Norwegian To Put Focus On Agents With More Field Staff
CLIA reported this week that 70% of cruise business is booked by travel agents – with the unspoken corollary that 30% is now direct. It’s the latest sign that direct sales are growing, as on earnings calls in the past suppliers have most often reported agent sales accounting for roughly 80% of business.
“In short, over not too long a period of time, the admitted bookings done by cruise lines in this business have increased by 50%,” said one top retailer. “Meanwhile, more agents report shifting attention away from cruises.”
In light of this development, news from Norwegian Cruise Lines is particularly heartening. The line has announced that it is doubling the number of business development managers in the field to approximately 40 and growing the brand’s overall sales group by more than 40%.
For the Canadian market, Norwegian is in the process of recruiting a Director of Sales and adding another BDM to the current lineup of 4 managers dedicated to Canadian retailers.
This represents quite an about-face, as in the past Cruise Week has heard Norwegian execs say that in light of changing methods of communication, feet on the ground are simply not needed to the extent they were in the past. They asked Executive V.P. Sales Andy Stuart, what is driving the change in philosophy.
“It’s a combination of factors,” he replied. “There’s no question that Frank Del Rio [the new President & CEO of NCLH] is a huge supporter of travel agents as he has proven with his leadership of the Oceania and Regent brands. “In addition to that, we have definitely had feedback from partners saying that the opportunity to have somebody face to face, and to have somebody local who is partnering with travel partners sitting across the desk... having meaningful business discussions resulting in business growth is something that many of our travel partners are looking for."
Stuart is well aware that CLIA numbers are indicating a growth in direct business. But he says Norwegian's takeaway is to focus more on agents. “We’re definitely seeing growth out of the North American trade. Our capacity growth is part of that. We had Epic in '10 and then with Breakaway and Getaway coming just 9 months apart in '13 and '14, and then 4 more ships coming with Escape in November and 3 more after that. We have had and will continue to have a significant capacity increase, so it’s absolutely essential that we get the support of travel agents across North America.”
One region that is gaining particular support is the west coast. Stuart explains the focus: “We’ve never had a thumbprint here quite frankly. We have a very great Alaska program, we have a very big European program, we obviously have the ship in Hawaii. So we have a lot of capacity that is perfectly suited for the west coast travel partner and consumer. And as a brand we simply have not invested enough in the west coast."
Is an enhanced field sales group the missing component of Partners First? “Definitely one of the only issues that I hear travel partners vocal about at this point in our relationship with them across the county - `we don’t see you enough.’ If we saw you more, we would do more. It’s the singularly most frequent comment we hear," says Stuart.
They’re not wasting any time: “I would love to see the new team in place by the end of April, which is a little ambitious, but that is the target that Nathan Hickman [V.P. Field Sales & National Accounts] and I have discussed as we talked about this."
Stuart has been with Norwegian since 1988: "This puts Norwegian in the most travel agent friendly position we’ve been in," he concluded.