|Left to right: AndyStuart, Norwegian; Brad Tolkin, World Travel Holdings; Camille Olivere, Norwegian vice president of sales; Michelle Fee, Cruise Planners; and David Crooks, World Travel Holdings.|
If you’re an agent who is not currently selling Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian’s Executive Vice President, Global Sales and Passenger Services, Andy Stuart, says the line wants you. Norwegian, which acknowledges that it has had customer product satisfaction and travel agent partner issues in recent years, has been making an effort to change things around. Norwegian has made efforts to meet with and listen to consortia partners, agency franchise groups and individual agents and, most recently, it launched a new Partners First program for agencies.
Over the past few years, many agents have strayed from the Norwegian Cruise Line due to issues with product delivery, more direct booking actions and customer complaints. However, the line says, it’s now a new era.
The line is now stressing that it is listening to its travel partners. It is also emphasizing its enhanced product with its modern fleet and has turned its back-of-house operations around. The line is investing $7 million in technology to support agencies over the long term in making trade bookings an easier process. It’s also spending another $16 million on new customizable marketing tools for travel agencies.
Norwegian has a goal of working with 2,000 more North American travel agents this year versus last, and 4,000 more total within the next two years. To show the media that major trade players support the new Partners First program, Stuart, the line’s executive vice president of sales and passenger services, brought out top industry leaders at the line’s Friday press conference at the Cruise3Sixty conference in Port Everglades.
Among them were Michelle Fee, cofounder and CEO, Cruise Planners; Brad Tolkin, cochairman and co-CEO of World Travel Holdings; David Crooks, senior vice president of product and operations, World Travel Holdings; and Brad Anderson, co-president, Avoya Travel/America’s Vacation Center.
All stated that Norwegian has a come a long way and has a new commitment to the trade.
“It’s a remarkable thing to think about how far Norwegian Cruise Line has come in the past few years,” said Anderson, noting that it has been action on the part of Norwegian and “not just a saying” that has made all the difference.
Stuart also outlined the steps that the line has taken to woo back agents.
“Partners First isn’t a new program but a corporate philosophy,” Stuart explained. First, he said it’s a program that’s a long-term investment in travel partners. Second, it’s designed to help make the line “easy to do business with” from the agency perspective. For example, a new Seaweb Phase II will launch later this year. Thirdly, Stuart said that Partners First is an effort to make a commitment to travel agents on direct business – and what that will and won’t entail. In the past, multiple management personnel, changes in leadership and the fact that Norwegian had essentially no consumer site for booking, unlike many other contemporary lines, led to an enhanced emphasis on direct bookings.
“Now, we’re evaluating every element of our direct strategy,” said Stuart. Yes, the line will still take direct bookings, which are currently about 27 percent; however, Stuart added, “we found a number of things we’re not comfortable with.”
”Direct business is a fact of life, but we don’t want to get in conflict with our travel agent partners,” said Stuart. He acknowledged that some names “hit the [direct marketing] data base that shouldn’t have.”
Stuart now says that Norwegian has a strong commitment to not taking any customer data from travel agency partners that will be used for direct bookings
“That’s an absolute clear line we will not cross,” he said.
To make the line easier to do business with, Vivian Ewart, vice president of passenger services, has introduced a new [email protected] email exclusively for agents. The goal is to give retailers a person to email who is directly in charge of cruise line operations. So, if agents or their clients have questions, the agent knows whom to email to get a prompt response.
When an agent emails or calls, the line has instituted an “overnight guarantee” of issue resolution. Stuart said that when agents have an issue, it’s important for the line to resolve them in a very responsible manner. Those agent who call will be given the chance to do a customer satisfaction survey.
Another commitment to professional travel agents on Norwegian’s part is to assure them that there is no price advantage for consumers who book directly. In fact, travel partners have the competitive advantage with the line’s promotional group pricing, Stuart stressed.
The line is making a commitment to talk to all staff and ship personnel to assure that it’s communicating and interacting with travel agents in the most respectful manner. He also noted that quite a few of Norwegian’s leadership team were formerly travel agents themselves.
The line has hired a new advertising agency to handle trade marketing. Agents should look for a new campaign featuring individual agents and dedicated to trade sales as well as new co-op marketing initiatives.
In terms of trade tools, Stuart said the line has had very good trade tools, but they were found in different places. In May, the line will launched a trade-focused “Freestyle Marketing Headquarters” website with customizable flyers, brochures, sample tweets, social networking tips, pricing information, video content and more.
And the line is investing in expansion of its inside sales team by 45 percent in order to help support the agency community across North America.
For more information on the entire Norwegian Cruise Line Partners First Program, visit www.partnersfirst.ncl.com.