Charles Dickens once wrote, “Change begets change.” That certainly has been true lately at Celebrity Cruises. CEO and president Lisa Lutoff-Perlo stepped down from the cruise line early last month, making way for Laura Hodges Bethge to become president. Later in the month, longtime executive Dondra Ritzenthaler also decided it was time for a change; the line’s senior vice president of sales for the Americas will retire in May after 20 years with the brand. Ritzenthaler spoke with cruise editor Andrea Zelinski about her relationship with travel advisors, the changes she’s seeing in the industry and how she knew it was time to go.
Q: Can you reflect on your relationship with travel advisors after two decades with Celebrity?
A: I owe a lot of my success and the brand success at Celebrity Cruises to travel advisors. Honestly, I really want to make sure that I let the travel advisor community know how grateful I am to them, because if it wasn’t for them, the Celebrity brand would not be anywhere near where it is today. When I walked in here 20 years ago, the travel advisors embraced me as an individual and as the leader of this brand and have really put it on the map.
Q: How did you know that sales was where you wanted to be?
A: Have you ever walked into a house, and you were looking to buy, and you just go, “I’m at home, this is the house I need. This feels like my house already”? That’s how I felt the first time I got into a sales job. I felt like my God-given skills or talents — everybody gets a couple of those — were the most natural in sales. I can combine my desire to lead and motivate with this huge desire that’s inside me to win and compete.
Q: Why retire now?
A: I’m young enough to go and do some things that I’m passionate about but accomplished enough to feel good about what we’ve done as a team. I just didn’t know the when. Lisa, who I have so much respect and admiration for and have so loved working for, when the change happened with her and Laura … it just felt like this is now the right time. I could not be more proud of Laura. Laura and I are friends. We literally go to dinner together and just chat and just have girl time. I started thinking, if I don’t do it now and I do it later, is that fair to Laura? Since change is happening, now would be the right time, with Lisa going out, Laura coming in and me having hired Katina [Athanasiou as vice president of sales for the Americas], who is absolutely a seasoned veteran. The team is in such a good place, and the company is in such a good place.
Q: What trends are you seeing right now, particularly in sales?
A: New travel advisors coming into the business, which I think is awesome. What it’s done is it’s made us change our strategy. We were used to very seasoned travel advisors who certainly know that we have Millennium-class ships and Edge-class ships and Solstice-class ships. Now, we literally have to teach them, just like you would have to teach anybody new to the business. It’s really made us modify the way that our sales organization works with doing trainings, etc.
The other thing is there’s a lot more people who are working from home. You used to be able to go into a travel advisor’s office, and you could walk around the office and give everybody high-fives for the business, ask for more business, share the numbers. But now, with everybody being home-based, we’ve had to modify our approach to where we now have to actually go to where they are. It has changed the way that we have to sell, but I think for the better. It makes it a little bit more personal.
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