Agents happier after Duffy’s first year at Carnival's helm

Carnival President Christine Duffy in Cozumel with bridge officers from several ships.
Carnival President Christine Duffy in Cozumel with bridge officers from several ships.

Last February, Christine Duffy started her job as the president of Carnival Cruise Line, only the third person outside of the founding Arison family to hold the position.

Her first year in the position saw Carnival create a Facebook page for agents, arrange for a ship to depart from Mobile, Ala., introduce longer Carnival Journeys cruises and announce the first Carnival ship to be based in China.

Duffy came to the job in an unusual manner, having been the CEO of CLIA. Before that, she had been the president of Maritz Travel and had once been a working travel agent.

In an interview marking her anniversary on the job, Duffy reflected on how quickly the year had gone by and discussed some of her achievements and challenges.

What Duffy considered her most satisfying achievement was also the most difficult: visiting all 24 ships in Carnival’s fleet in a year.

She started on Valentine’s Day weekend in Galveston, Texas, on the Carnival Freedom to preside over a Salute to Veterans concert by Martina McBride. She ended her first year with the Carnival Liberty in San Juan.

“Maybe I made things a little harder on myself than I needed to,” Duffy said. “But it really has been gratifying to get out and spend time onboard our ships, really spending a lot of time with our senior officers but also our crew members.

“I really worked hard to build a tighter communication and bridge between our shoreside team and shipboard,” she said. “So I’m pretty proud of the work we’ve done there.”

The other area where Duffy said she made a difference this year was in the trade sales team.

“It’s night and day. The Carnival from three years back is nowhere to be seen.” — Ralph Santisteban, CruiseOne franchise owner

In June, she picked Adolfo Perez to lead the sales efforts as the vice president of trade sales and marketing. Perez is a 33-year veteran of Carnival, but Duffy said it wasn’t obvious to her initially that she should go with an internal candidate for the job.

“We really did a very thorough search before making this decision,” Duffy said, “and initially my bias was to probably bring somebody in from outside for that role, based on where we were as a brand and some of the recent history.”

Perez, she said, “was relentless. He really wanted this role, and he convinced me that he was the right person. And I have to say he absolutely was.”

Duffy said business with the trade was up in 2015 over the year before, as it was in 2014 compared with 2013. “So that’s a way for us to gauge whether we’re moving in the right direction, and the answer is yes.”

Ralph Santisteban, who heads a CruiseOne franchise in Miami, agreed that Carnival has improved since 2013.

“It’s night and day,” he said. “The Carnival from three years back is nowhere to be seen.”

Santisteban said Perez gets part of the credit.

“[Perez is] insanely phenomenal,” Santisteban said. “He is the type of individual who can get into the trenches. It’s easy for anybody in the industry, no matter what their level or position is, to relate to this man.”

More broadly, agents said that clients come back from Carnival cruises more satisfied, which makes it easier to recommend to other customers.

“We agents, I can only speak for us, have a much more positive image of Carnival,” Santisteban said. “We feel more appreciated, and when you feel that, it’s easier to produce for the person that makes you feel that.”

One thing that has agents feeling more appreciated is a rollback by Carnival of a 2013 commission structure that forced some agents to sell more cruises to earn the same level of commission.

The rollback was announced by Perez, but Vicky Garcia, COO of Cruise Planners, said there was no doubt in her mind where it originated. “It would not have happened if Christine hadn’t been behind it,” Garcia said.

Carnival, like other lines, has strengthened its pricing over the past year, especially for inventory that was still available less than three months before sailing.

According to one survey, by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Patrick Scholes, who surveys cruise pricing monthly, Carnival’s short-term pricing was up 22% in January compared with the year before. Each month since Duffy’s start in February, with one or two exceptions, prices have risen higher than in the previous month.

Duffy said a lot of the credit goes to Carnival’s revenue-management team. “They’ve done a great job along with our commercial team to drive yield growth for us,” she said.

Like Garcia, Scholes said that while the team deserves credit, it was Duffy who set  the direction. 

“I don’t believe they would have aggressively implemented this pricing strategy without senior management approval,” Scholes said.

The stronger pricing can be seen as one sign that the Carnival brand has turned the corner from the lows it encountered after the 2013 Carnival Triumph engine room fire, Duffy said.

“We have said we are no longer talking about recovery but really focusing on continuing the positive momentum we have behind the brand as we kicked off 2016 Wave and as we get ready to add the Carnival Vista to the fleet,” she said. 


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