Allan E. Jordan
Norwegian Encore berthed at the line’s newly renovated private island, Great Stirrup Cay
At the end of 2019, Norwegian Cruise Line introduced the new Norwegian Encore to the cruise industry, which became a symbolic moment in the history of the company. The final ship of the highly successful Breakaway and Breakaway-Plus class, Norwegian Encore is also the last of 13 ships built by Meyer Werft that embodied the revitalisation of one of the most storied brands in the cruise industry. Now, 20 years after pioneering ‘Freestyle Cruising’ in 2000, Norwegian has resumed its role as a cruise innovator.
Featuring a contemporary resort-style décor, Norwegian Encore builds on the successes of the brand with elements such as a longer electric go-kart race track, a virtual reality pavilion and an expanded Vibe Beach Club. New elements include an upscale Italian restaurant Onda by Scarpetta. “We loved the way Joy and Bliss came out, but we took it up one more step with Encore,” says Harry Sommer, who became president and CEO on 1 January 2020.
Sommer, who previously led international for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings for five years, took the reins from Andy Stuart, who had been with Norwegian for 31 years, including the last five at the helm of the company. His diverse experience includes positions in marketing, operations, accounting, finance and revenue management – and for a time, he stepped away from the corporate side to run a cruise-only travel agency. “The combination of all my experience gives me a very well-rounded perspective on the industry, but the experience of running a travel agency is seminal,” he says. “It helps me to understand the business challenges and environment for our travel partners.”
Sommer plans to leverage this experience to build on Norwegian’s current strengths. One important element of his role will be his interaction with travel partners as well as the consumer. “I plan to spend a lot of time working with our partners to further expand these relationships,” he says. “I also get 15 to 20 consumer e-mails a day and I read and respond to all of them because it is important to hear what the consumers are saying.”
With no new ships launching in 2020, Sommer will take the opportunity to focus on resolving operational issues and continuing efforts to elevate the brand experience. Fleet renovations will continue, with Norwegian Spirit being redone in a style similar to Norwegian Encore and both Pride of America and Norwegian Epic scheduled for renovations. “We are aggressively working to continue upgrading our product, ranging from the look of the ships, to elements such as the food, menus and entertainment, as well as the facilities at Great Stirrup Cay,” Sommer says.
However, Sommer believes that Norwegian can still do a better job of telling the story of the advantages of cruising. “Out of every 100 vacations, two are cruises and 98 are in a hotel,” he says, highlighting future opportunities. Consequently, he plans to redouble Norwegian’s efforts on branding by shifting the conversation towards experiences and says guests should expect new marketing campaigns, enhancements to the website and continued internal improvements in areas such as reservations and customer service.
All these efforts are designed to prepare for Norwegian’s next phase of growth. “The launch of the first Project Leonardo ship is two and a half years away, but we will open sales for this new ship in the second quarter of 2020, so there is much to be done,” he says.
Sommer remains coy on the details of the new ships, saying only that they will build on Norwegian’s current experiences but notes that these are the first ships that the current team, including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ president and CEO Frank Del Rio who is known for his design acumen, has been able to develop from scratch.
With its renewed reputation of innovation enhanced by the successful launch of Norwegian Encore and her sister ships, and the ongoing efforts to elevate the passenger experience, the cruise industry will be closely watching to see what Norwegian has in store for the future.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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