Larry Pimentel, the new president and CEO of Azamara Cruises, has found a distinctive mission for Azamara Cruises: delivering the destination.
“With our sister companies, Celebrity Solstice and Oasis of the Seas are destinations,” he said. “Azamara’s focus will be to deliver the destinations to the passengers.”
A complete rebranding will be announced later this month or in early December for Azamara’s two 694-passenger ships: Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest.
“Azamara is a bit of a hidden secret,” he noted. “Market awareness is the big issue here. We now have a defined message and we need to get it out.”
Pimentel, who said he is delighted and surprised by the passion of the company for Azamara’s two-ship fleet, has held positions including president and CEO of Cunard and Seabourn and, more recently, co-owner of SeaDream Yacht Club. He expressed a prejudice in favor of small ships.
Although Azamara will have elements associated with expedition ships, that category has historically been allocated to remote regions. The Mediterranean and Asia will be Azamara’s playing fields, along with a small presence in the Sea of Cortez.
“Every piece of research shows that people travel for cultural connection — food, wine, music,” Pimentel said. “We will offer the most intimate cultural connection and deliver the destination in ways ships haven’t been able to do in the past.”
Pimentel said Azamara surveyed large key agency groups about early evening departures from ports and found that many clients were frustrated by leaving just when the most authentic, colorful side of the destination came to life. He noted that ResidenSea, where the passenger/owners dictate the ship itineraries, invariably offers multiple nights in interesting destinations adding that this approach will deliver culture, slow down the ship and use less fuel.
“Also, we think it will draw land-based guests who want sophisticated cultural exploration,” he said.
It is the one-of-a-kind experience and collectibles that this sort of customer wants, Pimentel said. Azamara’s overnights and daytime tours will be different, taking guests to insider places like a unique leather shop in Capri. When Azamara passengers get home they will never see their purchases duplicated, and each one has a story that gives it added value. Pimentel plans include a whole shopping and collecting series and will offer other very limited experiences as well, such as a few seats in a two or three Michelin-starred restaurant or a personal appointment with a jeweler.
More time in port usually means longer itineraries and Pimentel believes Azamara has found the sweet spot — a nine-night cruise spilling onto the weekends before and after the five weekdays.
“We’ll also have a seven-day series for people who are time constrained,” he added.
Pimentel said the old cruise category monikers — contemporary, premium, luxury — are outdated and it is a mistake to use traditional pigeonholes for either the product or the consumer. He contends that the market is no longer homogenous.
“The airlines have homogenized their market, but passenger shipping is not a sea of sameness,” he stated. “That’s the reason why shipping has done so well. Now, we have a more vertical market moving up and down the buying patterns.”
As a result Pimentel is not just looking for luxury agents to partner with Azamara, although they tend to be well tuned into the destinations; a lot of mass-market agents have clients who would respond to the concept. But he has a message for all travel sellers: “Book now; I intend to go up on the rates and the deals are now.”