More experiences onboard boost revenue and keep passengers coming back.Norwegian Cruise Line is pushing Freestyle forward, according to Michael Flesch, senior vice president of hotel operations.

He highlighted the following aspects as being new and notable:

New production shows are debuting, and have been created in-house.

Norwegian’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay, will be the No. 1 port of call for the line this winter season. “We’re increasing bars and lounge areas (on the island), there’s a lot of activity,” Flesch said. “And there are more shore excursions too. The construction we’ve been going through the last year is coming together.”

Part of keeping the passenger mix returning is to make sure the restaurant menus are fresh. “We need to make sure we have lots of options and keep menu offerings fresh. We’re always looking to bring new options into the shipboard experience.

“We’re bringing elements from traditional cruising back to the guests,” noted Flesch, “which is interaction with the officers and captains. We’ve reinstated officer tables and we also have a question and answer period with them. It gives guests a number of opportunities to interact with the officers, and it is meaningful for the guest experience.

Norwegian has introduced a new electronic youth sign-in process and is currently developing a system to let guests use their own mobile devices to see what is happening on the ship, allowing them to make reservations as well.

“The tools we use are not geared at saving costs, but making sure we’re as efficient as we can be,” noted Flesch.

That means a new inventory management system at Norwegian, helping the company better understand its inventory and manage costs.

Guests are very sensitive to the quality of the product, stressed Flesch. “We need to keep the high-quality food items on plates and find other ways to reduce costs. We’re constantly looking at how we can purchase better and more efficiently, and we need to be nimble and take advantage of spot buys.

“There are opportunities in the market, if you keep your ear to the ground, to get a great product at a great price.”

Norwegian’s published onboard revenue tends to trend higher than the other major cruise lines, with Flesch crediting the Freestyle product.

Changes in the product offerings are hardest for the people on the front lines, making Flesch a big believer in asking crew their opinions.

“It’s the old adage: happy crew, happy ship, happy guests,” Flesch added.

“The biggest challenge for cruise ships are the fact they move,” Flesch said, explaining that shoreside, a hotel or restaurant can hire a management team and allow them to build up their own team.

“The way the business comes at you is also very different. It’s very complicated, let alone provisioning and sourcing products around the globe.”

He underlined key performance indicators as a big part of the successful operation at Norwegian.

“What gets measured gets done,” he noted.

“They speak to sales; they speak to the guest experience. That talks about how well we’re doing and creates opportunity for everyone. It’s important that we measure each one of those aspects of the business.”

 Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2011-2012