ITM: Wes, welcome to the iMi Beverage Marketing Agency family of clients. While this is iMi Agency’s first cruise line client, the business resembles the lodging channel, which is your background – correct?
WC: That’s right. Prior to joining Norwegian Cruise Line in 2009, I worked for Wyndham Hotels as a Regional F&B and also for 20 years with Marriott, where I first became familiar with iMi thru Marriott’s Gold Standard program. It was that experience that led us to work with iMi for the new Norwegian program.
ITM: Share with our readers your vision for food and beverage onboard Norwegian.
WC: We are known for our innovation within the industry and have led the industry evolution with “Freestyle Cruising.” Our goal is to be the industry leader in providing great vacations where food and beverage along with entertainment, are key components. We strive to provide the most unique and authentic experiences in our restaurants and bars like Moderno, the first churrascaria at sea, the first Noodle Bar, and first combination of entertainment and dining with Cirque Dreams and Dinner. Our beverage products must fit in with these dynamic venues and that is why we look to an industry leader like iMi to provide us with that insight.
ITM: Ocean cruises are synonymous with beverage consumption. What works well today onboard Norwegian in terms of beverage sales and service, and what areas will you be focusing on in 2012 to attain your vision?
WC: Value is important to our guests, and our current Beer Bucket program is our largest product mover by far. However, we find that guests also want quality and are eager (since they have additional leisure time) to learn more about food and beverage. We make good use of supplier-provided brand ambassadors who come aboard our ships and provide our guests with insight into the makeup of different beverage products, such as how they are harvested, produced, and formulated. We are looking to continue to work closely with suppliers in the future, with the help of iMi, for even more dynamic seasonal promotions as we move through our 2012 cruise season.
ITM: You and your team are in the final phase of developing the 2012 Norwegian Beverage Program. What are the goals and objectives of the Program and what will be some of the core components?
WC: Over the years, beverage offerings in our industry have typically been focused on offering a little of everything and not being very tuned into trends and guest preferences. Our goal moving forward is to have a more focused and dynamic beverage program that can be agile enough to incorporate “hot” products and be flexible enough to have “regional” items (which our guests look forward to) added to the program as our ships change itineraries. We look to iMi to help us find supplier partners who will support that vision.
ITM: Norwegian has made significant investments into the business, including new ships, upgraded onboard F&B experiences, and an expanded private island in the Caribbean. Tell us about these.
WC: We are investing more than $20 million in Great Stirrup Cay, our private island (another industry first). This investment has already included many upgrades to the F&B facilities including a new expanded buffet area, enlarged seating area, and new bars. We are nearing the completion of the bars and are finalizing brand sponsorships for these venues, and even looking at the addition of a beer brand-sponsored Bier Garden. Following last year’s successful launch of Norwegian Epic, our largest and most innovative ship to date, we recently announced that we are building two new next-generation Freestyle Cruising ships for delivery in spring 2013 and spring 2014, respectively. Each of the 144,017 gross ton vessels will have approximately 4,000 passenger berths and a rich cabin mix.
ITM: As you have mentioned, the culture is changing at Norwegian. How can beer, wine, and spirit suppliers help you drive guest satisfaction and entertainment, onboard sales and profits, and educate and train your staff?
WC: It’s all about the guest. Bring us the brands our guests want, the brands they might enjoy trying, promotions that engage the guests while motivating the staff, and enough menu and incremental support so that, together, we can revolutionize the beverage experience onboard ships.
ITM: Thanks Wes! We wish you and Norwegian the best for 2012 and beyond. Again, thanks for choosing iMi Agency as your beverage marketing partner!