Azamara Rebranding

New emphasis on longer port stays, longer shore excursions and more inclusive product

By: By Marilyn Green

Larry Pimentel // (c) Azamara Cruises 2009


New Azamara president Larry Pimentel is a busy man getting the message to agents as Azamara Cruises transforms into Azamara Club Cruises, focusing on an in-depth destination experience and adding new elements to the inclusive package. The company also has clarified its position as an upmarket line. Pimentel believes, as do others in the industry, that the traditional cruise sectors are obsolete, since contemporary, premium and luxury experiences are available on a single ship.

“We now have vertical products,” he observed, “so up-market describes our position.”

The distinguishing feature of the new Azamara will be “delivering the destination like no other line,” according to Pimentel, with overnights and late-night stays in may ports and multiple days in particularly rich and interesting ones like in St. Petersburg, Russia; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore and Hong Kong.

The additional time in port opens the door for much more extensive shore excursions, penetrating deeper into local culture. Azamara will offer distinctive two-day packages tailored to overnight destinations from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Odessa, Ukraine; Livorno (Florence), Italy, Warnemunde (Berlin), Germany, or London, in addition to Sorrento, Italy, and St. Petersburg. The line also will offer as a two-night package from Bangkok to Laos, an overnight tour from Hiroshima to Osaka in Japan, via bullet train, a three-night experience from Mumbai, India, including a visit to the Taj Mahal, overnight tours in Israel and a Grand Egypt tour featuring both Luxor and Cairo.

“We’re going to slow down the tempo and allow our guests to not just see the destination, but to live it,” said Pimentel. “Consider destinations like St. Tropez or St. Petersburg, Russia. If you’ve experienced them only by day, you haven’t really experienced them. With Azamara, through more overnight stays and late-night stays, you can.”

Azamara’s emergence as a full-fledged brand is reflected in its sales structure. Edie Bornstein, vice president of sales and marketing, is heading up a sales team of 10, a far cry from the previous joint sales force with Celebrity Cruises.

“We are setting up eight dedicated field salespeople and a director of strategic planning plus a director of charter, incentive and specialty sales and me,” Bornstein stated.

The move represents a sizeable portion of Azamara’s budget, underlining the brand’s commitment to agents. In fact, Pimentel went to agents for information on Azamara when he was looking at the brand and he is now turning the tables, educating agents on a very intense schedule.

“When I was approaching this work with Azamara I called agents anonymously and asked them about the brand. It was really helpful and we will have a number of advisory boards with agent involvement, as well as special attention to home-based agents,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said the Western states are the line’s biggest single market, although nearly half of Azamara’s passengers for 2010 are international.

“It won’t be an American-centric product,” Pimentel said. “It will be truly global. When you get on the ship you will already be experiencing an international environment.”

Nearly every agent who has sailed with Azamara enthuses about the extraordinary service and Pimentel plans to expand on that.

“Our butlers will be trained to be true English butlers, to offer that fine balance of anticipatory, pampering, yet non-intrusive service to guests in every suite,” he said.

Dining also has been a strong point with the line, and Azamara will continue to place a heavy emphasis on fine cuisine, expanding its focus on wine to include vintages from boutique wineries around the world. Guests will have the opportunity to taste high-quality wines that may be unavailable at home because the selected vineyards produce a strictly limited quantity each year, distributed primarily locally. The featured wines will be offered without charge at lunch and dinner on every sailing.

Other amenities being included in the fare include housekeeping and dining gratuities, bottled water, specialty coffees and teas, shuttle bus service to and from port communities where available and self-service laundry. Specialty dining in Azamara’s intimate Prime C steakhouse and the Mediterranean-influenced Aqualina will be complimentary for suite guests for the duration of their cruise.

Pimentel said he has had extremely enthusiastic reactions from the distribution system and expects to do much more business in 2010 with agents who have never sold the line. “We have so many more inclusions in the product,” he said. “And our multiple days in port and emphasis on the destination are our trademarks.”

Pimentel added that consumers who have in the past chosen Azamara because of the extremely low prices may fall by the wayside as the brand strengthens its pricing.

“When I went onboard I was astounded by what they were giving away,” he said.

Adrienne Dahlerbruck, cruise manager for New Act Travel in Los Angeles, is very much impressed by the changes planned for the brand, but concerned about higher pricing.

“There are value expectations now,” she said. “If they raise the pricing there are many other lines the clients may choose.”

Dahlerbruck has people waiting for brochures; she has spread her own enthusiasm for Azamara and its “amazing service” and is particularly pleased about multiple days in port, commenting, “When you are in a deep and interesting destination, it’s ridiculous to sail away after a day.”

Steve Orens, president of Plaza Travel in Encino, Calif., said he is enthusiastic about the increasing all-inclusive aspect of Azamara, but feels the multiple nights in port will have varying appeal.

“I, personally, really look forward to time at sea,” he said. “On a cruise I like to get the flavor of the whole area; if I want an in-depth experience I’ll stay in a local hotel. In terms of pricing, Azamara has to realize that it’s coming to table a little late in the game. But if anyone can turn them around, it’s Larry [Pimentel].”

The new focus and enhancements are expected to be substantially in place by April, with 140 ports in 50 countries on the schedule for Azamara’s two ships — the 694-guest Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest — in 2010.