Like most people in the industry, Gus Antorcha, the newly appointed president of Holland America Line, is watching as cruises slowly resume service in Europe, including its sister brand, Costa Cruises, which launched its first ship since March over this past weekend.
The progress makes him optimistic.
"It shows it can be done," he said. "I think it's great and wonderful for the industry that there is a geography where we've started cruising."
Antorcha, most recently COO of Carnival Cruise Lines, steps into the role at HAL from an operations position and is a guy who talks a lot about execution. Seeing the cruises sailing in Europe, he said, shows that the way European society looks at and has dealt with the pandemic, and how the lines have been able to work with the local authorities, all "makes me very optimistic."
He took the reins of a cruise line that took its lumps in the early days of the pandemic when an outbreak left a ship searching for weeks for a friendly place to dock, but one that also has 147 years of history and a loyal fan base. He said that Holland America's bookings have not suffered disproportionately as a result of the media coverage. In fact, bookings for the second half of 2021 are strong.
Much of that, he said, has to do with people's newfound appreciation for travel and being together.
"I think the world took travel and being able to get together with friends and family for granted," he said. "It's human nature to take things for granted, and we've been able to travel so freely with so many choices as long as I remember. And we don't have the ability to do that now.
"Frankly, that's why we're seeing such good demand for the second half of next year. People figure it will be over by then, so let's schedule that trip that maybe we put off, because spending time with friends and family and traveling and getting to know different places is something we want to take advantage of and do."
And Antorcha believes that Holland America's loyal guests and travel advisors are key to bringing back the industry, and Holland America specifically.
Holland America Line's new president talks about what the line will look like it when it resumes service and the importance of brand execution.
"I saw it multiple times at Carnival," he said. "When there is uncertainty, the past guest, the loyal customer is more willing to book. They know us. They've been onboard. They know the great care we take of our guests, of our crew, our ships, the environment. They trust us, and there is less uncertainty in that regard."
The same is true of travel advisors, he said. "They will be key, and they have to trust that where they send their clients they will be taken care of. That trust and reputation that you only build over time will be very important."
Holland America is using the current pause to ultimately become a more efficient, better cruise line, Antorcha said, something that will naturally take place due to losing four ships, almost 30% of its fleet, which was always going to happen but happened more quickly due to Covid.
"The pandemic basically accelerated those plans," he said. "It allows us to streamline the operations, which is good. On average the larger ships are more efficient, and it lets us, on a per bed basis, be a more efficient operator. And that will be important as we come back. Our cost structure is very important to manage."
But HAL will not be much smaller for very long. Antorcha said that guest count will only be down marginally after the introduction of the next Pinnacle-class ship, the Rotterdam.
Before his nine years at Carnival, Antorcha spent more than 12 with Boston Consulting Group, which he said taught him to think critically and "bring a lot of data to bear to inform recommendations." But he knows that those skills are only half the battle.
"What's different when you've operated for a while, you need to layer in practicality to your thought process," he said.
And at the end of the day, it's always about execution.
"If it doesn't move the needle and doesn't drive impact, it really doesn't matter," he said. "I'd rather have an 80% right answer and flawless execution than a 100% right answer and mediocre execution."