KEYS TO SUCCESS
Talking with Captain Lars
Bergstrom and Hotel Director
Hugo Vanosmael about Norwegian
Richard H. Wagner
Cruise ship interview - - Norwegian Jewel - - Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) - - Captain Lars Bergstrom and Hotel Director Hugo Vanosmael
Norwegian Jewel is one of two Norwegian Cruise Line ships
currently based in New York. While several other cruise lines
have attempted to base ships year-round in New York, only
Norwegian and Royal Caribbean International have been able to
make a go of it thus far. I asked Captain Lars Bergstrom and
Hotel Director Vanosmael to share their views on why Jewel
and Norwegian in general have been successful.
The story begins with a plan. "Homeland cruising, it came after
9/11," explained Captain Bergstrom. The idea was to base a
ship in the major ports around the country so that the passengers
would not have to travel far to embark on their cruise.
"People do not want to fly," Mr. Vanosmael elaborated.
With regard to the reasons for basing a ship in New York in
particular, the Hotel Director continued: "It is a big market.
We are not talking New York alone [but also] around New
York. People come from Boston, Connecticut, Pennsylvania,
even from Canada. In the winter, it is the only way they can go
on a cruise relatively close by without having to fly."
"We have a lot of repeat guests in New York. They come twice
a year, three times a year. We have that very often - - people
sailing three or four times a year because they want to get away
from the city. What's easier than to come to Manhattan and jump
on the ship?"
While with hindsight, this strategy may appear obvious, in 2002,
the prevailing wisdom was that a cruise ship would be hard put
to handle the winter sailings out of a northern port such as New
York. Captain Bergstrom, who commanded ocean-going ferries
running between Finland and Sweden before turning to cruise
ships, knows what winter at sea can be like and dismisses the
East Coast winters: "that's nothing." Furthermore, a ship like
Norwegian Jewel can handle adverse conditions.
Captain Bergstrom gives Jewel's azipod propulsion system
much of the credit. "It is such a big difference to the normal
conventional ship. [Those] ships have problems getting power
for the stern. Here, it is no problem." The azipods allow the
ship's propellers to be turned in any direction. As a result,
essentially all of the ship's tremendous power can be channeled
into maneuvering the ship. He noted that in a snowstorm with
35 knot winds in late 2010, Jewel was able to leave her berth in
Manhattan and put out to sea with no tugboat assistance when no
other ships were sailing. "It is very easy to maneuver." (For
more about azipods, click here)
Similarly, once out to sea in the winter, Jewel "behaves very
nicely." The ship can travel very fast (25 plus knots). At the
beginning of the cruise, her speed can be used to get passengers
away from the northern weather quickly. At the end of the
cruise, if the weather forecasts predict stormy weather for the
northeast, "I can speed up going out of Nassau so I can go
slower up here because when I go slower [in a storm] it is more
comfortable for the passengers."
Both Captain Bergstrom and Mr. Vanosmael stressed the
importance of Norwegian's Freestyle Cruising concept to the
success of Norwegian's strategy. In its simplest terms, Freestyle
Cruising is about giving the guests choices so that they can tailor
their cruise experience to their own needs and preferences.
"If I were going on a cruise, I would go Freestyle cruising
because that is the same as I do back home. I do not know in
which restaurant I am going to have dinner. But I will go around
and look a little bit. It is the same here." Captain Bergstrom
Mr. Vanosmael added: "It appeals to the New Yorkers because
they do not want to be told what to do and when to do it. They
want to go to dinner whenever they feel like it. They want to
have options for the dining and they want options for the
entertainment. They are used to having a lot of options in the
City. When they come aboard, they want the same. We are not
a city but we do have more options than the other lines do."
While the Freestyle concept is most often associated with giving
passengers alternatives so that they can decide when and where
to dine, Freestyle extends to other areas of the cruise experience
such as entertainment. For example, passengers often have a
choice of more than one entertainment event going on at the same
time. "There are 2,500 people onboard. Maybe [we will have]
a pool deck party and a show in the Spinnaker around the same
time. Why would you focus on one event and then tell people
'sorry you can't come in because it is full?"
Nor is the Freestyle concept static. "The program is not set in
stone," said Mr.Vanosmael. "It doesn't always stay the same.
The main things, yes, but the other things we do, it is open for
discussion. We always try to find ways of doing things a bit
different and adding things. We change things every week."
One reason for this lies with Jewel's high number of repeat
passengers. "They do not want all the time the same even if we
have more options. They still like to be surprised. People like
to be surprised all the time. Even when you have all the options
[Jewel has], you have to go a little bit beyond to keep people
Freestyle is also evolving by developing new concepts. "People
like event entertainment. That is our objective with our new
ship, the Epic, which has a lot of event entertainment with the
Blue Man Groups, Le Cirque etc."
Currently, on Jewel, "we combine entertainment with lunch. We
do the Big Band lunch, 'A Taste of India.', and the Murder
Mystery lunch. It attracts people because it is something
different. We are working on doing a Latin night and a country
night in the atrium in the evening". The guests will be able to
combine this entertainment with dinner in the restaurants that
surround the atrium.
Jewel was also one of the first ships in the Norwegian fleet to
have the Nickelodeon characters onboard. This added a new
dimension to the children's program. However, it did not mean
that Jewel became a ship just for families. "It is not a
Nickelodeon ship. We just have that as an option. If you do not
want to have anything to do with it and you are traveling without
kids, it is just there. You will see them once in a while but it is
not overpowering. It is not the theme of the ship. This is
Norwegian Freestyle Cruising with the option of Nickelodeon. It
is part of the entertainment and part of the options."
Another key to success is a people-oriented management style.
As Captain Bergstrom explained: "We are the top management -
- the captain, hotel director, chief engineer and staff captain. If I
can't stand Hugo and make life miserable for him, he will do the
same for his food and beverage director, and his guest services
manager and all the way down. People will not be very
comfortable. If you do it the other way around like we are
doing, setting a positive tone and having a good time, joking and
joking with the crew, [the crew] see that. They relax because
they know that if they make a slight mistake, we will not hit them
with a baseball bat. They have more freedom here. We treat
them very nicely here."
"If you have a happy crew, you have happy passengers."
Accordingly, much effort is spent to make the crew happy. "We
have parties for them, we have shows for them. We have
barbeques for lunch for the whole crew. All the different
nationalities working here have their own parties on their
national day. We do plenty of things to keep them happy. We
make them feel like a family member when they are onboard.
Once they are onboard, we take care of them. That's why you
see a lot of happy people onboard."
To further motivate the crew there is recognition for
customer-oriented performance. "We have one [program]
where we bring them up on stage and they get an award. We
have that once a month. And they get cash prizes. Normally on a
ship, there are no days off but very good performers get
recognition and a day off. That makes all the difference. The
more we recognize the crew, they will perform, better and better
and better." Mr. Vanosmael explained.
In 2012, Norwegian is changing the deployment of its ships. As
part of this, Jewel and Norwegian Gem will be replaced in New
York by Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Star (to be replaced
in 2013 by Norwegian Breakaway, which is now under
construction). Consequently, in April 2012, Jewel will leave
New York to take up residence on the West Coast during the
summer and then in Miami, during the winter.
|Captain Lars Bergstrom on the bridge of Norwegian Jewel.
Hotel Director Hugo Vanosmael
Norwegian Jewel at the Manhattan
Passenger Ship Terminal in New York.
Captain Bergstrom, his senior officers and
members of the crew bidding the guests
farewell at the end of a cruise.