Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Larry Pimentel, one of the many cruise industry executives who has stepped down during the Covid-19 crisis, resigned as CEO of Azamara Cruises in April, falling on his sword to help the company "bear the impact" of job cuts, parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain said at the time.

The grounding of the cruise fleets appears to have triggered an executive shake-up that likewise may be unparalleled, and I caught up with Pimentel last week to discuss what the executive changes might mean for cruising and for travel advisors. He said that executive upheaval may seem daunting to the trade and that the new faces may be unfamiliar, but he also believes the new bosses "will connect and engage as their predecessors did."

"Smart people will do smart things, and solid retail connections have always been good for the cruise business," Pimentel said. "Agents who create revenue will be cultivated as they always have been."

Cruise lines often promote from within, and the latest round of appointments are no exception. Pimentel said that is because there is "a great depth of internal talent in the cruise firms that retailers are unaware of."

"These relatively unknown executives are skilled, bright and focused," he said. "Retail travel buyers tend to [primarily] know people with a customer facing position."

Larry Pimentel in 2017.
Larry Pimentel in 2017.

And also: Pimentel believes that change is good, both among the executive ranks and for cruise sellers.

"In my view a new, fresh perspective can innovate, create and energize," he said.

But during the conversation, Pimentel didn't downplay the severe challenges faced by the industry or the travel trade.

"There is more pain in the entire hospitality sector -- globally and domestically -- then I care to think about.  This includes retail travel distribution," he said. "It is a challenging, sad time. It is impossible to predict the full impact. However, in my view, the distribution channel will survive but will also change. One of the biggest changes might be consolidation. Consolidation could be a consequence  clearly it is a buyer's market."

Pimentel remains optimistic that the industry will bounce back, something it's always be able to do.

"The opportunities are vast," he said. "Clearly, we have challenging times, but there are clear skies and often a rainbow at the end of the hurricane. This industry will also grow again, but the runway is longer than anyone had anticipated. A more normalized period is likely in 2023. But we need a Covid solution, and the current drug research is promising."

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