Ahead of his appearance as one of three keynote speakers, Azamara Club Cruises’ Larry Pimentel talks to Hollie-Rae Merrick

He’s known as ‘Luxury Larry’ by his peers in the cruise industry. So he’s pretty well placed to help educate the trade on the nuances of selling a cruise to an upscale holidaymaker.

Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive of Azamara Club Cruises, will take to the stage in front of a record 600 delegates at the 10th annual Clia Conference to highlight the mindset of an affluent guest. He will urge agents to focus less on price and more on the onboard experience, a view shared by many cruise line bosses.

“I’ve spoken at Clia before and this is a great platform to help agents either getting into cruise or wanting to build their knowledge,” Pimentel said.

“I’ll be addressing changes in the luxury market and focus on the value sets of an affluent guest, which I believe have shifted and changed in recent times.

“Our industry tends to be a bit insular. We look at what our competitors within cruise are doing and we don’t tend to look much further. That needs to change.

“When you’re dealing with affluent customers, the focus isn’t on conspicuous consumption and it’s not about price at all.

“Selling a vacation on price to a luxury traveller is an expensive mistake because they won’t come back and that’s a lot of opportunity lost. Too many agents are focused on price, and they’re missing out on a big slice of the market that wants luxury.”

UK market

The UK market has become “abundantly important” to Azamara, according to Pimentel.

The line attracted 5,000 UK passengers in 2009 and twice as many in 2010. Globally, Pimentel, who has been with Azamara since 2010, expects 40,000 guests to sail on his two ships Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest this year.

He said the line had succeeded in raising awareness of the brand in the UK, something he had described as a challenge in 2013.

“Our growth has been massive”, he said. “And our yields have gone up tremendously too. The UK has taken our brand to their heart.”

Despite the growth from the UK, Pimentel isn’t blinded by the challenges he faces in attracting Americans to Europe, particularly in the current climate.

“2015 and the start of 2016 has been complicated in continental Europe. A combination of Isis, the troubles in the Black Sea, Turkey and the migrant crisis has made it difficult.”

New ships

Pimentel has never hidden his desire to grow the Azamara fleet and last July he revealed he was also looking at the possibility of basing a ship in Cuba year-round.

He said the line was taking a “slow and methodical” approach to expansion and would avoid adding lots of capacity all at once.

“We have looked at a few options and we will continue to look at opportunities,” he said.