FORT LAUDERDALE -- The future of Partners First, Norwegian
Cruise Line’s signature program for travel agents, is assured even though its
creator is leaving on March 31.
That was the message that retiring Norwegian Cruise Line
president and CEO Andy Stuart delivered in his parting address on the closing
day of CruiseWorld 2019.
Partners First was launched in 2011 when Stuart was
executive vice president of sales. It was a pledge to make marketing dollars
available to agents, to make Norwegian easy to do business with, and to shun
Eight years later, it seems to be a fixture.
"It's so ingrained. I think it has a very bright future," Stuart said, noting that to grow and fill ships, Norwegian will have to find passengers
that only travel advisors can deliver profitably.
"If we tried to do it without you, we'd spend 10, 15, 20
times more than we do," Stuart said. Partners First is here to stay. It's a powerful lens through which we
Stuart said that when he first joined Norwegian Cruise Line
in London in 1988, he was hired as its first sales rep in the United Kingdom. "It
was one of the most fun jobs I ever had," he said, recalling that NCL at that
point was sourcing about 1,300 British passengers a year.
Now 56, Stuart said there was no one event that led to his
decision to leave the company. "Thirty-one years is a long time. I've been
blessed. From a job I really took for fun to the journey I've been on, it has
been fantastic," he said.
As his work responsibilities grew, Stuart said he had
less time for other things, mentioning family and leisure travel specifically. "I
got to the point where I wanted to say yes to those things that I was saying no
to," he said.
The Norwegian Encore, currently making its debut in Miami,
is the last of a class of ships started in 2012. The new Leonardo class is now
in the works.
"It seemed like sort of a moment that was appropriate for me
to [leave]. The company's doing fantastic. I leave at a moment where everything
is really good. I got to do something in my way, on my terms," Stuart said.
He said that when introducing a new ship, typically in the
interim between its European debut and its U.S. arrival, he would be frantic.
With the Encore, he took time to visit a sister-in-law in Valencia, Spain, and
to organize his mother's 85th birthday celebration.
"[There are] lots more plans like that," Stuart said. "Eighty-five
is a pretty good age, and you don't know how much more time you have with
Asked what are the odds he will be back in the travel
business at some point, Stuart responded, "The honest answer is, I don't know.
I'm definitely taking a break, enjoying some downtime and some travel. And then
He said his successor, Harry Sommer, once co-owned a travel
agency and has boundless energy. "He has the capacity to do more in a day than
maybe any human being I've ever met," Stuart said.
Stuart said the time he found most rewarding at Norwegian
was 20 years ago when the line first adopted its Freestyle Cruising concept.
The initiative broke down the two-seatings routine that had ruled cruises for
decades, although Stuart said he learned in the process why some people
cherished that format.
Nearly every industry has adopted dining choice in some form
or fashion since then. "I was part of a team that was a big catalyst for change
across the whole industry," Stuart said.