Dondra Ritzenthaler, who returns to the cruise industry this week as CEO of Azamara, has plans to do more with commissions, bonuses and other incentives to encourage travel advisors to book.

Dondra Ritzenthaler

Dondra Ritzenthaler

The former longtime sales executive for Celebrity Cruises will immediately launch a listening tour of meetings with travel advisors. She said Azamara is adjusting its financials in order to increase commissions, bonus commissions and other advisor incentives.

“We’re doing a myriad of things … to genuinely show that we are further committing to the fact that our travel advisors are our primary focus on how we’re going to get our cruises booked,” Ritzenthaler said. 

Travel advisors account for 85% of Azamara bookings, she said, and with repeat clients making up most of its business, the line is looking to the trade to help introduce more people to the brand.

Royal Caribbean Group sold Azamara to private equity group Sycamore Partners in 2021. Ritzenthaler said Azamara went through a difficult transition but has since recovered, with revenues up 40% year to date compared to 2019.

She was named CEO in hopes that her long-running relationship with travel advisors would help put Azamara front and center with advisors and guests, said Dan Hanrahan, Azamara’s chairman, after announcing the hiring in November. 

The brand, he said, is “a little bit of a secret” in the industry. 

To work on that, Ritzenthaler will embark on a 12-city listening tour with advisors starting May 15. Coined Azamara’s “Listen, Learn and Link Together” sessions, Ritzenthaler said the meetings will help her craft a long-term strategy for the destination-focused line.

The tour, which runs through December, mostly will make U.S. stops but also includes visits in the U.K. and Canada. 

Her visits include the ASTA Travel Advisor Conference in Dallas this month; conferences from Travel Leaders Network, Signature Travel Network and KHM; and visits to cities including Montreal, New York, Fort Lauderdale and San Diego. 

Azamara known for focus on destinations

Azamara operates four R-class ships built around the turn of the century. Meanwhile, many of the brand’s competitors in the upper-premium category, such as Oceania and Viking, have been adding newbuilds. 

While Ritzenthaler said she would like to get to the point where Azamara is ordering ships, she said she is not intimidated by other lines’ introduction of new vessels. Azamara differentiates itself by offering more late nights and overnights in ports than its competition, she said. Those calls make up 45% of the brand’s itineraries, which is at least 7 percentage points more than any competitor, the line said. 

Several travel advisors said someone like Ritzenthaler can add some zip to the cruise line and that they book fewer Azamara cruises now than they did when it belonged to Royal Caribbean Group. 

“They needed someone of her background to move Azamara to new visibility since it has been spun off Royal Caribbean,” said Mitch Krayton, a small-ship specialist and owner of Aurora, Colo.-based Krayton Travel. “She is fun, she is upbeat and I think she is up for the challenges ahead for Azamara.”

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