NCLH Presidents Panel shares stage with Frank Del Rio's legacy

FORT LAUDERDALE — The former CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings may not have been on stage at this year’s CruiseWorld, but his legacy and philosophy were. 

Executives at this year’s NCLH Presidents Panel discussion, all appointed during the last year of now-retired Frank Del Rio’s tenure, pointed either to his philosophy or aligned themselves with the direction he set during his three decades in the cruise industry.

“We all learned so much from Frank,” said David Herrera, who was named president of Norwegian Cruise Line in April. “Literally, how to run a cruise line, how to be a good person.”

As concerns about the possibility of a downturn weigh on the economy, Herrera said Del Rio taught him that the cruise industry is an indicator of how people feel about their financial security. 

“The cruise industry is a great canary in the coal mine,” he said. “You’re paying for something now that you’re not going to do for several months, maybe a year later.” 

If guests are concerned today about having enough money a year from now, they are probably not going to book a new cruise or may cancel what they have on the books now, he said. 

Looking at the metrics of new bookings and cancellations, he said the line hasn’t seen a negative trend in either category. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said, and urged travel advisors to reinforce the value Norwegian Cruise Line provides for guests. 

Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises president Frank A. Del Rio, the son of the former NCLH president, said one thing he’s learned about running a cruise line from his father is “be careful what you wish for.” 

The younger Del Rio, who became president of the line in January, said he spent his life wishing to be like his dad, and now he gets to be a good steward of the brand his father founded 20 years ago. He said he doesn’t plan to take Oceania in any bold new directions but is “laser-focused” on continuing the brand legacy his father created.

One of the organic pivots he said needs to happen at the company is changing how they cater to their customer demographic. While the average age of an Oceania guest has held steady at 67 years old for the past two decades, the profile of that guest has changed. 

“The 67-year-old today is not the 67-year-old from 20 years ago,” he said. “They’re a different consumer, and that’s where we’ve had to adapt,” he said, by catering to their new needs, by paying attention to their feedback and to feedback from travel advisors and staying on top of trends about what those guests want. 

Del Rio, a Gen Xer, said that age group is still who the line is going after — not necessarily a younger crowd.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises 

A year ago in this same ballroom at the Broward County Convention Center, the senior Del Rio said he wasn’t interested in building expedition ships for NCLH’s luxury line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Andrea DeMarco, who became president of Regent in January, wouldn’t rule it out, but she showed no interest in turning in that direction.

“Right now, we’re focused on being the world’s leading luxury cruise line, and that’s where our focus will stay,” she said.

The line is weeks away from debuting the its latest ship, the Seven Seas Grandeur, which she described as having been “stunningly reimagined.” 

A personal message 

DeMarco’s stage appearance at CruiseWorld was her first day back on the job after an absence stemming from a breast cancer diagnosis, she said. 

As the company’s first female president in its 55-year history, she said she wanted to use her platform to share her story and encourage women to seek out preventative screening. 

“I’m the luckiest person in the world, because I did catch it early and I expect a positive outcome,” she said. 

While she described herself as in the “middle of my journey,” she said she is excited about the future.

“One of the things I’ve learned most about this — I think we never really appreciate what health you have until you’re fighting for your life for it — is that every day matters, and every moment should be lived to its fullest,” she said. “That’s what you do every day for someone. Every day we in this industry make memories of a lifetime for families, for people and that’s what life’s all about.”

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