How Norwegian Cruise Line is stepping up the pace

Bill Becken talks to Andy Stuart to understand why Norwegian Cruise Line is investing in branding, hardware and the guest experience

How Norwegian Cruise Line is stepping up the pace
Guests can try open-air laser tag, battling their friends in an abandoned space station setting
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

What a remarkable few years it’s been for Norwegian Cruise Line. Among other things, the company has fearlessly waded into the waters of the Chinese cruise market, conducting in-depth market research and opening offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Earlier this year, Norwegian deployed its largest, newest ship – Norwegian Joy – in Shanghai. “Norwegian Joy is our first ship tailored to that market,” says Andy Stuart, the line’s president and CEO.

Norwegian’s mounting volley of returns on investment in Asia has set the pace for promoting innovation – or at least profit – across the brand. Certainly, the line has achieved better-than-expected results in 2017. “It’s been a good year so far, especially as evidenced by our second quarter results,” says Stuart. “We’re laser-focused on finishing 2017 as strongly as we began it and to continuing the current positive momentum of the Norwegian Cruise Line brand.”

Stuart has several other key priorities for the rest of 2017 and into 2018. “We’re adding a second ship for sailings to Cuba – a destination that remains very popular with guests – and introducing a new product in New York City for the first time in four years,” he comments, adding that Norwegian Escape will begin sailing from Manhattan next year. “We’re also looking ahead to a successful launch of Norwegian Joy’s sister, Norwegian Bliss, in April 2018.”

Following positive guest feedback from Norwegian Joy, Stuart expects the launch of Norwegian Bliss to be auspicious for the brand. “The new features like the Galaxy Pavilion, the racetrack and the wide range of accommodations designed for Chinese families are resonating with guests.”

Even as Norwegian Joy’s sister, Norwegian Bliss will be quite impressive in her own right. “We’re really excited about Norwegian Bliss and all of her activities and dining concepts,” Stuart comments. “Norwegian Bliss will have a mix of exclusive firsts and Norwegian favourites, offering unexpected experiences to further elevate the onboard experience for guests who want to enjoy a resort-style vacation at sea.”

According to Stuart, Norwegian Bliss will enable Norwegian to continue its history of investing in the guest experience and bringing innovation to the high seas. “On Norwegian Bliss, you’ll see that we invested in space, for example, to allow guests to experience the destination to the maximum level,” he explains. “So, whether they are relaxing in the 10,000 square-foot observation lounge, or enjoy dining and entertainment in our expansive Waterfront, guests can appreciate the views both while in the destination and onboard the ship.”

When it comes to recreation, Stuart says Norwegian is elevating the experience even further.

“Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss are debuting the largest racetrack at sea, which is 1,000 feet long and has cars that reach up to 30 mph,” he remarks. “We’re bringing open air laser tag to a global audience, allowing guests to battle in an abandoned space station. The Aqua park is also quite an evolution because we’ve taken our very popular aqua racer slide and added a second loop and transparent sections for a more intense ride. We believe these are some of the most exciting innovations in cruising in a long time. They’re different from anything else a typical cruiser may be used to, they’re more extreme, and their themes takes the atmosphere – and ultimately our guests’ imaginations – to a new level.”

Newbuilds such as the Norwegian Bliss aren’t the only news, Stuart notes. In fact, much of Norwegian’s hardware is evolving and ship upgrades – such as those at the Grand Bahama Shipyard – are taking place continuously as part of the US$400 million revitalisation programme, The Norwegian Edge. Albeit a huge investment, the payback has already been impressive and is most definitely helping Norwegian improve the cruise experience, says Stuart.

“We know that guests expect the same type of experience, whether they’re cruising on one of our newest ships, or one of our guest favourites, like a Jewel-class ship,” he explains. “With Norwegian Edge, we are making the investment to elevate the guest experience onboard and in our destinations, both in the Bahamas and in Harvest Caye, Belize. “It’s important that we put perspective around these dry docks, in that they are not just carpets and curtains. We are bringing the ships down to the steel in many cases, and rebuilding the spaces and adding new venues – such as The Cellars, our wine bar with the Michael Mondavi Family – and concepts that have become very popular, like Moderno Churrascuria.”

Stuart is convinced that both Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss will help the line to build its customer base and port/supplier networks in China, and throughout the Asian and Pacific regions. Although he acknowledges the Chinese market’s peculiar characteristics – “it’s definitely more like a charter market, reliant on the line’s smaller travel partners” – Stuart says it’s all good for Norwegian.

“Cruise continues to grow as a vacation model in China and we have a great team across the three offices who are working closely with our travel partners to talk about the value and benefits of cruising to a new audience,” he comments.

The prospects of future growth in Asia is also the reason behind Norwegian’s new deal with China’s online and mobile commerce vendor Alibaba, which was announced this May.

“Alibaba is a powerhouse in the Chinese market,” remarks Stuart. “When we announced our partnership and held the first preview cruise, the sheer amount of impressions was staggering. We really saw the impact of what Alibaba is able to do in terms of customer reach. We’re excited about the future and are working through what the partnership looks like in the longer term.”

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Bill Becken
By Bill Becken
Wednesday, December 13, 2017