Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Big Interview: Azamara boss looking to build on 'explosive' UK growth

Big Interview: Azamara boss looking to build on 'explosive' UK growth

Big Interview: Azamara boss looking to build on 'explosive' UK growth
Azamara chief executive outlines his UK plans for the line to Hollie-Rae Merrick
Azamara Club Cruises is looking to increase its presence in the UK market by targeting “high‑value customers” through luxury agents.
Larry Pimentel, the brand’s chief executive and president, says the company needs to push forward in increasing awareness in the UK and that first-time cruisers need to be a focus for the line.
His comments on the future of Azamara come as the brand unveiled Richard Twynam as its first dedicated managing director for the UK and Ireland.
Twynam, who takes up his position in the new year, has almost 20 years’ experience in the industry, having previously worked at Virgin Holidays Cruises and Kuoni. He will lead a 10-strong team including new commercial director David Duff.
As part of that, there will be a three‑strong sales team and a marketing and PR manager supported by a trade marketing executive for the first time.
The new team is being put in place as Pimentel looks to drive 
up guest numbers from the UK and Ireland, the brand’s second‑largest source market behind the US and Canada.
Pimentel expects UK passengers next year to account for a quarter of guests – a figure he aims to increase to one-third in two years’ time. The key to this, he says, is attracting more first-time cruisers, who accounted for 22% of passengers this year.
“Our growth has been quite explosive,” he adds. “We have 19% net yield growth – not many people can say they have that figure.
“If we look back to the beginning of my time [in 2009] 
we had 5,000 passengers from 
the UK; in 2014 we expect that 
to be 10,000. On two ships that hold less than 700 each, that’s pretty amazing.”
The upward trend continues. Pimentel says UK bookings for 2014 are up 41% over the past year and puts the brand’s success down to UK guests’ eagerness to explore destinations.
Pimentel says one of Twynam’s main tasks will be to drive the number of high-value customers booking Azamara sailings.
“I have no desire to be the market leader in low prices,” he stresses.
“It’s about getting to an even broader base of clients from other cruise lines and tour operators, and Richard has a background in that through Kuoni.
“He has seen it before and can use that experience to his advantage. He knows agents.
“We need to be even more focused on the trade. We already are very trade dependent and we want to be. It is easier to reach out to customers through the trade than directly. We are small so we don’t have the scope to go straight to customers.”
Pimentel: I want to build a fleet
Azamara Club Cruises is likely to add capacity in the future.
Larry Pimentel said that while no ship orders had been placed, his plan was to expand the line from its existing two ships, Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey.
“I didn’t join Azamara for just two ships; I want to build a fleet,” he said.
“There is always a desire for any chief executive to grow their business and to do so at the right time for the company – this is a view I take. We are proving the brand has return on investment capital and that a product like this can be profitable. That gives the board movement to grow the brand. There is no official word and I haven’t been given a green light yet, but I wouldn’t bet against new ships.”
Call centre move will not hinder drive for quality
The plan for Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International to operate as individual businesses will allow Azamara to become even more focused on the UK, said Pimentel.
“The move will allow us as Azamara – through our team – to focus on the product.
“I’m very encouraged because for us it means a dedicated marketing team and sales people. This team will help to present us more in the marketplace.”
Despite some trade criticism of the company’s plan to base its guest and trade service call centres in Guatemala, Pimentel insisted he was optimistic.
He stressed that moving call centres overseas was always controversial, whatever the industry, and that the business was investing heavily in training its new staff.
“Some call‑centre moves haven’t been executed well.
“If we are going in a direction that doesn’t work, we change it – it’s as simple as that. This has been very well thought out and I’m positive about it.
“I have listened in to some of the test calls and the quality is quite superb.”