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Cruising for wellness: NCL’s Ben Angell opens up on wellbeing in the travel industry

Norwegian Cruise Line has taken the helm as the platinum sponsor of Karryon’s first event in its Open Mindset series, a pioneering initiative shining a light on mental wellbeing within the travel industry. This partnership is a natural extension of NCL's dedication to mental health, evident in its simple but effective Walk for Wellness program.

Norwegian Cruise Line has taken the helm as the platinum sponsor of Karryon’s first event in its Open Mindset series, a pioneering initiative shining a light on mental wellbeing within the travel industry. This partnership is a natural extension of NCL’s dedication to mental health, evident in its simple but effective Walk for Wellness program.

Here, we chat with NCL’s Managing Director APAC Ben Angell. He discusses navigating the challenges posed by the industry’s move to a hybrid work model and reveals the inner workings of NCL’s transformative wellness programs. 

What strategies is Norwegian Cruise Line implementing to provide support to its employees but agents in remote or hybrid working models?

Every employee is different. And, as an employer, we recognise that ‘one size does not fit all’ when it comes to preferred working styles. We try hard to balance an employee’s individual needs with that of the business. We strive to offer flexibility of work hours and location without compromising on mentorship, team building and workplace inclusion.

Many of our trade partners either operate on a hybrid or wholly remote model. As such, we have invested significantly in online training models, rewards schemes and virtual meeting platforms to help keep them connected to both NCL and our business development team.

Could you highlight any unique initiatives Norwegian Cruise Line has developed to support employee mental health and wellbeing?

The mental health and wellbeing of both our employees and valued trade partners is incredibly important to us and is the cornerstone of our overarching NCL Cares program.

While we participate in high-profile events such as RUOK Day and World Mental Health Day, our programs are in place 365 days a year. To help foster open communication and deeper connections among team members, we have several extracurricular activities our staff can join including walking, netball and trivia.

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Meet NCL’s netball team, The Buoys.
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We organise regular team building events aligned to our key principles. This includes things such as beach clean ups run in conjunction with our sustainability partner, Take 3 for the Sea.

Walk for Wellness is perhaps our biggest annual mental health support initiative, which this year has enjoyed record breaking registrations from across the travel industry (over 2,100) and is really designed to bring team members and our partners together, striving to achieve the same goal.

Mentoring is an incredibly important part of team development. Staff members from different divisions volunteer to work with emerging leaders from right across the business, including TIME. We also recognise the importance of time out from the workplace. We encourage regular breaks as well as generous staff and family travel incentives to help keep our team refreshed and rejuvenated. Of course, no single initiative is the answer. However making the mental wellness of our team a priority has certainly improved the culture of our business. And it’s brought us closer together as a team.

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Thalia Shaw at the 2023 TIME graduation ceremony with NCL’s Damien Borg and Angela Middleton.

And what about your customers? What wellness initiatives have you added for them?

Holidays! Taking time out to travel – either solo or with family and friends – is proven to help our mental health. Breaking away from routine, visiting new destinations and trying new experiences is a perfect way to help us relax, refresh and rejuvenate.

We are in the business of delivering travel experiences of a lifetime, in one of the most hassle-free ways possible. Our unique freestyle approach to cruising allows guests to choose from a vast array of itineraries and accommodation options that best suit their needs and interests. Only having to unpack once, they can dine when and where they want to, and our onboard activities and entertainment – paired with our comprehensive suite of shore excursions – means they can do as much or as little as they choose. For those seeking a break from the everyday, an NCL cruise is the perfect choice.

How do you measure the success of your mental health and wellbeing programs, and what outcomes have you observed?

Walk for Wellness is a great example of success in terms of participation.

In 2020 we started with 549 participants. This grew to 850 in 2021, and 1,100 in 2022. This year we have doubled participation with over 2,100 industry members taking part.

When we conducted research with our trade partners last year to measure the program’s impact we received some encouraging results.

  • Improved Wellbeing – 92% of trade partners felt their overall wellbeing improved by taking part
  • Align with Partner’s values – 99% agree that initiatives around community, wellness and environment align with their personal values
  • Important to trade partners – 86% believe it is extremely or somewhat important for companies to offer initiatives like Walk for Wellness
  • Increased Brand Awareness – 86% mention W4W to an industry partner or client

Can you highlight specific companies who are excelling in promoting wellness and mental wellbeing? What lessons can we draw from their success?

It’s really pleasing to see the great work that has been done in this space in recent years and the importance the community is now placing on mental wellness, just like other aspects of our overall physical wellness. Pioneers in the sector such as Beyond Blue, The Black Dog Institute, Head Space and numerous other organisations have really helped shine the spotlight on mental health and got the conversation going. These very important organisations are now also be complimented by other preventative programs to help improve our overall mindfulness in everyday ways – whether it be through fitness – such as such as our W4W partner Mood Active – the creative arts or further education.

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How do you envision the role of technology in enhancing the mental wellness in travel in the coming years? Is Norwegian Cruise Line actively exploring any innovative tech solutions in this space?

There is myriad of apps which can be used to aid or monitor our wellness. They can provide calming music and recorded affirmations or act as fitness monitors tracking our steps, heart rates, calorie intake and sleep patterns.

But technology can also be a double edged-sword – constant connectedness can negatively impact our mental wellbeing. So there needs to be a balance. We need to know when to unplug.

Improving our physical health is proven to benefit our mental health. And throughout a cruise, guests can partake in a wide range of activities to keep them fit and focused. Information about these can be easily found on onboard screens and via the NCL travel app.

Of course, every guest is different. Some may want the option to use technology to make their cruise experience seamless and enjoyable. Others may prefer to access service in person rather than via technology. The choice is theirs.

Tickets are selling fast to Open Mindset. To be a part of this very important conversation, get your tickets now

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