Cruise Norwegian plans more changes under Partners First effort By Donna Tunney / April 23, 2012 Share 1 -- Norwegian Cruise Line is marking the first anniversary of its Partners First campaign with a look back at its “report card” and a look forward to initiatives aimed at helping agents sell its products, said Andy Stuart, the line’s executive vice president of global sales and passenger services. Several initiatives are in the works for the program’s second year of operation. For example, Norwegian this summer plans to restructure its in-house reservations department. “The new phase in our business system is the ‘universal res agent,’ who can work with our partners regardless of whether it’s an individual booking or a group booking,” Stuart said. “It will mean, for our partners, less transferring from res agent to res agent and less time on hold.” The new department is “a massive change designed to simplify the process for partners,” he added. Another change agents will see in the coming months is tied to amenity points. Currently, group bookings earn amenity points, and agents can use those points to buy a bottle of wine to be delivered to clients’ cabins or an onboard credit, for example. “I’ve always thought the amenity points were confusing,” Stuart said. “So we’re going to start using dollars instead. Agents will earn dollars, and then they can go ‘buy’ the stuff they want.” Norwegian also will expand its Partners First Weekends, in which agents are invited to a training session that includes ship tours. It also plans to bring more agents onto its ships. “We’ve doubled [the fam] capacity for inaugural events for the Breakaway,” said Stuart, referring to the Norwegian Breakaway, which will launch next spring. “We’re listening to the things our partners have said,” he added. The line in mid-2011 already had positive feedback from travel sellers. A Vacation.com survey in September found that nearly 75% of respondents believe Norwegian is making a substantial investment in its initiatives, and more than 70% stated that they are more likely to sell Norwegian Cruise Line than they had been in the past. Stuart introduced Partners First at CLIA’s 2011 Cruise3sixty conference, with a pledge to make significant investments, to the tune of $25 million, in technology, training and co-op marketing. Among the programs that launched in 2011 was a revamped booking engine at www.bookncl.com. The upgrade enabled retailers to book multiple cabins simultaneously and to attach multiple promotional codes to each reservation. Independent air information, land packages, shore excursions and onboard entertainment now can be added to a client’s booking through the booking engine. Norwegian also launched a “marketing headquarters,” providing a one-stop shop for retail-related sales strategies. Upgrades made in the last year to the line’s training program, NCL University, have been well received, said Stuart. Stuart said new aspects of the university include sales and social media training. “These programs are not brand-specific, but they’re things to help agents be successful,” he said. In general, Stuart said, the company philosophy of putting the line’s travel partners first has sunk in. “It’s become the rallying cry for our organization,” he said. “Everything we do we put it through the Partners First lens. And it’s been very helpful. It has us making better decisions.” Follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.