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Dan Hanrahan on Azamara's biggest challenge and opportunity

From left, Azamara Chairman Dan Hanrahan, CEO-designate Dondra Ritzenthaler and newly appointed CFO Alain Ferzli
Azamara delivers a 'fabulous product with really impressive net promoter scores,' yet 'flies under the radar,' Chairman Dan Hanrahan said.

Bringing in Dondra Ritzenthaler as CEO is expected to raise awareness, particularly with the trade and, as a result, consumers.

Since Ritzenthaler's appointment was announced last week — she starts in May when her non-compete agreement with Celebrity Cruises ends — Hanrahan's been flooded with comments about 'how excited [travel partners] are ... They have a high degree of respect for her.'

He knows Ritzenthaler well from when he led Celebrity as CEO, until 2012, and isn't surprised by that reaction, crediting her with building programs and relationships that get the trade's attention and loyalty.

From good to great

'Dondra's the heartbeat of whatever organization she's in,' Hanrahan added. 'She creates a tremendous amount of positive energy. People love working for her. She works hard to create a great work environment that delivers terrific results.

'She's going to make a really good cruise line even better. She'll turn it into a great cruise line.'

New CFO Alain Ferzli

Hanrahan also expressed enthusiasm for newly appointed CFO Alain Ferzli, another executive he knew well at Royal Caribbean Group and spotted as CFO material 'when he was really young. You could tell he just had it.' Ferzli's work as CFO on the start-up team at Virgin Voyages also earned respect.

Until Ritzenthaler arrives, Hanrahan will overseeing day to day operations remotely from his Colorado home, but he also plans frequent visits to Azamara's Coconut Grove (Miami) office.

'I'll be more of an overseer and hold down the fort until the real force of nature, Dondra, comes in,' he quipped.

Further management changes are not anticipated. 'We have a really good management team,' Hanrahan said, pointing to Michelle Lardizabal, chief sales officer; Capt. Nico Corbijn, head of marine operations; and Scott Daniels, AVP hotel operations.

He thanked outgoing president Carol Cabezas, who led Azamara since its acquisition by Sycamore Partners in 2021. 'She did a great job for us. She got us through COVID. She got the ships back up and running. I wish her all the best. I'm very confident she'll be successful at whatever she decides to do next ... I think Carol's very talented.'

Coming full circle

In overseeing Azamara as an advisor to Sycamore, Hanrahan's come full circle.

He launched the brand in 2007 after Royal Caribbean Group acquired Pullmantur and was looking for the best way to use its assets. It was decided the two former R-class ships would be put into the Celebrity fleet under Hanrahan.

He described looking across the industry and seeing room for another brand but 'scrambling' to get it done: 'Once we got the product on the water and started to see the reception from our guests, the trade and the press, it started to become possible to imagine what it could become.'

Even in the early days, Hanrahan said the company looked 'enviously' at the two R-class ships belonging to Princess Cruises. Larry Pimentel, who eventually took over responsibility for Azamara, got one and Sycamore acquired the other after buying the brand.

'It doesn't surprise me we got to four ships,' Hanrahan said. 'I would have been really disappointed if it hadn't grown as it did.'

Destination immersion

He credited Pimentel for coming up with Azamara's defining destination immersion focus.

Hanrahan said research shows consumers love the concept, and not having to rush back to the ship thanks to the longer port stays and overnights. 

'That is such a powerful thing in life these days because we're always running, in such a hurry. People can completely and totally relax on their vacation because of our destination immersion,' he said.

Azamara delivers on board, too, so changes aren't seen as needed on the hotel side.

'Scott Daniels has done a terrific job,' according to Hanrahan, adding his confidence that Daniels — who was behind the Atlas Bar concept, to name a recent innovation — will continue to make improvements and, together with Ritzenthaler, will 'come up with ideas to make the on-board experience even more interesting.'

Biggest challenge and opportunity

So what will it take for Azamara to live up to its full potential?

'We have a fabulous product. Our NPS scores are really, really impressive. Our No. 1 challenge is creating awareness for the brand, both on the trade and consumer sides,' Hanrahan said. 'We need to make it top of mind by giving the trade the tools they need, and we need to make sure the consumer knows what a great experience it is.

'... We fly under the radar a bit ... Someone with Dondra's strong sales and marketing background will bring us more into the forefront.'

'Work & Wander'

Azamara's just-announced 'Work & Wander' program, that combines Starlink’s high-speed internet, office equipment and dedicated IT support to enable professionals to take their work with them, has had a promising early response.

Hanrahan expects the concept will draw people who don't think they have the time to cruise — people like him. He's visited the ships but hasn't been able to sail recently.

He'd love to go on Azamara's first world cruise in 2024 but can't make the time, so he's setting his sights on the new Iceland-Greenland itinerary.

Still, he thinks 'Work & Wander' could potentially change the market for a world cruise, and sailings across the board, by enticing busy professionals like him.

Creating a cruise portfolio at Sycamore?

With Sycamore's acquisition of Azamara and its investment in Margaritaville at Sea, there's been speculation about the private equity group looking to build a portfolio of cruise brands.

Hanrahan doesn't think that's the strategy.

'Their focus is on Azamara standing on its own. For the foreseeable future, I don't see us creating a cruise portfolio ... The focus is on making Azarama great.'

As to how the brand will grow, by further ship acquisitions or building, Hanrahan said: 'We're open to all different paths. Let Dondra and Alain get in there and figure it out. We definitely want this brand to grow.'