Interview: NCL’s Riley to spearhead global growth from the UK

New Norwegian Cruise Line general manager Francis Riley is to return to his old job in the UK but with a much expanded role, the cruise line having created a single office for Europe.

NCL announced the return of Riley to the line’s London office yesterday for his second stint running the UK headquarters, and the second time he has, in effect, taken up the reins from former UK general manager Stephen Park.

However, having returned from the US where he moved to in 2007 to work at NCL’s US base, this time he will be running a unified European business and will retain responsibility for growing international markets including the key Asia Pacific region.

NCL has already consolidated its finance and revenue management functions at its German headquarters in Wiesbaden where Michael Zengerle, who Francis succeeds, was based before his surprise defection to MSC Cruises, and there are no plans to reverse this.

Riley, who rejoined NCL last August from US wholesaler Tourico Holidays where he worked developing international cruise business, said he will spend only around a third of his time in the UK once he returns here following a short trip on the line’s flagship Norwegian Epic this week.

“We have centralised a lot of functions already and we are looking at the whole structure as part of me coming onboard.  This role is about spending quality time in our European business as much as in the UK,” he said.

Andy Stuart, NCL vice president, global sales and passenger services, said the major work to create one European office had been done. “Historically we had two offices run separately. So we have already done the big change which is to create one European office. When Michael took the new role we felt strongly that having one European office was right.

“Francis had done an excellent job in both Asia Pacific and Latin America but it makes more sense to run Asia Pacific out of London than Miami. It’s really important that we get the right balance between the businesses and continue to grow all the markets. This is going to ensure we have the right balance.”

NCL has recently opened a contact centre in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and believes it has plenty of opportunity to grow in Asia due to its co-parent Singapore-based Star Cruises.

Riley had nothing further to add following the recent admission by Stuart that NCL was reviewing the UK market in the light of commission cuts by market leader Complete Cruise Solution, but he did say the market had become more competitive during his time in the US.

“There has been a lot of changes not least in the way the market has continued discounting and rebating. We have made our comments on that but it has got even more competitive.

“I think a lot more professionalism has come into the market. Cruise penetration continues to grow and is taking a much larger proportion of the package holiday market. I believe everyone is working hard to make sure cruise is part of the day to day conversation agents are having with customers.”

As well as growing international markets Stuart said NCL remained “set on growing the UK” further and although it currently focuses on fly-cruise packages he did not rule out bringing a ship to the UK.

NCL previously operated Norwegian Jade out of Southampton before moving capacity to more lucrative routes although it has two new ships on order for delivery in 2013 and 2014 that will add capacity to the Mediterranean.

“We definitely do not rule out coming back into the ex-UK market but it’s highly competitive at the moment and our view is we are better served by a having broader distribution with our fly-cruise market,” Stuart said.

In Europe Germany and Spain are fast growing markets for NCL although the UK remains its largest international market outside of the US.

Stuart warned there was a danger cruise lines could decide to dedicate capacity to more profitable emerging cruise markets if the UK continues to concentrate on price and commoditises the sector.

“There are good reasons to figure out a distribution system where price is the not the first but the second question. It’s not the thing we should be hanging our hat on,” said Stuart. Since Riley last worked in the UK Apollo Management, the private investors that are part owners of NCL, have had time to stamp their authority on the line.

Riley said there was a more entrepreneurial spirit as a result. “From a personal point of view the company is actually culturally quite different.

“We are a lot quicker and nimble in that there is less red tape, there is a lot more opportunity for people to feel that they are empowered within the company to make decisions.

“It is a very different feel and I think the opportunities are there to do things and create initiatives that maybe in the past you knew would never be implemented. This is about taking our business from what it is today, a good business, to a great business.”

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