When Maurice Zarmati sailed out of Genoa to immigrate to the U.S. back in 1959, the youngster never imagined he’d have the opportunity to return in style to the port city tucked into the northernmost reaches of the Italian Riviera. But return he did.
“Six years ago, I was invited on the Costa Fortuna out of Genoa on an agents’ trip, and I again saw the horizon of Genoa, and I remembered back to 1959, and here I was on the bridge of a Costa vessel,” Zarmati said.
Reminiscing about coming full circle across the span of 50-plus years is, in itself, a highlight of his career in the cruise industry, he said.
Zarmati, 65, announced last week he plans to retire from his post as president and CEO of Costa Cruises North America on Nov. 30. He was appointed to the position in 2008 after serving in various management and executive positions at Carnival Cruise Lines.
On the day he graduated from college Zarmati joined Arison Shipping, and two years later he worked with Ted Arison as a member of the original team that created Carnival Cruise Lines in 1972. Zarmati served as Southeast regional sales manager from 1973 until his promotion to director of sales in 1979. He was named vice president of sales in 1987.
Zarmati will continue a relationship with Costa as a consultant for worldwide sales, marketing and passenger-traffic initiatives.
“When Gianni [Onorato] asked me to be a senior global consultant, it didn’t take me long to say yes,” Zarmati said. “This is a new chapter for me, and I will still be active in the industry. You’ll still see me at the conferences and shows.”
“In these challenging times, we’re excited to have him extending his valuable expertise,” said Onorato, president of Costa Crociere, parent of Costa Cruises. Costa is a Carnival Corp. brand.
Zarmati said the consultant’s post is part-time “for Costa only, unless they want to loan me out to someone.”
“I can consult with others as long as it doesn’t [present] any conflict of interest with Costa Crociere,” he added.
Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison said Zarmati was “one of a trusted core of individuals who built [Carnival Cruise Lines] into the largest, most popular cruise line in the world.”
Ruben Perez, Costa’s senior vice president of guest services, has been named general manager to oversee day-to-day operations at the Costa office in Hollywood, Fla.
Zarmati’s competitors also praised him.
Richard Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, said, “Maurice is a talented, fierce competitor but also a genuinely very dear friend, and the second part of that is more important than the first.”
Sasso said he’s known Zarmati for more than 40 years.
“He’s been a mentor to a lot of people over those years,” Sasso said. “He certainly has earned the opportunity to do something more global, make a more global contribution. Like me, he’s part of the old guard and still has a lot to contribute. I think it’s great for him and for Costa.”
Brad Tolkin, co-CEO and co-chairman of World Travel Holdings, called Zarmati a “tireless fan of the travel agent distribution system.”
“He is a passionate advocate for the cruise industry and the consummate professional,” Tolkin said. “He has easily won many colleagues’ friendship with his engaging and sincere personality.”
Christine Duffy, president and CEO of CLIA, said she’d heard people speak about Zarmati when she took the helm of the association early last year.
“My own personal experience is consistent with everything I had heard,” she said. “He is an authentic and caring leader who is passionate about the industry, which he helped to establish.”
“As he begins a well-deserved retirement it is interesting that his personal story — Italian father, French mother, born in Egypt, [eventually] immigrated to the U.S., speaker of five languages — is a remarkable reflection of this wonderfully international, all-encompassing industry that he helped build,” Duffy said.
Follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.