Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

*logoAppointing Larry Pimentel president and CEO of Azamara Cruises gives the 2-year-old brand what it has not had since it launched: Independence from Celebrity Cruises.

Azamara famously revealed itself in 2007 by surprising even its first guests: The 700 passengers booked on what was to have been the first Celebrity Expeditions cruise, on a ship called the Celebrity Journey. Instead, those 700 passengers sailed from Bayonne, N.J., on the first Azamara cruise. The ship was renamed the Azamara Journey, and it became the flagship of a new cruise line, operated by Celebrity.

At the time, Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said the product was "a different product, and so distinct, it deserves a category name of its own to represent the fact that we're offering something different."

Celebrity's management team, headed by Dan Hanrahan, and its sales force took on this distinct line. But they couldn't give Azamara singular focus, especially since the line was born only a year before the debut of the first of five, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice-class ships.

RCCL has said that Azamara has achieved high rates of guest satisfaction and that its onboard experience is where RCCL wants it to be. But RCCL has also said Azamara hasn't commanded the price points or brand identity the company hoped it would.

"We don't have enough maturity or awareness yet, but we think we're getting there, and we think Larry will accelerate that process," Fain said yesterday.

Pimentel has been with SeaDream Yacht Club since 2001, and was with Cunard Line and Seabourn before that. RCCL is betting that his three decades of experience in the upper end of the cruise segment will give Azamara the awareness it needs to be a true player, and at the same time, free Hanrahan and his team to focus on Celebrity's massive growth spurt.

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