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Azamara's Lardizabal reports strong sales on eve of new CEO's arrival

'It's a new chapter with new leadership as we evolve as an independent brand,' Michelle Lardizabal said
As Azamara readies to begin a new chapter under CEO Dondra Ritzenthaler, Chief Sales Officer Michelle Lardizabal sees strong sales for the four-ship brand.

Azamara's 2024 wave season was in line with 2023's, which outpaced pre-pandemic bookings by 30% to 40%.

'Our 2024 volume is shaping up to eclipse last year's record levels, and 2025 is set to build on that in both guests and rates paid,' Lardizabal said.

Azamara opened 2024 with one of its strongest wave offers, fueling a series of record booking days.

The line has continued to roll out offers, with the current 'Pick Your Perk' giving up to $1,000 onboard credit or an air discount. Available through May 30, the deal applies to select sailings departing from July 1, 2024 to June 5, 2025.

New, but known, leaders

Lardizabal, who began her cruise career at Royal Caribbean Group, overlapped 13 years with Ritzenthaler, although she didn't work for her. And from that time she also knew Dan Hanrahan, who's been overseeing Azamara for owner Sycamore Partners until Ritzenthaler arrives, and CFO Alain Ferzli, another Royal Caribbean veteran now at Azamara.


From left, Dan Hanrahan, Dondra Ritzenthaler and Alain Ferzli

'I'm thrilled to have Dondra join and to be working more closely with Dan again,' Lardizabal said. 'To have two industry experts and their knowledge with us is fantastic.

'It's a new chapter with new leadership as we evolve as an independent brand.'

Destination immersion

Travel partners cite itineraries as Azamara's strength, with extended port stays of 10 hours, late nights and overnights.

'People are looking to spend quality time and really immerse themselves in the destinations and the culture,' Lardizabal said. 'They don't want a rushed vacation.'

Both long-haul and closer-to-home cruises are selling.

2024 Asia and Japan-intensive voyages sold out and that looks to be the case in 2025.

As Lardizabal put it, 'The world is open. People are looking for bucket-list destinations. They want to go all over the world. Greece is also selling really well. Country-intensive itineraries resonate.

'People want marquee ports but also hidden destinations they hadn't thought of sometimes can be the most memorable.' For example, Santorini's a draw but Kefalonia is a lesser-known pleaser.

'We haven't been in Canada for almost a decade so returning to Canada we see very strong bookings for both 2025 and the newly released redeployments in 2024,' Lardizabal continued.

The line still has some space in Europe for third quarter before the 'exotics' itineraries start in Q4. 'Prices are increasing every day so that shows demand is there,' she added. 

Booking for the itinerary and getting surprised by the service

The thoughtfully curated itineraries give travel advisors confidence that when they put clients on Azamara, they're going to come back and book again. The product delivery helps, too.

People come for our itineraries, Lardizabal said, and they are 'blown away by our incredible crew, our level of service, our food, the entertainment.'

Travel advisor programs

With Azamara's business dependent on the trade, the sales team is 'listening and engaging with them and making sure they have everything they need.' This is certainly a game plan the trade-friendly Ritzenthaler will endorse.

After Azamara became independent from Royal Caribbean Group, it had some challenges transitioning to new technology. That's in the past.

Seaware Touch has been in place more than a year now, and the Azamara Connect travel advisor portal provides resources, the latest deals, agent rates that can get immediate confirmation and reservation system training to book online — 'Everything they need to market and sell Azamara,' Lardizabal summed up.

More than 200 advisors are expected to take advantag of seminars at sea this year. They're hosted by sales managers with an educational program throughout the cruise that delves into brand attributes, destinations and marketing.  

Lardizabal said advisors often leave having already made bookings and building groups, with a solid business plan.

'Chart Your Own Course' sweepstakes yields new itinerary

Last year, a 'Chart Your Own Course' sweepstakes for advisors brought the winner, Erica Lane of the World Travel Holdings family, to Azamara's Miami headquarters where she interacted with officials including Michael Pawlus, head of itinerary planning, and the land programs team and got to create an Azamara itinerary and an original AzAmazing Celebration.

It's a France-intensive cruise that features a new port for the line, Menton.

'She was so prepared. She had done so much homework. It was wonderful what she put together,' Lardizabal said. 'It shows the level of interest and professionalism that advisors have.'