Holland America sales restructuring about changing perceptions

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Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld 2019.
Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld 2019.

Following a restructuring of sales operations at Holland America Line (HAL), the travel trade can expect to see a whole lot more of president Orlando Ashford in the coming months.

Ashford took the management reins, directing sales team leaders to report directly to him. The decision led to the departure of two senior sales executives at HAL: Eva Jenner, vice president of sales, and Charlie Dunwoody, senior director of national accounts.

As of now, Ashford is not looking to hire a traditional sales vice president. Since early November, he has been doing the things that such vice presidents do at most cruise lines.

"I've been talking to a lot of our national accounts. I've been out at trade events," he said, pointing to Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld event and road shows in Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. "And there’s more to come."

Ashford said the restructuring was born from his desire to get closer to the sales action and his frustration that sometimes both travel advisors and the public are stuck in the past in perceptions of HAL.

He said that since becoming president five years ago, he has focused most of his efforts on retooling the product by adding new music, entertainment and destination amenities with which he feels existing guests are very satisfied.

"I'm feeling our product is in a really good space," Ashford said. "We set record Net Promoter Scores [a customer loyalty metric] last year, and we've surpassed those scores here in 2019, so what that tells me is that our guests like what we’re doing."

He said it frustrates him when he still hears people say a customer is "not old enough" for Holland America or that the cruise line "is boring."

"That's not the case," Ashford said. 

By becoming as involved in the sales process as he previously was in product redesign, Ashford hopes to accelerate the reevaluation of HAL.

"The trade is the most important sales arm for my business," he said. "Three-quarters of our business comes from travel agents, and so because it's such an important element of our business, I want to position myself directly closer to it."

In the restructured sales division, executives Rob Coleman, Denella Ri'chard, Michelle Sutter, Anthony Cooper and Cathy Kusuma will report directly to Ashford.

Rich Skinner, president of Cruise Holidays of Woodinville, Wash., who worked at HAL in the 1990s, predicted that the move will be watched by agents.

"It's very untypical of any of the other major cruise lines I can think of to have the president in that role in the sales department," Skinner said. "It just seems like it's kind of an extreme measure to restructure themselves so they're more effective in the marketplace."

For the time being, HAL won't have a traditional sales vice president, a setup that Ashford acknowledged has not been seen previously in the industry. 

"At this moment, I will play a lot of that role," he said. "My team will play part of that role. In my opinion, [it's] similar to the HAL Culinary Council, so it’s not about one chef, it's a collection of chefs that influence our food.

"So what’s going to happen from a sales perspective," he added, "it's not about a person being a face to the trade."

He said his reception as president at sales functions is a little more energetic than a vice president might get. But going forward, he said, the job will be more collective.

"So what people will see is more people involved and more resources involved in an effort to tell our story in an accelerated way," he said.

Ashford said this is not the first time he has managed a department while also holding down the role of brand president. He said that for two years, at the request of HAL Group CEO Stein Kruse, he directed the human resources functions at HAL, Princess Cruises and Seabourn. 

"We identified some wonderful HR leaders, made some structural changes, and now that reports to someone else," Ashford said.

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