Travel advisors lament Andy Stuart's departure

Andy Stuart, far right, at Travel Weekly's 2016 Readers Choice Awards with, from left, Alex Pinelo and Camille Olivere and Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann. Photo Credit: Andre Jackamets

Travel agency executives said Thursday that news of Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO Andy Stuart's departure left them feeling sad but happy for him personally.

"I don't recall being as sad seeing an announcement as I was seeing the announcement about Andy," said Nexion Travel Group president Jackie Friedman, "because he has been able to successfully balance his role leading the cruise line but never forgetting the trade, never wavering on his support of the trade." 

"I'm devastated," said Cruise Planners chief operating officer Vicky Garcia. "He's truly one of the heartbeats of the industry."

Stuart, 54, has spent virtually his whole career at Norwegian. He has been a steady and constant presence at a company that has had its share of changes at the top.

Through it all, Stuart made friends and generated goodwill for Norwegian Cruise Line in his increasingly prominent roles.

"I've been able to spend quite a bit of time with him over the years," said Ross Spalding, president of Crown Cruise Vacations. "You feel like he's just one of the guys, you know, that he really makes you feel comfortable, and important, and that your opinion matters. I think that's what's going to be missed the most."

For much of his 31-year tenure at Norwegian, Stuart was in a sales and marketing role, speaking to agents, attending conferences and fighting for the importance of agents within the company.

Friedman said she recalled a trade show five years ago where Nexion announced that its next conference would be held on a Norwegian ship. "And he stood down at their trade show booth for the full two hours of the trade show and took the time to have conversations with every advisor that was there, helped them build their business, giving them tips. He loved it. He loves agents.

"Not a lot of folks in his position would take the time to do that, and it was a real indicator of who he is," Friedman said. "I know that I'm going to really miss him."

Signature Travel Network president Alex Sharpe said Stuart's departure is a blow not only to Norwegian, but to the industry generally. 

"He's an incredible ambassador for the cruise industry. He's an incredible asset to the travel advisor trade. He's just an incredible man. A good friend, a loyal guy. From that perspective, any time we lose someone of that caliber from the industry, it hurts," Sharpe said.

Stuart hasn't announced plans, other than that he will stay at Norwegian as a senior advisor through March 31, 2020, to help with the transition to new leadership.

"From a personal perspective, I'm happy for him," Sharpe said. "He's an empty-nester now and he and [his wife] Alison can travel and do the things that he loves."

Added Garcia: "I'm really happy for Andy, because he's worked really hard for these 30-plus years ... and it's just that time to enjoy the fruits of his efforts."

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI