Having been CEO of Cunard and Seabourn cruise lines, Larry Pimentel, 62, could have called it a career. Instead, in 2009, he took the helm of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ high-end brand, Azamara Club Cruises. The changes he has implemented have created quite a stir.
Q. You already had a lofty career. Why come out of retirement to be president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises?
A. It really goes back to the notion of creating something vastly different from the rest of the playing field. For me, there was a certain sense of excitement about playing in that arena with the backing of a gigantic corporation that had the resources to make the vision come true. I’m at the point now where I’m getting to the end of my career and I’m very actively engaged again and doing this project of passion. The response to what we created is really gratifying.
Q. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm about Azamara’s spending longer time in ports so clientele can experience the night life of each destination, even overnights. Why go this route?
A. If you were to look at our catalog, it’s called a destination guide rather than a cruise guide, and we use six words to define the whole product: “longer stays, more overnights, night touring.” Let’s look at the Mediterranean as an example. If you started in Spain, the Spanish dine between 9 and 11. The entire Mediterranean from west to east is about the night, yet the business model has always been that ships need to be at sea at that point. So we created a new model that included this notion of night touring. And the guest response is overwhelmingly favorable. They do not want to go to Saint-Tropez between 9 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. They want to see Saint-Tropez when it’s happening.
Q. I thought cruise lines make most of their money at sea, when they can offer gambling and a more active bar scene. Not to mention, the fee for being in port. So aren’t you losing money while at port?
A. Yes, the classic business model creates revenue-generating opportunities as the ship leaves the port. So you have casinos, you have spas, you have retail. You can’t open a casino at port. Yet, we have offsets. If you’re staying in port multiple nights, what are you not burning up? Fuel. So there’s a corresponding offset. Also, when we’re in port, the guests aren’t eating on our ship; they’re dining at local restaurants. So each time this happens, you get a corresponding savings. So for us, this hasn’t hurt us or created a problem, it’s just a new way of thinking. Most people don’t think of ships staying in port. In some cases, we’re there two and three nights.
Q. Your two 694-passenger ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, spend the summer cruising Europe, reaching such rarely seen cruise locales as the Shetland Islands in Scotland; Akureyri in northern Iceland; and Flam, in the heart of Norwegian fiord country. Was that also one of your goals at Azamara, to reach remote outposts?
A. Absolutely. We wanted to pinpoint unique, small ports in places that larger ships could not get to. With the smaller ship, you don’t have the same infrastructure problems on land. Some of these locales are not so remote, they’re just small ports or passageways. We have access to places like the Kiel Canal [the German waterway that links the Baltic to the North Sea]. The fiords that we get to in Norway are just stunning. To see hundreds of waterfalls simultaneously running, that’s hard to top.
Q. Tell me some of your other favorite destinations and why.
A. That’s a tough question. I’ve been to over 120 countries. A favorite of mine has been the Amalfi Coast. I love Porto Venere, Cinque Terre, the islands that are out there, Capri, Sorrento. Taormina, in Sicily, to me is just spectacular. Now having said that, I can quickly flip a switch and say, geez, I really like Indonesia. Bali is pretty fascinating. Or the ability to explore Vietnam. And go up the coast between Buenos Aires and Rio to small villages. There are so many places that come to the forefront. . . . I’d have to put the Italian and French rivieras as places that I never tire of.
Q. How has the typical cruise line passenger changed?
A. I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with the upmarket client from the very early days in the industry. One of the biggest changes about this client is that they’re leaning more toward enriching experiences versus labels. When I first got into the industry, there was every brand label you could imagine and every product had a designer name. There has been a tremendous evolution as more people around the world have become affluent. They’re looking for substance rather than flash. A meaningful experience now means the opportunity to delve into a particular culture and learn about that region of the world.
Interview was condensed and edited. Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.activetravels.com.