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“I feel like I’m home,” said Ellen Bettridge, newly appointed vice president of sales and marketing, the Americas, for Azamara Club Cruises.
Bettridge, who spent 20 years of her career working at American Express, noted that there is a similar feel at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Azamara’s parent company. Bettridge began her career with American Express in 1990 as a travel agent. Over the years, she rose to the position of vice president of the retail travel business, overseeing the management of 28-owned U.S. locations with 300 employees and 150 franchise owners.
In April 2012, when Bettridge became president of the Americas for Silversea Cruises, she established new programs for travel agents. She completely revamped sales strategies for Silversea and set up marketing campaigns in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. She made her intentions clear when she announced that she expected Silversea to be the finest luxury product in cruising, as well as the most expensive.
Her announcement in December 2013 that she was leaving Silversea to become president of Unique Vacations Inc., representatives of Sandals Resorts International in the Americas, surprised the industry. Bettridge said it was an opportunity to broaden her experience and explore the hotel side of travel, but added that it wasn’t a good fit.
Now the enthusiastic cruiser is back in the industry. She describes Azamara as the gem and the boutique product of Royal Caribbean, and has no plans to make the kind of sweeping changes she instituted at Silversea.
“The team — and it is a strong, stable team — has done an excellent job of positioning this brand in the marketplace,” Bettridge said. “It all shows in the numbers, and you can feel it in the office. There’s a sense of ownership and loyalty here.”
A key focus will be to get the Azamara brand in front of more travel agencies and secure maximum visibility in the agency distribution for its distinctive destination immersion approach to cruising.
“This is the perfect product to bring in first-time cruisers,” Bettridge said. “We have to teach the agents that when their clients are interested in going to Italy, the agents should show them how they can do it with us. There are days of rich exploration, nights in cool places and insider access, with passengers enjoying real local food and coming back to the ship to be treated like part of a family.”
Boutique Destination FocusBettridge describes Azamara cruising as a boutique destination experience rather than a luxury cruise.
“Luxury is really an overused term,” she said. “I’d like us to stay away from that; it means such different things to different people. We can be so much more than that.”
Bettridge would like to see development on the culinary side, where Azamara is already well-regarded.
“We’re launching a new program called ‘Cruise Global, Eat Local,’” she said. “We’re identifying amazing little places where people can eat, whether in groups or with individual recommendations — whatever creates the kind of experience the guest prefers. It takes a lot of passion and a lot of people and work. Royal Caribbean has close to 100 people who seek out special experiences like this.”
She said Azamara also plans to evolve the Aqualina restaurants to feature more Italian flair under the recently promoted corporate executive chef Robert van Rijsbergen.
Bettridge plans to use her extensive network of contacts to bring to travel agents the Azamara story, specifically the line’s focus on longer days in port, more overnights, night touring and AzAmazing exclusive experiences in port.
“Coming back, it’s about relationships and skills,” Bettridge said.