It’s a bold statement.
“Our homeport is the world.”
The words of Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, the cruise line that likes to stick its neck out with the proclamation that destination is the number one, two and three priority.
“We’re programmed to the destination concept to an extreme degree. We are all about experiential travel,” he tells a handful guests at an intimate dinner in London.
“Our shore excursions have a lot of night elements involved, such as the AzAmazing evenings – these are events that cannot be Googled. These are not small endeavours. The data shows the number one reason for cruising is destination – so we focus on that.”
The proof, as always, is in the pudding.
Take, therefore, exhibit number one: Azamara’s 2020 Destination Guide. A huge 441 late and overnight stays in 76 countries, complemented by the Country Intensives concept – shining a magnifying lens on one country, as Pimentel explains: “People’s bucket-lists tend to be about one country – Japan, New Zealand, Croatia, and so on.
“Our product doesn’t say cruise guide, it is destination guide. This is a fundamental difference. We have some real twists and turns [coming up]. For our 2020 brochure, 47 per cent of the product is Country Intensives. The industry will follow that.”
Such a statement is indicative of Pimentel’s belief that the Azamara brand – launched in 2010 – has carved out a niche that has inspired and wowed in equal measure.
The line currently has three ships in its fleet – Azamara Quest, Azamara Journey, and Azamara Pursuit, which joined last year – each of around 700 guests. “The intimacy of our ships allows us to go to many smaller places that bigger lines cannot,” Pimentel says. “Yes, we are small, but we are entrepreneurial.
“We are still a young company but I think our concept has been a breakthrough one.”
The evidence of this can be seen in the UK, the second largest market for the cruise line. Such is the “love affair” between company and country that Pimentel admits that if he were starting the brand again, “I would have made it a UK brand”.
“For Azamara Pursuit, we refurbished the ship in Belfast and christened it in Southampton,” he adds.
Facing up to the competition
The introduction of Pursuit has boosted Azamara’s hopes for 2019, but the landscape is becoming ever more competitive. And, the competition is no longer purely from other cruise lines.
“This is not a product sold on price,” Pimentel says. “Selling a cheap holiday can be an expensive mistake when it doesn’t work. Our biggest competitors are on land – they are not ships. We are up against boutique hotels.”
Staying one step ahead is a never-ending battle of investing, innovating and refining. After all, travel is about creating a “return on life” and “connecting people to people”, he says.
This is where technology can assist. Pimentel explains: “It is changing the speed of everything – the market will never be slower than it is today.
“The cruise industry will use facial recognition to understand what guests want. We are going to a time where check-in is done through your phone. You’re walking through the terminal and the technology recognises you, so that process will be very, very different.
“The industry is going to change in many ways. With Azamara, our land excursions will appear on guests’ phones, so they will see descriptions, videos, etc. The way we buy and consume things is changing.”
The challenge for agents can be boiled down to one thing: knowledge. “The key is knowledge,” Pimentel says. “Agents need to interpret the experience.
“We have to evolve with the world. This is a time of opportunity, not a time of fear.”
Never far from the headlines
Speaking of fear, the inevitable question soon arises – what of Brexit? Pimentel is pragmatic in his assessment, arguing that whatever happens “Brits will not give up their holidays”.
“[It is] a significant blip, but too much focus on Brexit gets people into a fear cycle.”
It has certainly not diminished his own ambitions and hopes for the future, as demonstrated in his frankness when quizzed on potential additions to the fleet.
Princess Cruises, Pimentel says, is “well aware” of his desire to purchase its R-class ship, Pacific Princess. “I would be happy to have the fourth ship,” he adds.
“Small ships will start borrowing from bigger ships – stayed tuned.”
The words ‘standing still’, it seems, do not appear in Pimentel’s lexicon.