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FAQ for new CEO Ritzenthaler: When is Azamara getting new ships?

Dondra Ritzenthaler, who started as Azamara Cruises' CEO on May 13, is on a 'listen, learn and link together' tour
Dondra Ritzenthaler, who hit the ground running when she became CEO of Azamara Cruises this month, said the most frequent question she's asked is when are you getting new ships?

'We very, very much want newbuilds,' she told Seatrade Cruise News, adding that parent company Sycamore Partners has said 'That is 100% in our control: People, product, partnerships and performance. And when we become really profitable, that's when Sycamore will talk about moving forward on newbuilds. That's very much my goal.'

Meanwhile, since acquiring Azamara in 2021, Sycamore bought a fourth ship and has invested $85m in keeping the fleet looking 'fresh and beautiful.'

Listening and learning

Ritzenthaler's first week was jammed with giving a dozen media interviews and making calls and webinars with trade partners and 800 Azamara loyalists, and capped by flying to Europe to sail on two Azamara ships. Thursday she gave a rousing motivational speech to hundreds of travel advisors at the CLIA UK & Ireland conference in Southampton.

For the next couple months, she'll be on a 'listen, learn and link together' tour.

Brand strengths

Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, Azamara Pursuit and Azamara Onward may be two dozen years old, but what Ritzenthaler's hearing from loyalists is that 'The ships are beautiful. The destinations are great. Your crew are the best.' As a 10-time Azamara repeater summed up: 'We came on as guests and we left as family.'

She's also hearing enthusiasm for AzAmazing Evenings, the curated destination events that are an Azamara hallmark. Some 45% of calls are late-night or overnight stays for an 'unrushed' experience and the opportunity to attend a Sydney Opera House performance, for example, or partake of the nightlife.

'The reason it matters is because we can give you the destination in the daytime and in the nighttime. The difference is night and day,' Ritzenthaler quipped, joking she may trademark that expression.

And with small ships, 'We go where the big ones can't' — right into Seville and the center of Bordeaux. This is a 'huge differentiator. We're up close, we stay longer and we give you these authentic cultural experiences you can't get on your own.'

'We're a little secret'

The challenge?

'People don't know about us. We're a little secret. But we're blessed because we own destination immersion,' Ritzenthaler said.

Working through the trade, she will chip away at the awareness issue.

'I owe travel advisors a lot,' Ritzenthaler said, recognizing that part of the reason she was hired is because of her productive trade ties. And 85% of Azamara sales are via advisors.

Brad Tolkin, co-chairman/CEO, World Travel Holdings, considers her a 'great advocate for the travel advisor community,' adding: 'Dondra will bring to Azamara her incredible energy and hunger for success.'

'Dondra has an (Az)amazing relationship with the trade and is passionate about the brand she represents,' agreed Vicki Freed, SVP sales and trade support & service, Royal Caribbean International. The two were a power sales duo for years in Royal Caribbean Group before Ritzenthaler retired as SVP sales and trade support & service for Celebrity Cruises  in May 2023.

After waiting out her yearlong noncompete agreement, Ritzenthaler stepped in to lead Azamara May 13.

Management team

Her shoreside team is set.

When Azamara Chairman Dan Hanrahan appointed her, he also brought in Alain Ferzli, another Royal Caribbean veteran, as CFO. Further management include Michelle Lardizabal, chief sales officer; Patrice Willoughby, VP international business development; Capt. Nico Corbijn, head of marine operations; Laura Krejci, chief administrative & information officer; Michael Stutts, chief marketing officer; Kevin Regan, AVP global charters and incentives; Scott Daniels, AVP hotel operations, and Mike Pawlus, head of itinerary planning.

Ritzenthaler is 'a breath of fresh air,' Pawlus said. 'I'm impressed with her drive and her positive attitude. Everything is can-do. She understands who we are. She asks the right questions.'

Look for a profile of Dondra Ritzenthaler in the upcoming June issue of Seatrade Cruise Review