Seven months and one day into her tenure as Celebrity Cruises president, Laura Hodges Bethge welcomed her first new ship to the fleet, the Celebrity Ascent. She sat down with cruise editor Andrea Zelinski during a two-day sailing on the Ascent to talk about what she expects in 2024, her plans for the line and how Celebrity is changing the way it works with travel advisors.
Q: What are your predictions for the next year?
A: Super optimistic that we’re going to have a really strong year. Guests are still paying for experiences versus things. We continue to see that there are folks who just desire to see the world, to travel, to be together and to be connected. So, we’re very optimistic that trend is going to continue.
Q: Any headwinds?
A: Obviously, what’s going on in Israel is not good. What’s going on in Ukraine is not good. Anytime there are those types of things, it’s always a concern. But we’re feeling very good about how we’ve redeployed our vessels, what regions we’re in and the outlook that we’re seeing from customers.
Q: You’ve mentioned the next ship, the Celebrity Xcel, will include seven new experiences. You also have hinted at modernizing the Solstice class and developing the next ship class. Can you offer any hints about new experiences you have in store?
A: We’re definitely thinking about the things for Xcel and what we’re dreaming about for our new class of ships and how we bring that through the line to the Solstice class. We’ll start talking about those Xcel things next spring, and then you’ll get some hints as to what we’re thinking about modernization-wise.
Q: How do you differentiate yourself from other premium lines, like Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Virgin Voyages?
A: It really is about having differentiated products and experiences. Their ships are very different than ours, and so it’s making sure our marketing and our visuals show you that we are absolutely, unabashedly, distinctly Celebrity. That’s what we’re working on right now: crafting the way we look and feel so that you know the difference, that we really are truly differentiated. Holland America ships don’t look anything like our ships. We don’t look anything like Virgin, right? The proposition is different. We need to make sure that we are truly making that come across in our marketing.
Q: What is your relationship like with travel advisors?
A: I know all of the players, and I feel really strongly about travel advisors and the travel partner community and how we support them and make sure that they have the tools that they need to sell us. They act as a value interpreter to consumers who are trying to understand the difference. They are way better at telling our story than even us because it’s a third party that’s giving people the endorsement that ‘I know this is right for you’ versus us telling someone why we’re great.
Q: How do you see that relationship evolving?
A: We want to work with each travel partner in the way in which they need to work. We can’t be one-size-fits-all. If you’re good at group business, or you are good at charters or you focus on the Retreat, we want to be able to give you the right commission structure and the right marketing, all of the things that you need to do your business well.
Q: How do you do more of that?
A: We have different agreements with different partners, different ways of working with them. It’s, ‘I want to incentivize you to do this, because that’s what you do well,’ as opposed to making a blanket program for everybody. And also having different marketing toolkits for folks, so that they have what they need to go to market.
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