Last updated: 04:28 PM ET, Thu March 05 2015

Stuart Vows to Continue Commitment to Travel Agents

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Norwegian Cruise Line | Theresa Norton | March 04, 2015

Stuart Vows to Continue Commitment to Travel Agents

Now that he’s president and COO of Norwegian Cruise Line, Andy Stuart vowed to continue working to strengthen the company’s relationship with travel agents.

“Absolutely, there’s no question that commitment only gets stronger with me in this new role,” Stuart told TravelPulse shortly after his promotion was announced.

In fact, the company is closing in on its goal of increasing the size of its overall sales force by 40 percent by mid-April, an expansion that will almost double the number of sales representatives in the field so they can interact with more travel agents in person.

“We had not expanded the sales team and in fact changed the balance between the sales force on the road having face-to-face meetings with travel agents and the sales team in the office in Miami,” Stuart said. “It was very, very clear that our travel partners enjoy, need and benefit from face-to-face meetings with our sales team. So we really had to get that mix right.”

A number of offers to sales people were made this week. “We are tracking toward hitting our deadline of mid-April,” he said. “I believe we’ll have tremendous coverage and travel agents will see so much more of us.”

He noted that the commitment to travel agents is shared by Frank Del Rio, the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Increasing the size of the sales staff was “a change we absolutely had to make,” Stuart said. “I was thrilled Frank was so keen to make that investment. It’s one of the first things he wanted to invest in in his new role.”

The integration of the three cruise lines under NCLH has been “going extremely well,” Stuart said. “Frank is putting together an absolute A-team, a great mix of people who are going to hit the ground running. Frank is not a person who sits still very long. He makes decisions and wants his people to make decisions. I believe our travel partners will see that very, very quickly.”

And one of those fast decisions was promoting Stuart. “It was pretty recent,” he admitted. “I’ve not had a lot of time to think about this.”

To many, it was a well-deserved and long overdue promotion, considering that Stuart has been with Norwegian for 27 years and is synonymous with the company, as Del Rio said in the announcement. “The key goal of this role is driving demand, so that absolutely will be my focus,” Stuart said.

He replaces Drew Madsen, a former chain restaurant executive who joined Norwegian as president and COO just six months ago. Stuart moves up from his most recent position as executive vice president of sales for Norwegian Cruise Line.

“The shift is in line with Mr. Del Rio’s management philosophy of maintaining a flatter, leaner organizational structure by merging sales, marketing and operating responsibilities for the Norwegian brand into one role, reporting directly to Mr. Del Rio,” commented Timothy Conder, a financial analyst with Wells Fargo Securities. “We believe the announcement should also bode well in investors' minds given many had initially questioned the hiring of Drew Madsen by former CEO Kevin Sheehan in light of Mr. Madsen’s Darden Restaurants background. Bottom Line: Del Rio solidifying his eight direct reports with capable experience to deliver upon his new strategic vision for NCLH. Prestige-Norwegian integration continues to be on track, we see no concerns from today’s announcement.”

So will there be a new senior or executive vice president of sales to replace Stuart?

“I don’t have any plans for that at the moment. We have a tremendous sales leadership team in Nathan (Hickman, vice president of field sales and national accounts) and Alex (Pinelo, vice president of key accounts),” Stuart said. “They do a superb job, so I think I can continue work very closely with those guys and hopefully deliver a great team for our travel partners.”

Travel agent organizations applauded Stuart’s promotion.

“I have had the honor of working with Andy for more than 20 years and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this role,” said David Crooks, senior vice president of product and operations for World Travel Holdings. “I couldn’t be more pleased by the news as Andy has shown his immense support of the travel agent community through the strong relationships he has built. He is well-respected in the industry, and I look forward to continuing to work with and support him as he takes Norwegian to new heights.”

Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, said the organization is excited about Stuart’s promotion.

“Andy truly represents Norwegian, is a rock star with travel agents, and always supports the travel agent community. He was a great choice for this role, and we are excited to see where he takes the line,” she said.

“This is a very well-deserved promotion for Andy Stuart and a great decision by Frank Del Rio and the board,” said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, Leisure Group and “Andy has long been an exceptional leader for the Norwegian Cruise Line brand. He’s proven time and again to be an enormous advocate for the travel agency community, and we expect he’ll continue setting that tone through his excellent leadership for years to come.”

Agreeing is Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion. “Frank Del Rio could not have stated it better. Andy Stuart is synonymous with Norwegian Cruise Line, and he’s equally synonymous with the cruise industry,” she said. “We look forward to working with him in his new and well-deserved role. Plus, now that he’ll be at the helm of Norwegian Cruise Line, we really can’t wait for our Nexion agents to experience their first-ever CoNexion meeting at sea aboard Norwegian Getaway.”

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