On Jan. 2, Adolfo Perez will celebrate his 40th year with Carnival Cruise Line, where he started in high school and rose to become the company's senior vice president of global sales and trade marketing. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Perez about his many roles at Carnival, how 40 years of perspective helped him navigate the pandemic and his admiration for travel advisors over the past 21 months.
Q: How did you get your start at Carnival?
A: I started as a junior in high school, working weekends at the port as an embarkation agent. I'd check in the guest when they arrived, and back then everything was on paper manifests -- you wouldn't believe all the paperwork. We'd rip apart boarding passes and scratch their name off. The Tropicale was going to be arriving, they were adding the fourth ship to the fleet. I started in reservations, moved my way through, and by 1991 I was running the call center. I did that for 20 years until 2011, when we were opening up an office in London, and I decided to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and lived in London for two years. I came back and worked in marketing for about a year and got this job back in 2015.
When I started at Carnival, it was a family business. Founder Ted Arison was very involved, chairman Micky Arison was at the pier every weekend making sure the ship got out on time. And I always felt like part of the family. Even as we became the largest cruise corporation, it still feels like a family. It's great to work for a company that is so successful, but what has made me feel special is this family feeling and all the different opportunities I've been given. As long as I worked hard, I would be given different opportunities and learn new things.
Q: What are some career highlights?
A: The AgentPalooza bus tour we did in 2017 was a lot of fun, and as you probably know, I got a tattoo [that says "Travel Agents Rock"] when we did one of the events in New Orleans. That was a great way to get out and meet frontline travel agents, celebrate their hard work and show our appreciation for their support over the years.
We wouldn't be where we are today had it not been for travel agents getting onboard early with cruise lines. Then we wanted to let people know how valuable travel partners are in booking vacations. So we did our first consumer-facing events, WUATA, "Why Use a Travel Advisor?" It was a celebration of our travel partners but also getting the message out to consumers at those events about how easy and great it is to work with them. We had a website, a contest, videos, testimonials from clients, and we put on four big events. In 2020, we were going to do 100 of those -- unfortunately, we all know what happened.
Q: How has your career perspective helped you get through the pandemic?
A: As I think back to 9/11, I remember being devastated about what happened, and it definitely impacted the cruise industry and travel in general. But we got through it. We worked really hard to come back strong. And during this pandemic, I thought a couple things were really amazing. No. 1 was the perseverance and the tenacity of our travel partners because of all the work they had to do, a lot of it when money wasn't coming in, even though we protected commissions. They were working really hard with all the pause, restart, pause, restart. It was our job to stay in touch with them. We provided tools, did virtual cruise night kits, virtual ship tours. We started "From Adolfo's Desk Live" to stay in touch to make sure that they kept cruise not only in front of themselves, but in front of clients.
The other thing that impressed me was how the industry worked together. We compete, obviously, but one thing that we don't compete on is safety and health, and it was refreshing to see how well the cruise lines worked together to make the restart possible and get this thing going, and it really paid off. I guess what I've learned is that, yes, there are big bumps along the way sometimes, but if you stay focused, you work hard, you support the people who support you, then you have the ability to get through just about anything. And I think we've proven that together with travel agent partners.