Cruise Adviser conducts a Norwegian Getaway interview with Norwegian Cruise Line executives Francis Riley, VP & GM International; and Nick Wilkinson, business development director ahead of its long awaited Southampton debut
With many cruise lines claiming they possess a history of game-changing innovation, how many can actually back up their assertions with real proof? Or, perhaps more telling, how many are pushing the boundaries right now? As Norwegian Cruise Line prepare for the inaugural of the second Breakaway-class ship, Norwegian Getaway, the company stands as unquestionable guardians of change within the cruise industry.
However, as staunch fly-cruise specialists, how difficult is it for travel agents to convince their clients to take a Norwegian cruise? Francis Riley and Nick Wilkinson explain to Cruise Adviser why they’re making such a marked investment in the agent community and how they can help agents sell more cruises.
Cruise Adviser: Can you explain your agent strategy?
Nick Wilkinson: Essentially our work with agents comes down to a four-pillar ‘Partners First’ strategy: education, communication, reward & recognition and being easy to do business with. From this springboard we also develop key areas with our advisory panel, which is made of key travel partners, to give us the best feedback on a regular basis. We use it as a temperature gauge and ask the board to be brutally honest.
Francis Riley: The advisory board is a good discipline for us and helps us develop future strategies. It’s a useful sounding board for ideas within the organisation. If something’s not working, then why not? It helps us mould some of the things we want to introduce to the business.
Cruise Adviser: Who sits on the advisory panel?
Francis Riley: It’s the senior people from our top 10 or 20 partners. From the big multiples to the small independents, cruise specialists, dynamic packagers, tour operators and online travel agents. It’s a real broad range of agents to give us a broad range of perspectives.
The results that came back were phenomenal
Business development director
Cruise Adviser: Can you give an example of something the advisory panel has helped with?
Francis Riley: For Getaway we are using a ‘try before you buy’ concept, which was in consultation with our travel partners. We have a brand new ship coming to Southampton in January – the peak season for selling cruise. So getting front line agents onto the ship was a bit of a non-starter. We debated the issue and came up with the idea of our top agents being able to invite their own customers to be part of proceedings instead.
Cruise Adviser: Was there any brief for the agents?
Francis Riley: We asked them to invite customers who are new to cruise, specifically those who have travelled long-haul or who have taken an all inclusive holiday before. They could even have cruised before but perhaps with a smaller brand. The aim is to help the selling process by showing customers exactly what they’d be getting for their money.
Cruise Adviser: It’s interesting to note the ways Norwegian Cruise Line approaches agent relations – after the Breakaway innovations for example.
Nick Wilkinson: It’s key for us. Breakaway was the first launch with the advisory panel and we did a lot of testing. Rather than just getting agents onto the product we decided we wanted to get them into the product. So we introduced the barcode scheme, which involved going around the ship, listening to talks, scanning a code and earning a higher level of commission. The results that came back were phenomenal. Now while we can’t do that kind of concept in the January period, why can’t we do it with the guests? So what we’re doing is helping agents convert those future bookings.
Cruise Adviser: How much advice can you give agents on spotting a ‘Norwegian’ in their database?
Francis Riley: That’s important but some have more sophisticated databases than others. For those who don’t have complex methods then look for people who have maybe taken an all-inclusive holiday before or even a long-haul break. Contact those people and ask if they’ve thought about a cruise at one stage. I think you’ll be surprised at just how many people have done so.
Nick Wilkinson: This is also the second year that we’ve done our roadshows, which have proved an enormous success in terms of connecting agents to potential Norwegian customers.
Cruise Adviser: How are you differentiating Breakaway from Getaway?
Francis Riley: Both ships are themed around destinations – with Breakaway it was New York while Getaway will be Miami. The entertainment and restaurants will be based on a more Latin experience, for example the main dining space has been built to remind guests of Fontainebleau, Miami, in the 1950s.
Cruise Adviser: How are you going to turn travel agents, who are perhaps used to selling more known brands like P&O, on to Norwegian?
Francis Riley: We are all about ‘Freestyle Cruising’, which comes down to freedom, flexibility, and going at your own pace. The whole experience is a much easier migration from a land-based holiday – with a lot more thrown in. Some people call it a Vegas-type experience at sea which is true in a sense but even that doesn’t begin to cover it. Getaway has 27 dining options; can you tell me a resort you’ve been to recently with that much choice?
Nick Wilkinson: We understand that it’s difficult for a lot of agents because we are a dedicated fly-cruise operator and 50% of the UK market is ex-UK. However, for the foreseeable future that isn’t something we intend to change. Overall 2013 was a record year for us in terms of the number of Brits we carried, which proves that there is a market for fly-cruise. A lot of people want to start their holiday in the warm.
The Norwegian Getaway Interview was conducted by Sam Ballard