Andy Stuart is the executive vice president of global sales and passenger services for Norwegian Cruise Line. Andy is responsible for global sales, revenue management, passenger services and public relations. He also ensures revenue optimization and oversees the Company’s public relations efforts. He was appointed to this position in November 2008.
TRO: How are you helping the travel agent community match the right client to the NCL experience? What does our community need to know to book more passengers on NCL?
AS: Educating our travel partners about Norwegian’s product offerings has been a huge initiative over the last few years. We launched our online travel partner community NCL University last year and this has played a major role in informing and educating our partners. We also began hosting interactive webinars to get the word out about news and relevant information which helps our travel partners sell Norwegian more effectively.
TRO:2009 brought a historic low to pricing across the cruise industry, are you starting to see stability? When do you expect to see a rise to match the experience to the product?
AS: The cruise industry is resilient and we’ve definitely started to see the booking window lengthen. The deals that were available in 2009 will start to disappear as the economy slowly recovers.
TRO: What do you feel is an ideal travel agency relationship with NCL?
AS: The perfect travel partner relationship is one where both the partner and the cruise line are listening to each other. When we launched our travel partner initiative Partnership 2.0 in late 2008 it was predicated on having asked our partners what we were doing right and where the opportunities were. This conversation led us to a whole slew of new initiatives that have been beneficial for both parties and ultimately for our guests.
TRO: On a recent blog, you brought up the idea of collecting credit card information for your “Lunch and Learn” series to charge only for a no-show. Talk about the idea behind lunch and learn, and how the internal and external travel agent community has reacted to your suggestion of a charge for no-shows? If you do institute this policy will agents have a reliable way to cancel in an emergency to avoid a charge?
AS: The “Let’s Do Lunch” program which launched two weeks ago so far has been a resounding success with more than 1,000 travel partners signed up to explore our Freestyle Cruising ships. The program was designed to show travel partners who may have not yet cruised with us what our ships offer in order to better sell Norwegian and also to show them how we can be a key partner in assisting them in growing their business. We have yet to institute the credit card policy; however when we do the travel partner will be given a confirmation number when signing up for the luncheon which they can use to log back in and cancel their attendance up to 72 hours prior to the luncheon.
TRO: One of your counterparts has said that only 20% of people book their second cruise with the same agent that booked their first cruise. What can travel agents do to keep and build repeat business.
AS: The number one thing that travel partners can do to build repeat business is to be up to date on what the cruise line offers. This way they are able to match their clients to the right cruise. Travel partners can do this by becoming involved with NCL U, taking part in our interactive webinars, becoming a fan on our Facebook page and following us on Twitter.
TRO: Andy, you are one of the few top execs from any cruise line who regularly engages travel agents on Twitter, do you think others are missing the ship on this form of dialog?
AS: Twitter is a powerful tool that enables you to have direct contact with your customers. We are in a service industry, so I think that whenever you have the ability to interact with your customers and you don’t you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity.
TRO: How long have you been involved with Twitter and what do you see as its strengths and weaknesses?
AS: Norwegian Cruise Line (http://twitter.com/NCLFreestyle) started using Twitter about a year ago and I began tweeting shortly after that. It’s an opportunity to engage with your customers, to hear what they are saying about your product and to respond with useful information. I joined in order to add a human element to our online presence. It’s amazing how social media has given the average consumer greater access to the people behind the products they use which gives us an opportunity to really understand what they want.
TRO: How would describe the interest in Norwegian Epic at this point?
AS: Norwegian Epic is garnering the most interest from any ship launch in our history. We’re seeing a steady booking pace and strong interest in all of the innovative features the ship offers such as the diverse on board entertainment, the 20 dining options, the new stateroom concepts including the expanded Suites and Villas area and the Studios for solo travelers.
TRO: I know of several singles who are excited about the possibility of no single supplement, do you ever seen this being offered on other ships or is the Norwegian EPIC unique in this respect?
AS: The Studios are exclusive to Norwegian Epic currently and we don’t have any plans at the moment to roll this out across the fleet. We’ve received a great response so far. We’ve definitely opened up cruising to a whole other demographic that may have been reluctant to cruise due to the pricing structure.
TRO: What led to the decision to have Norwegian Epic deployed in Europe for 2011/2012 season?
AS: We’ve seen tremendous growth in the European market and we’re always striving to provide our guests with new and unique opportunities to experience Norwegian.
TRO: What are three unique things travel agents should be communicating to their customers about Norwegian Epic?
AS: The first thing they should communicate is that there are many more than three unique features of Norwegian Epic. The hallmark of Epic is its many diverse, world-class entertainment offerings including Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams & Dinner, Legends in Concert, Howl at the Moon and The Second City. In addition, the ship offers 20 dining options with a wide variety of cuisines, including many of our existing signature restaurants. We’ve also incorporated entertainment into a few of our dining venues. Finally, Epic will also offer some unique accommodations including our spa and family staterooms, as well as our expanded Suites and Villas complex, as well as the Studio staterooms for solo travelers.
TRO: You participated a great deal when Peter Greenberg sailed on the Norwegian Pearl for a week and granted him amazing access. Tell us about the feedback you have received from both consumers and the travel agent community as this program “Cruises Inc.” continues to run on CNBC.
AS: The CNBC documentary was a huge success. The response we received and continue to receive is very positive. I think it showed everyone what it really takes in order to deliver these amazing vacations.
TRO: In a recent Twitterview (something Andy hosts monthly on Twitter), you said “I always recommend travel partners as a resource”, could you expound on your answer for the travel agent community since you are not limited to 140 characters?
AS: Our travel partners have a wealth of knowledge not only about Norwegian, but about the cruise and travel industry at large. Many people have relationships with their travel agent and so in essence they trust them when making recommendations about our product. It’s a third party perspective which always adds value.
TRO: Tell us a little bit about the best parts of your job?
AS: What I enjoy the most is engaging with our travel partners and guests. It’s very insightful and often inspirational. To hear that we are assisting in driving revenue to a small home-based TA or to help the larger agencies attract new business is very rewarding. When I’m on the ships or online and hear all the positive comments, it lets me know we have succeeded in our mission to deliver amazing cruise vacations.
TRO: Share the story about the dog in Hawaii?
AS: Ah yes, I mentioned this on a recent Twitterview. I thought it went unnoticed, but thanks for bringing it up. There was a dog named Snickers abandoned on Fanning Island so Pride of America assisted with the rescue to bring the dog back to the United States. It truly was a heart-wrenching story and we were glad to help rescue Snickers!