Interview By: Joanie Ogg, Co Founder & Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®
Interviewing: Ron Gulasky, Associate Vice President, North America National Accounts & Trade Associations – Celebrity Cruises
Before we get started, I want to share my sincere thanks Ron, for making the time for this interview. Our readers are going to love this informative and very personal look into all that is happening at Celebrtiy Cruises.
Can you share with our readers your industry experiences and more about your role at Celebrity Cruises?
Joanie I have been part of the travel industry for going on 17 years and love each and every day! I started as the NE Director of Field sales for both Royal Caribbean & Celebrity Cruises back in 2002 and 3 years after that I met the amazing Dondra Ritzenthaler and just had to move to Celebrity Cruises exclusively and work for her! I shoveled snow my last day living in Connecticut, left the shovel and flew to live in Miami for my new role as Director of Corporate Sales & Charters. What an amazing role it was in that it shaped me into being a small and large group cruise expert as well as one in why corporations should always think of a cruise ship when coming up with their next incentive trip or meeting rewarding their employees. Then 3 years ago I jumped back to the leisure side to head up our national account team as well as take on being our brand’s trade relations liason. In my current role I am blessed to have an amazing team that calls on the headquarters of such great partners as Virtuoso, Signature Travel, TLN, etc and I get to work closely with all the agencies in the field whose business rolls up to these headquarters. Some of the great trade partners I work with are PATH, CLIA, ASTA and recently we added ACTA to assist in promoting agencies in Canada get the demand they deserve from the consumers. I have met so many people along the way and the passion, drive, energy of this industry is incredible to experience and I can’t wait to wake up every morning!
With 2019 in full swing, can you share any exciting updates with us about the fleet?
Great question, this is by far the most exciting year we will have at Celebrity Cruises to date I think. The revolution is in full swing at Celebrity, not only are we just sailing the Celebrity Edge that we launched to amazing reviews in November, but we also have begun a transformation of our current fleet starting with Millennium, Summit and the Celebrity Solstice. It is a $500 million plus investment into our fleet – that’s a half a billion dollars! They aren’t going through a normal drydock – they are getting makeovers like you won’t believe in all areas of the ship – so dramatic of changes we even thought about renaming those Millennium classes of ships! The guests will absolutely be in awe, and speaking of that – the 3rd main component of our revolution is adding our all suites Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos in May. No other ship has been purpose built for the incredible Galapagos and those that sail with it will have the best vacation ever, plus it has great commission earning potential for the travel advisors so what a win. Celebrity has 5 brand pillars and each ship in the fleet needs to be consistent and best in class; culinary, ship design, culinary experience, service and accommodations.
The Edge certainly has been an exciting launch for Celebrity. Can you share the top 5 features of this new vessel?
Joanie if you would have asked to share the top 50 it would have maybe been a little easier to pick my favorite features! It was the most anticipated new ship ever seen and it is a stylish, game-changing moment for the leisure industry. The 5 that jump out to me the most are the Magic Carpet, the Retreat area for suite guests (which we are rolling out to the entire fleet), having 4 main dining rooms to choose from that are so intimate and special, the whole Martini bar area in the middle of the ship and of Course Eden in the Aft of the ship that is stunning beyond belief and is such an amazing experience new to cruising.
I recently read about Celebrity Apex, can you elaborate on that?
Celebrity Apex is the second ship in our highly anticipated Edge series. With an innovative outward-facing design and visionary spaces that stand apart from anything else at sea (with the exception of her equally stunning sister, Celebrity Edge®, of course), we will now have the top 2 ships in the industry. It will beging sailing the sparkling Mediterranean from Southampton for it’s first season starting in 2020 and we already have opened sales to our travel advisors.
Can you tell us about “The Celebrity Revolution”?
Our President & CEO said it best, “Celebrity Cruises has always been recognized as an innovative, trend-setting brand, and the Celebrity Revolution is just another instance in which we keep raising the bar in modern luxury travel. This is the largest investment the brand has ever made to modernize our fleet, and it’s all for our guests (and travel advisors of course!). The Celebrity Revolution will include changes to public spaces as well as staterooms, it begins this year and has started with our Millennium ship, then Summit and Equinox and our entire fleet is expected to be completed by 2023. Staterooms will be reimagined to maximize efficiency, new cashmere mattresses will be brought in, and a number of changes will be coming to suites. Also, the Retreat Sundeck will be added outside, and The Retreat Lounge inside, both high-end spaces for suite class guests to enjoy. Internally we say, “we’re not just redesigning the staterooms, we’re tearing them down and building them back up,’ and it is so true!
Let’s talk about Celebrity’s focus on support for Travel Professionals. Are there any new programs you can tell our readers about?
I think it is so important to know that although many cruise lines are members of the organizations out there like ASTA and NACTA, associations that support travel advisors – Celebrity is a crazy active participant and we are so passionate about making sure consumers book their Celebrity Cruise with an advisor. I was so excited to hear ASTA move to advisors because it is a more deserving name to the incredible work the advisors do in educating consumers and selling our product. Nothing is spoken about internally without the best interest of travel advisors being considered whether it is marketing call to actions, training/education initiatives or pricing to make sure advisors are getting a great commission. The commission on our fleet is super and when you look at what advisors earn on especially the Edge and Flora, wow they get what they deserve for their great work selling our brand! We are “All in” and are now in the process of working with great professionals in the home/host agency community to have the best programs and support for this unique community and can’t wait to roll it out soon.
Travel Professionals reading this may have some questions on how to best maximize their sales with Celebrity, is there any new training or educational opportunities available to the agent community?
We have a very large sales force both out in the states/provinces but also an inside team that is fantastic too! We highly recommend the advisors work with these experts on training, webinars, hosting cruise nights, hosting facebook live events etc. They are the experts in training and in addition our award winning Five Star Academy. Becoming a Celebrity Five Star Academy graduate will enhance travel professionals’ brand experience, knowledge and confidence when selling Celebrity Cruises.
Thank you for your time and this informative and passionate look into Celebrity Cruises. We appreciate Celebrity Cruises always being a supporter of Travel Professionals. Before we conclude, is there anything you’d like to add?
I think it is so important for the readers to know that with our sales leadership team at Celebrity led by Dondra and Keith Lane, we don’t like to ever say no to an advisor, we are taught “find a way or make a way” and that is so important that the advisors see us as a partner and their wingman (woman) when making a sale and growing their business. Our commitment to you, our travel advisors, is that we always value the role you play in our future, and that every interaction with the Celebrity brand demonstrates our commitment to you. Thanks so very much to all the travel advisors, at Celebrity Cruises, we appreciate you more than you ever will know.