Business Insider Edition

Norwegian Cruise Line exec goes on leave after telling employees to downplay Covid-19 in sales calls

Becky Peterson , Business Insider US
 Mar 20, 2020, 06:45 PM
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his coronavirus task force, above, met with cruise ship executives in Florida on March 7.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Norwegian Cruise Line executive Bob Becker went on leave this week after encouraging his sales teams to downplay the coronavirus when selling cruises.
  • Becker, who joined the company in 2008, was removed from an office search feature around Monday, one employee said. An automatic reply to his email address also indicated he is "temporarily unavailable."
  • Becker's aggressive sales style came under fire after the Miami Herald published an email in which the executive said "no one knows or cares about the Coronavirus."
  • Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to a request for comment.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Norwegian Cruise Line executive Bob Becker went on leave this week after instructing his sales team to downplay the coronavirus and mislead customers while selling cruises, Business Insider has learned.

Becker, executive vice president of consumer research & passenger services, was removed from an intra-office search feature around Monday, according to a NCL employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. An automatic response to Becker's work email address on Wednesday said he is "temporarily unavailable" and sent instructions to contact the president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, Harry Sommer, directly.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to a request for comment. Becker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Becker's leave comes after a series of leaked emails laid out NCL's aggressive sales strategy at a time when the cruise industry and the world were rushing to figure out the true impact that COVID-19 would have on global travel.

Last week, NCL announced a pause on all cruises until April 11, and on Wednesday, employees based in the United States were notified of temporary changes to their compensation structure, including a 20% pay cut and a 4-day work week, to reduce company spending in the face of lost revenues, Business Insider reported. Those changes, which don't affect international or ship employees, will last from March 30 to June 22.

See also: Covid-19 update: SA is getting price controls – here’s everything on the list

The first sign the cruise industry could be in trouble came on February 1, after a man who had been on Carnival Corporation's Diamond Princess tested positive for the coronavirus six days after he left the ship. The next morning, 10 people still aboard the ship also tested positive.

Three weeks later, Becker encouraged his teams to ignore the virus altogether. In an email to the NCL sales team from February 24, Becker said that on a trip to a bar in Buffalo he realised that "no one knows or cares about the Coronavirus," the Miami Herald reported on March 12.

"This is where we turn it up, for every cancellation you get, work harder for your next 3 bookings," he said in the email. Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer and other executives were copied on the message, according to the report.

Leaked emails to the Miami New Times, first reported March 11, included a script for sales personnel to use on potential customers who brought up the coronavirus.

Cruise bookers were instructed to tell customers scientifically inaccurate information to close deals, including that "the Coronavirus can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise," according to the report.

Other talking points include that "scientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the Coronavirus," and that the virus "cannot live in the amazingly warm and tropical temperatures that your cruise will be sailing to," according to the report.

Becker brought change to NCL

Becker joined NCL in 2008 from its competitor Carnival Cruise Line, and in September he was promoted to third in command after cruise line president and CEO Andy Stuart was replaced with Sommer.

Becker was known inside of the company for his aggressive sales techniques. Even employees who previously focused on customer service were given training on how to close sales, one employee said.

"It's a 'whatever you have to do to save the sale' mentality ever since Bob came into play," that person said.

When he joined the company, Becker's annual compensation included a $250,000 (R4 million) salary, plus an incentive bonus between $350,000 (R6 million) and $750,000 (R12 million), according to a public filing. He also got equity in the company as part of his compensation.

His contract, which renews annually on March 17, also included a severance provision in the case that his contract was terminated without cause. That severance is one time his base salary plus his base salary for whatever time was left of his annual contract.

It's unclear whether Becker's contract was amended during his 12 years at the company, or whether his leave is related to the contract renewal.

For more information direct from the source, see also:

the NICD hotline for Covid-19 is: 0800-029-999.

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