SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- On Monday, Laura Hodges Bethge stepped into her new role as president of Celebrity Cruises, succeeding president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo.
On Thursday, Hodges Bethge made an appearance at the ASTA Global Convention before heading to Finland on Sunday. After that, she will go to London before her President's Cruise on the Celebrity Solstice in Alaska in June.
On stage with Tiffany Hines (an ASTA board member for the past four years and president and CEO of Global Escapes in Athens, Ga.), Hodges Bethge said that her first week had been a whirlwind.
"Travel partners are so, so important to the Royal Caribbean Group, and especially important to Celebrity Cruises," Hodges Bethge said. "And so it was really important for me to make sure that in my first week in the role, I was making sure that you all heard from me how important you all are."
Hodges Bethge's new position was announced in early April alongside the announcement that Lutoff-Perlo will move to the post of vice chair of external affairs at Royal Caribbean Group.
According to Hodges Bethge, the morning the news was announced, she was watching the morning news on television. A Celebrity Cruises commercial came on TV.
"I literally was like, 'Oh my god, I'm responsible for that,'" she said. "So I think that was really the moment that it hit me. But I'm just really excited to be here and I wanted to spend my first week really making sure that I'm connecting with travel partners and letting you all know how much you mean -- not only to me personally because I spent seven years in sales but to Celebrity Cruises."
Hodges Bethge said she was raised by a single mother, who she called her first female mentor. She also put Vicki Freed (Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of sales, trade support and service) and the retiring Dondra Ritzenthaler (Celebrity's senior vice president of sales for the Americas) in the same category.
Hodges Bethge was the first person in her family to go to college. Before she got into hospitality, she was in academia running disability services for a university (her grandfather was disabled, she said, and she's long been an advocate). She always thought she would end up as a professor and researcher.
But years ago, when Royal Caribbean wanted to make its ships more accessible, she was brought on board to help. She thought it would be a single project before she returned to academia -- she didn't even have a passport at the time -- but she was bitten by the hospitality and cruising bug. She's been with the company for 23 years.
Hodges Bethge has held a number of roles within the organization over the years, ranging from hotel operations to marketing to sales to investor relations to product development.
"All of those different experiences ... ladder you up to being able to see the big picture," she said.
She encouraged travel advisors to lean on their industry-wide support systems.
"Continue to persevere," Hodges Bethge said. "This is a marathon. It's not a sprint. This is a team sport, and so you have ASTA, you have Celebrity Cruises, you have the entire Royal Caribbean Group, the entire industry here to support you and help you grow and develop. So use those lifelines, because it's definitely a team activity."