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 World Convention before heading to Finland on Sunday. After that, she’ll head to London ahead of her Celebrity Solstice presidential cruise to Alaska in June.
On stage with Tiffany Hines (ASTA board member for four years and president and CEO of Global Escapes in Athens, Georgia), Hodges Bethge said 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 made 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 of Lutoff-Perlo’s appointment as vice president of external affairs at Royal Caribbean Group.
According to Hodges Bethge, the morning the news broke, she was watching the morning news on television. A Celebrity Cruises ad ran on TV.
“I was literally like, ‘Oh my god, I’m responsible for this,'” she said. “So I think that was really the moment it hit me. But I’m really excited to be here and wanted to spend my first week making sure I’m connecting with travel partners and that you everyone know how much you mean – not just to me personally because I spent seven years in sales, but to Celebrity Cruises.”
Hodges Bethge said she was raised by a single mother, whom she called her first female mentor. She also placed Vicki Freed (Senior Vice President of Sales, Business Support and Service at Royal Caribbean International) and the retired Dondra Ritzenthaler (Senior Vice President of Sales for Celebrity Americas) in the same category.
Hodges Bethge was the first person in his family to go to college. Before entering the hospitality industry, she was in academia and ran disability services for a university (her grandfather was disabled, she said, and she’s been a long-time advocate). She always thought she would eventually become a teacher 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 once-in-a-lifetime project before returning to college – she didn’t even have a passport at the time – but she was bitten by the hospitality and cruising bug. She has been with the company for 23 years.
Hodges Bethge has held a number of positions within the organization over the years, ranging from hotel operations and marketing to sales, investor relations and product development.
“All of these different experiences … allow you to see the bigger picture,” she said.
She encouraged travel advisors to rely on their industry-wide support systems.
“Keep persevering,” Hodges Bethge said. “It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. It’s a team sport, and so you have ASTA, you have Celebrity Cruises, you have the whole Royal Caribbean group, the whole industry here for you support and help you grow and develop. So use those lifelines because it’s definitely a team activity.”
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