Pamela Conover oversaw two luxury lines at Carnival Corp.: She was president and COO of Seabourn Cruises and Cunard Line during the Queen Mary 2 launch and later president and CEO of Seabourn during the introduction of its Odyssey-class ships. Most recently, she was an adviser and brand ambassador to Seabourn as it moved to Seattle and under the Holland America Line brand. Last week, she was named CEO of SeaDream Yacht Club, which operates two 112-passenger ships. Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin spoke with Conover about her new role and the specifics of the luxury cruise market.
Q: You joined Carnival Corp. 17 years ago and held several high-profile positions there. Why the change?
A: I think this was a great opportunity for me to join a luxury brand in the high end of the market, based here in Miami. And it's an opportunity for me to go back to a full-time CEO role, which is something I really enjoy. It's a great brand to be associated with, and I think it's a great part of the industry with great opportunities for growth.
Q: What does a brand ambassador do?
A: I assisted first with the transition of Seabourn to Seattle, and then worked with past loyal guests and went on some cruises and was just available to make sure, for the past guests, there was some continuity. And just making sure that they felt comfortable with a smooth transition.
Q: What will be your first focus at SeaDream?
A: I think the first focus is getting my arms around the operation, meeting all of the teams. [Then] I think going out and making sure we bring the revenue in and continue to create as good a product as we can. It's already a good product, but there's always room for improvement.
I think that many agents don't realize what a great opportunity there is with SeaDream to do some groups and family reunions and milestone birthdays. We've seen increased activity on that path, and when you can put in the mail a $70,000 commission check to an agent because they arranged to take on a whole ship for a milestone, that's a beautiful thing. And we did that in the last few months.
Q: Two of your successes at Carnival Corp. were overseeing the deliveries of the Queen Mary 2 and the Odyssey-class ships. Does that mean SeaDream is eyeing new ship orders?
A: Well, I think all cruise companies ... are always looking at new opportunities to build a brand and build new ships. I don't think that's anything new. And it's something that people in this industry look at all the time.
Q: The SeaDream I and II are cozy ships, but they're also older, without some of today's must-haves, such as balconies. Is it a challenge to market that against the Odysseys and Silver Spirits of the business?
A: I think you market them based on the size, that they can go places that the slightly larger vessels can't, and [can] provide a level of service. And the key is the level of service they get onboard. You can provide a level of service to 100 guests that it's very hard to do on a larger vessel.
Q: It's 2013: What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses in the luxury cruise market?
A: Well, I think 2013, it remains to be seen. I think we're going in from a U.S. perspective: The presidential election is behind us, the fiscal cliff is behind us, the stock market is up, there's some improvements in the housing market, so there's some positive indicators out there, and we're certainly hoping that 2013 will prove to be a better year than 2012, which had all the difficulties that everybody knows about.