Azamara's Carol Cabezas Chats Sale, Fourth Ship, Advisor Policies

Azamara plans to expand its fleet capacity by 33 percent as it adds the former Pacific Princess to its fleet; that will occur after the “closing” of a definitive agreement for the sale of the Azamara brand by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) to Sycamore Partners. That’s expected to occur during this quarter of 2021, and the ship will subsequently be renovated/updated and sail in Europe in 2022.

Travel Agent spoke with Carol Cabezas, Azamara’s president, about the addition of this fourth R-series ship, the former R Three, to the Azamara fleet. It’s a sister to Azamara Pursuit, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. That will give Azamara a fleet of four similar ships—delivering not only capacity growth but consistency in the product and guest expectations.

“It just makes sense, which is what makes it ideal,” says Cabezas, expressing her excitement about the brand being able to take this next step for its growth:  "We're talking about this brand coming into its own.” 

Azamara plans to bring the ship up to the same standard it has for its other three ships. “We absolutely will invest in making her look like her Azamara sister vessels,” Cabezas emphasizes. 

New Owners

But what about Sycamore’s anticipated approach to the brand? Can advisors expect the equity group to be “hands-on” or more in a "watch-from-afar" mode?

While Sycamore has already demonstrated an interest in learning, Cabezas was emphatic: “They’ve said, ‘We are not the experts; you guys are the experts.' That’s why we trust this team to do great things.”

Carol Cabezas, chief operating officer, Azamara

She adds the brand doesn't want any ownership change to impact the product, the relationships it's built or the guest experience. Instead, "we want them to continue the way they always have been," she notes. Cabezas also says Azamara’s goal is to continue to be an easy-to-do-business-with brand.

As for Sycamore, it currently owns many other consumer discretionary investments, for example Belk, Jones New York, Staples and more.

“They seek brands that are recognizable and, in many instances, have a very loyal following,” Cabezas tells us. She says that’s why they like Azamara’s “Destination Immersion” approach within the cruise sector. Also, "they don’t want to do the heavy lifting of ‘standing up’ a new brand” in the cruise sector,” she says. “To them, it was ideal that they are coming into a brand that is very well-respected,”

With the added capacity brought by the fourth ship, Cabezas also emphasizes: “That gives us an opportunity to expand our portfolio and footprint."

So, Azamara has the potential to expand to more off-the-beaten-path destinations, more overnights/late nights in port, continuation of the immersive land-side options, and “new choices for guests and travel advisors.”

The People Factor 

Cabezas also believes the soon-to-close sale of Azamara brand is about a lot more than just hardware. "The brand is the people," she explains. "Sure, a brand has ships but what makes it special is its people.” So, she says that after the sale closes, travel advisors can expect business as usual in such departments as sales, reservations and the Care Team. 

Other behind-the-scenes operational "shared services," such as port operations will transition away from RCCL over time. No, that won't happen within two months, but there is a transition plan under way. Cabezas doesn't see the brand retaining those shared services arrangements with the former parent company. 

That said, "for the moment, we’re really focused on getting through the transition and getting to the point where Azamara can stand on its own,” she says, noting that RCCL also has is own priorities to focus on. 

Status Quo 

As for travel advisors, "they are vital to our business and they’re an extension of us," she says. Cabezas adds that Sycamore has made clear to the brand that anything to do with the travel advisor community, such as commission, trade programs and any arrangements with agency partners, will remain the same.

“Everything will stay the status quo,” she tells Travel Agent. “It’s almost like a non-event for advisors when it comes to how they work with us." She also sees more opportunities and more options to sell with Azamara developing under the new owners.

Similarly, Cabezas also explains that everything committed to passengers and past guests will remain the same and be honored. That includes “honoring FCCs along with loyalty rewards."

Parting thought? Cabezas believes the new owners will let the brand team it trusts to run the brand: “We are really emphasizing, whether it’s travel agents, guests or internally with our tremendous team of employees that the goal is to keep things the status quo."

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