Q&A with Andy Stuart, President & COO of Norwegian Cruise Line

Andy Stuart is named Norwegian's new president and COO.
Andy Stuart is named Norwegian’s new president and COO.

Recommend had a chance to catch up with the new president & COO of Norwegian Cruise Line, Andy Stuart, at Cruise Shipping Miami—the industry’s largest cruise conference held in Miami Beach. Instead of asking him regular humdrum questions, we decided to dig a little deeper to get a feel for who Andy Stuart really is; where he hasn’t cruised; and how it feels to be in the president’s office after decades of working in different areas within Norwegian and building its brand.

Deserae del Campo (DC): So now that you’ve made it the president’s office, what’s next?
Andy Stuart (AS): Well, right now I’m just trying to get settled into the new role, and I guess it’s been just over a week, so I’m about a week old, but I’m 27 years old in the company.

Right now, Norwegian is at a really exciting place. The company has been built strongly over the last couple of years, and we’ve got a very exciting period of growth ahead, so the core of my role is really making sure we’re ready to bring in new capacity in the right way and building enough demand to really have huge successful introductions to the next ships that come over the next four years. I think it’s a really exciting time, and if you sat through the state of the industry panel debate, one of the best debates I think I’ve ever seen, it was lively, interesting and touched upon a lot of key points in the industry that we’re also thinking about—globalization and driving more demand outside of North America.

DC: Travel advisors know what they’ve learned from you, but what have you learned from them?
AS: Travel agents are absolutely critical to our future. Travel agents reach people we cannot reach, and it doesn’t matter how much we spend on marketing, so I get excited about our partnerships with travel agents because every time I meet with a travel partner they talk to me about how they’re reaching people that I would really struggle to find on my own. They are in communities that I could never get to; they are bringing people in to cruise that would otherwise not think about cruising; and in some cases they are reaching more people than we could ever reach.

I like the diversity among the travel agency community. You have a home-based person sitting in the middle of their community who has a passion for something and they are bringing those people to cruising, I think that’s exciting. You have people building unbelievable technology that’s reaching a very wide group in a way we would not be able to reach, and then there’s everything in between; then you have the consortia who are taking the small, independent, and sometimes less sophisticated travel agent and giving them fantastic technology, scale, and great marketing product. The closer we are to the travel agent community, the more we’re able to work with all the diverse types of travel agents, the more successful we are going to be.

DC: Do you think there will be a growth of younger travel agents—let’s say those in their 20s and 30s—in the industry? Do you see that emerging now or in the future?
AS: I haven’t seen as much as I would like, and I think it’s a great opportunity. There’s an absolute place for the typical travel agent who we meet today, for example, a lot of people doing this as a second career. But I would like to see more people choose it as a second career from day one and I don’t really understand why they’re not; it’s an exciting and sexy product. Think about it? You’re sending people on trips of a lifetime. It’s a bit of a mystery to me that’s it’s not a desirable first job!

DC: When you think of Norwegian Cruise Line, what’s the first word that comes to mind?
AS: Freedom and flexibility. [Laughs] I know that’s two words, but that’s what we think about when we’re designing the product; and as we think about the experiences for our guests, we really do think about how can we make it an experience that is really designed by our guests. As they get on board, we try to limit their constraints on the what, the how, the where, and have customers design the vacation on their own terms.

The [cruise] industry was built on a constrained model, and we were the first line to really try and break those constraints and that’s our DNA. We think that’s the future where more and more guests look for that freedom and flexibility in their vacation experience, and the people who like the constraints are reducing in number, so we’re very focused on that.

DC: I bet you’ve cruised to many destinations around the world, but is there a destination where you haven’t? In terms of cruising, what’s next on your bucket list?
AS: I would love to cruise in Asia. We [Norwegian] designed an itinerary between Hong Kong, Singapore, and through Vietnam, which I thought would be a very interesting trip, but I haven’t had a chance to go, so I think that cruise would be something I would like to do.