Now's the time to seize opportunity, Norwegian CEO tells agents

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From left, Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, Regent Seven Seas Cruises CEO Jason Montague and Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer.
From left, Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, Regent Seven Seas Cruises CEO Jason Montague and Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer.

Now is the time for travel agencies to expand their talent pool and deepen relationships with suppliers, said Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer.

Sommer speaks from experience. The former travel advisor and travel agency owner launched his agency shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Speaking at Travel Weekly's virtual CruiseWorld conference, Sommer told moderator Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief of Travel Weekly, that when his agency opened during a depressed economy, he was "very opportunistic."

• Related: Cruise execs tell agents to sell what they need to in order to survive

"So many travel advisors were being let go from other agencies because the economy was poor," he said. "We looked at that as an opportunity to get the best of the best to come work for a startup. Normally a good travel advisor wouldn't come to a startup travel agency, but [they] found themselves without a job. I imagine we're in a similar situation here."

A panel following an interview with Jason Montague of Regent and Harry Sommer of Norwegian Cruise Line included Katina Athanasiou of Norwegian and travel advisors.
A panel following an interview with Jason Montague of Regent and Harry Sommer of Norwegian Cruise Line included Katina Athanasiou of Norwegian and travel advisors.

Sommer said that he knows a lot of advisors have been let go. He sees an opportunity for travel agency owners "that can see the other side of this, to double down and take an opportunity to hire people they otherwise wouldn't have been able to get."

• Related: Harry Sommer's journey

Sommer also recommended that advisors take time to develop deeper relationships with cruise lines. He said from his experience, lines were willing to talk to him when he was a startup because travel was stalled and the economy was down. He recalled that he phoned his predecessor, former Norwegian CEO Andy Stuart, despite having not sold more than a few Norwegian cruises.

"He took the meeting," he said. "That wouldn't have happened in a normal time. For people willing to see past the next 60 to 90 days [this is an opportunity] to double down on growth."

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