In an exclusive interview, Rebecca Barnes catches up with Azamara president Carol Cabezas and UK managing director David Duff for an update on the acquisition and to find out how they are working with travel partners
Cruise Adviser: How are things going with the new owners?
Carol Cabezas: It’s going exactly as we’d hoped. When Sycamore came in they said, ‘we want you to grow and here’s a fourth ship to kickstart this new phase.’ They didn’t want the team to change, they wanted things to be the same as before Covid.
Sycamore have actually been the biggest supporters of us continuing to deliver the same product our guests are used to. We now have the best of both worlds: a brand that’s well respected but we also get to start aspects of the operations with a clean slate. All our technology is new, and it’s going to help us do things in a cleaner, easier way.
David Duff: Sycamore are all about developing potential as opposed to turning something around that’s old and tired. They are giving us the opportunity that perhaps wasn’t available previously; there are great advantages to being part of a big family but there are also drawbacks.
They believe there is a lot of potential in terms of how markets are developing and what people are looking for – more freedom, more informality, more connection with local culture and off the beaten track destinations. That’s the direction of travel, certainly in the UK and European markets, and our brand fits really well with that.
Can you outline your strategy for 2023?
CC: We’ve doubled the shoreside team. A lot comes down to creating functions that didn’t exist before, and we now have the opportunity to be far more globally focused. Our teams are supported globally and not just on a regional basis – that’s going to help us to be a lot more streamlined in the way we operate.
DD: There’s a lot more people in the business now dedicated to the brand, and we’re very excited about how that’s going to help us in terms of marketing execution and diversifying the product.
Do you have any plans for enhancing relationships with travel partners?
CC: When the market really started to get moving again, Sycamore said ‘invest, invest, invest,’ so we put more money into marketing and driving calls into travel partners.
We’ve also invested more in frontline agent and agency incentives, and created more of a support structure: managing relationships with travel partners is now very tailored.
The UK market has truly led the charge to punch well above our weight and we are so grateful for the support our partners have provided – the UK trade has been nothing but wonderful.
DD: We remain committed to the trade being key in distributing our brand messages, it is very much our strategy and we’re going to be able to adapt more to how different trade partners sell, better perhaps than the platform we were previously on.
What are you most excited about?
CC: Our technology rollout and investment is going to be a game changer, so we’ll be able to put attention and focus back into the business, particularly the commercial side.
We started developing our land-based offerings just before Covid – now we can start looking at destination offerings that augment the overall experience for guests. We know that people spend time before or after a cruise in a destination, so it made sense to provide a product that people were engaging with anyway.
DD: Putting airline challenges behind us and getting back to a more creative sales and marketing environment is going to be very rewarding. Generating sales, product development, where we can take the brand, what we can offer – everybody is looking forward to that.
Which itinerary would you love to sail on next year?
CC: We really want to do the Iceland intensive; we tried to this year but it didn’t work out. It’s definitely next to check off the list.
DD: My wife’s Greek so we like the Greek Island intensives, although the adventure side of me would say the west coast of Africa and South Africa, as well as Japan – I’ve never been and would love to see the cherry blossom.
What’s your favourite way to while away a sea day?
CC: I love eating my favourite lamb burger at The Patio and watching the scenery. We recently sailed through the Kiel Canal which was beautiful – we just sat on our veranda and watched the world go by.
DD: I don’t think I’ve ever done a sea day, but I’d be happy reading a book for the day. That would be my ideal.