An interview with Dondra Ritzenthaler, Senior Vice President of Sales, Celebrity Cruises
Dondra Ritzenthaler joined Celebrity Cruises in September 2003, as vice president of sales. In 2006, she became senior vice president of sales for the line. In 2007, Celebrity Cruises introduced Azamara Cruises, and Dondra took on responsibility as senior vice president of sales for Azamara.
TRO: Though Celebrity Cruises is positioned as a premium cruise line, you still are considered by many in the travel agent community as mass market. What do you see as Celebrity’s unique value proposition?
DR: We are the cruise line that is “Designed for the Guest”. We offer a comfortable fun experience for those who appreciate the finer things in life!
TRO: Where are you seeing your sales come from in general percentage terms? Direct, traditional agent market, on-line agent market, affiliates, other?
DR: Our business primarily comes from our travel agents. Over 90%. Within that channel 50% is still store front agencies, then home based, online and corporate meeting and incentives makes up the rest. We are dependant on our travel partners.
TRO: Celebrity is not traditionally thought of when it comes to multi-generational travel yet clearly offers something for all ages, what client qualities or qualifiers should the agent community consider when matching the multi-generational cruiser to a Celebrity cruise?
DR: Celebrity Cruises is not advertised as a “family brand” as we cater to adults and accommodate kids. The advantage of this proposition is a much lower kids to counselor ratio in our Celebrity X-Club Youth Program. All Celebrity ships carry a minimum of 3 Youth Counselors plus 1 manager on Century and Millennium class, and 4 Youth Counselors plus 1 manager on Solstice class. Children get the attention that they deserve making their time onboard unforgettable! Well traveled kids and parents are the best choice for the Celebrity brand. Our programs are engaging in a fun learning environment divided by the perfect age groups.
TRO: There is a lot of talk that a land based vacation is a better value for the traveler and more profitable for the agent. Cruise Holidays, and other “cruise only” agencies have made a decided shift to offer some land based vacations despite their name. The obvious value is seeing many destinations in one trip. What do you see as the best way to articulate the objections of larger rooms, more inclusive, lack of Norwalk-like virus, more choice, etc?
DR: I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference at a land based all inclusive resort and the experience made me even more proud of the value proposition onboard Celebrity! While all-inclusive properties are located on beautiful settings, the landscape never changes. Onboard a cruise, your view changes daily and you never have to lift a finger to pack and unpack! Also, onboard a Celebrity Cruise, you can choose the beverage package that fits your clients preference making their experience more inclusive. In addition the award winning cuisine and entertainment offered onboard a Celebrity Cruise is unmatched by any land-based all inclusive property!
TRO: Celebrity Cruises offers a training program (Five Star Academy) and is a sponsor of the recently released Travel Agent Success Series. What other avenues should agents utilize to expand both their product knowledge and their sales skills?
DR: The best asset to any Travel Agent that wants to succeed selling dream vacations onboard Celebrity Cruises is their Sales Representative. We hire true professionals that can offer everything from marketing ideas, business analysis, to actually experiencing the brand on a Seminar at Sea. Our Seminar at Sea program offers not only classroom style learning, but a true immersion of the Celebrity Life experience so our Travel Partners can walk away with full knowledge of everything their clients can experience onboard our brand.
TRO: You have been with Celebrity Cruises for many years through 911, SARS, war, etc., what would you say were the worst of times? What were the best…and not necessarily from a financial point of view?
DR: I would have to attribute the “worst times” to any situation in which our guest time onboard is interrupted or negatively impacted while on vacation. The best is when those same guests come back onboard praising our heartfelt caring approach to their needs and become our biggest fans! We have no control over the weather, accidents, or volcanoes. What we have control over is our approach to human needs and emotions in difficult situations. Assisting our guests during difficult times in the most caring way possible are the best times that I have experienced in my years with Celebrity.
TRO: How are you projecting Wave 2011 compared to 2010 and 2009? Do you see prices rising and when?
DR: Thanks to the hard work of all of our Travel Partners, Celebrity Cruises has had a fantastic 2010. We are optimistic that 2011 will start even stronger with a full force WAVE season. With the exception of the Caribbean market in Q1, we have seen steady price increase in all of our other product destinations.
TRO: As more ships join the fleet, do you see a time when Celebrity Cruises will return year round to the Caribbean?
DR: 2010 was a year of learning when it came to our brand position in the Caribbean market. Although Celebrity offered the best hardware in the Premium market in the Caribbean, it wasn’t as successful as it would have been in Europe. Our guest tell us that is where they want to go so, of course, that is what we will do going forward.
TRO: Are there any improvements, changes, exciting news you can leak?
DR: You do not want me to get in trouble with Dan Hanrahan, our President, do you? I will share that just when you thought we had reached perfection with the offerings onboard Solstice, Equinox, and Eclipse, our newest Celebrity Reflection will take our culinary approach to even higher levels!
TRO: Finally, as a fellow Texan I have to ask, why haven’t you taken Dan Hanrahan and Jacques Van Staden on a FAM trip to experience real Tex-Mex? While the culinary offerings on Celebrity are award winning, shouldn’t the cruising Texan have our favorite food as a theme night or even a dining venue on Celebrity Reflection?
DR: As a true and very passionate Texan I will take your suggestions to Jacques and you just never know what he might surprise us with! I will do my Best and I totally agree!