.99+4.7%N/AN/AHold$32.18

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