Norwegian vows to put agents first

Norwegian vows to put agents first

Norwegian Cruise Line has unveiled details of a new agent partnership programme launched in the UK a year after it was first started in its US homeland.

Partners First will consolidate all the support the line offers agents from training and fam trips, commissions and other incentives and drive all future strategies.

The initiative will officially launch via webinars on May 9 and 10 and agents will be invited to attend roadshows in London, Manchester and Glasgow to learn more in September and October.

Francis Riley, Norwegian’s president and general manager, said the hope is that agents come to consider the operator as a partner of choice and work more closely with it for mutual benefit.

“Probably the most important part of driving demand for us has been travel agency advocacy, building relationships with travel partners that really makes them become ambassadors.

“Agents are our lifeline. We want to focus on our travel agent partners to be able to drive demand and be mutually successful with them. Actions speak louder than words and it’s not just about what we say, it’s about what we do.”

Riley said research with agents conducted through the Travel Weekly Group had given Norwegian an insight into what they want.

“They wanted good value commercial terms and relationships and they wanted to differentiate themselves from competitors. They are looking for partners that want to work with them. They do not want to expend lots of time and energy working with cruise lines.

“They understand they have limited product knowledge given all that’s out there and that can be a barrier to sale and they want partners to help them.”

The new ethos will encompass all aspects of trade relationships including new functionality on Norwegian’s online booking engine to make life easier for agents.

Net fares and enhanced group programmes as well as recognising agent partners when they are sailing with Norwegian on their own holidays are all part of the new philosophy.

This year the line’s PHD@Sea training programmes have been tripled in size from 2011 with two separate groups of 60 agents expected to have taken the intensive three or four-day course by the end of this year.

Nick Wilkinson, Norwegian director of sales, said Partners First is built around four key pillars: education, communication, ease to do business with and reward and recognition.

“We want to demonstrate we are 100% behind and committed to our travel agent partners and that they will remain our core distribution. It’s not just a new programme it’s a corporate philosophy, part of our DNA. Partners First will be at the heart of every conversation, every single insight will go through the lens of Partners First.”

A first Partners First agent advisory board meeting has already been held onboard Norwegian Epic and Wilkinson said the line would be looking for feedback from agents about where it can improve.

One of the changes announced at the UK Cruise Convention on Tuesday was a move to the Abta Single Payments System to improve the efficiency for partners to work with the operator.

Asked if Norwegian was seeking to take advantage of unhappiness at the cruise commission cuts by market leading lines the Complete Cruise Solution family, Riley declined to comment but said:

“We think the time is right for us to launch Partners First.”

And asked if the new approach will see agent commissions increased he said: “Our commission structure is dynamic.

“There may be some base commissions but ultimately in the market you have to be relevant. We are talking to partners to understand where we are in the market and clearly now we feel we pay a fair level of remuneration.

“We clearly have a business to run and a cost structure which has to work for us. These type of discussions are always ongoing.”

Riley admitted that Norwegian’s relative size in the market means it has to work harder to get across its particular type of freestyle cruising.

“When you are relatively smaller player in the market maybe it’s more difficult because you’re not front of mind when people are having a discussion about taking a cruise.”

Currently Norwegian sells through around 3,500 UK agency branches and 90% of its UK business is through the trade. However, Riley said he could see scope for working with more agents.


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