Travel Weekly editor Sarah LongbottomThe introduction of any new cruise ship is a special occasion, and none more so than the official launch of NCL’s Norwegian Gem in Dover last Friday.

More than one thousand travel agents were invited to attend and see for themselves what the ship has to offer – and it’s quite impressive. In an innovative use of space, the atrium houses a Nintendo Wii, which creates a buzzing atmosphere in an otherwise quiet area.

Not one to rest on its laurels, NCL is already building another ship – the ‘F3’ – or “third generation of freestyle cruising”, as its executive vice president for sales, marketing and passenger services, Andy Stuart told the press on board.

The new ship will be able to accommodate 5,000 passengers, which, along with the other new ships launched this year and next, will provide considerable more capacity for travel agents and tour operators.

Cunard’s announcement this week that it is building a new Queen Elizabeth for launch in 2010 further underlines the strength of the cruising market.

NCL also pointed out that it hopes to attract first-time cruisers via its short city breaks out of the UK. These short breaks are an ideal way for your customers to test the water and gain a real understanding of the benefits of staying on a travelling resort.

To support this additional capacity, NCL is upping its consumer marketing next year, to encourage customers to book via their local travel agency. Any such consumer marketing is support indeed and agents should be alert to new or ongoing supplier campaigns that boost their profile and public awareness.

Another example of this is business-class only airline Silverjet, which launched its first broadcast TV ad last weekend on ITV. It was scheduled to air during the rugby World Cup semi-final between England and Australia, no less. Prime spot indeed and hopefully a boost to agent bookings.