Norwegian Escape set sail at the end of 2015
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2015 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review.
Andy Stuart became president and chief operating officer of Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian) on 4 March this year. He has survived through many a leadership and will be at the helm as it enters its fiftieth year in 2016. “It is obviously a particularly exciting time in the company’s history,” says Stuart. In particular, he mentions the 10-month period of rapid change which started with the acquisition of Prestige Cruises International by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
Of the coming together with Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises that resulted from that event, he says: “That was big for Norwegian, to be a group of brands instead of a singular brand. It is also pretty exciting to have brands where there really is no contest across the three: Norwegian customers, Oceania upper-premium and Regent luxury. There is no confusion about where customers should go. There is something for a customer wherever they are in their lifetime. For travel agents also, they pretty much have something for everyone. That was a pretty significant change for us and has put us in a very strong position to take the group of companies forward.”
While Stuart may be a Norwegian company veteran he is a new addition to Prestige along with Wendy Beck, chief financial officer. He comments that the senior management team led by Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of NCLH, has been together for a long time. “Everyone is working well as a team. They are trying to win.”
More specifically Norwegian is about to enter a rapid growth period in the fleet which is “always very young in terms of competitors”. Norwegian Escape will be delivered later this year and is then being followed by a ship a year in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Stuart describes Norwegian as “a contemporary product which, in our view, is very appealing to today’s customer. ‘Freestyle cruising and flexibility’ is absolutely the product we see customers asking for. The whole industry is offering more flexibility but I strongly believe that we offer the most complete experience of freedom and flexibility of choice.” Offering different dining times, restaurants, entertainment, family activities and destinations is certainly what Norwegian is all about today in contrast to ships of the past.
“It is a completely different business and I really think that everything we have done over the last few years has put us in a good position for the future,” says Stuart. “I think we have the best travel agency relationship we have ever had. From a distribution standpoint I think the company is in a very strong position. Also I think we can broaden our distribution through greater markets beyond the US. There is strong opportunity from a distribution and deployment standpoint.”
In this respect Steve Odell, who once hired Stuart, is joining as SVP and managing director at NCLH Australasia. “He is one of the most respected senior guys in the business and nobody knows the Australian market better than he does. We think Australia is a big opportunity for all three brands.” Meanwhile, the company has hired another senior executive, Bill Harber (ex-Carnival Asia) to open an office in Hong Kong. On the subject of Asia, Stuart remarks: “We are looking at it from a couple of perspectives. One is straightforward: we should be carrying people out of Asia on our existing fleet, which is simple to execute. The second is to deploy a Norwegian ship to Asia that would predominantly be sold in the US, Europe and Australia. The third is the possibility to deploy a ship to Asia for the local market. We clearly believe that Asia is a market where we should participate in all three. The speed at which we get to the third is undefined.”
Indeed in early August, Norwegian announced it will cruise to the Far East for the first time since winter 2001/2002 with recently-renovated Norwegian Star in winter 2016/2017. This will include a first-ever visit to India. Throughout December 2016 and January 2017 she will do a series of sailings in Southeast Asia departing from Singapore and Hong Kong.
When it comes to the newbuildings, Stuarts says the company is looking very closely at deployment and how it can most profitably deploy the fleet it has and adjust that deployment as the new ships enter service. “I am quite sure we will be deploying ships in regions we are not in today and also quite sure we will be in regions we are in today but with slightly adjusted itineraries that will offer some choices and flexibility.”
Regarding Norwegian Escape, many announcements have already been made as to what will be onboard, but he does comment that “she is more evolution than revolution”. For the up-and-coming newbuildings, Stuart says: “There obviously will be some revolution and also evolution. There is no question there will be some things that are different to today.” Although there is nothing specific to talk about in terms of new orders, he comments: “We have to continue to grow. It is fundamental to this business.”
He says the delivery of Seven Seas Explorer to Regent next year is exciting not only in that it is “absolutely the most luxurious ship ever built which will take the market by storm” but also because it fills the gap in capacity growth in 2016. “It really is going to be spectacular and I believe will set the standard for that segment in our industry.”
Although it is too early to see any results of brand-swapping within Norwegian, Stuart comments:
“We do believe that we have something that crosses every customer lifecycle which will, over time, bring huge benefit. We also believe that we can offer everything a travel agent needs with one group of brands. We definitely think there are a lot of positives in having a range of brands where there is no confusion and that range across customer lifestyles.”
Finally, Stuart says: “I am absolutely thrilled to be in this role at a time when I really feel the company is on a very, very positive trajectory. I think I am lucky that it is at a time in Norwegian’s history when I see an incredibly bright future. It is an exciting brand with rapid growth, consumers are excited about it and we have a management team that can really deliver good results.”
One thing the industry can be certain of is that Stuart will be a driving force in Norwegian’s future just as he was in its past.
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