Charles Dickens once wrote, “Change begets change. This has certainly been the case lately at Celebrity Cruises. CEO and president Lisa Lutoff-Perlo left the cruise line early last month, making way for Laura Hodges Bethge to become president. Later that month, longtime leader 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 much of my success and the success of the Celebrity Cruises brand 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 without them the Celebrity brand wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is today. When I first came here 20 years ago, the travel advisors embraced me as an individual and as a leader of this brand and really put it on the map.
Q: How did you know sales was where you wanted to be?
A: Have you ever walked into a house, and you were looking to buy, and you thought, “I’m home, this is the house I need.” It already looks like my house”? That’s how I felt the first time I got a sales job. I felt like my God-given skills or talents—everyone has a few—were the most natural in sales. I can combine my desire to lead and motivate with this huge desire inside of me to win and compete.
Q: Why retire now?
A: I’m young enough to go do things I’m passionate about but accomplished enough to feel good about what we’ve done as a team. I didn’t know when. Lisa, who I have so much respect and admiration for and loved working for, when the change happened with her and Laura…I just felt like it was the good moment. I couldn’t be more proud of Laura. Laura and I are friends. We literally go to dinner together and chat and hang out with girls. I started thinking, if I don’t do it now and do it later, is it fair for Laura? Since the change is happening, now would be a good time, with Lisa leaving, Laura entering 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, especially in sales?
A: New travel advisors are coming into the business, which I think is great. What he did was he made us change our strategy. We were used to very seasoned travel advisors who certainly know that we have Millennium class ships, Edge class ships and Solstice class ships. Now we literally have to teach them, just like you would teach anyone new to the business. It really made us change the way our sales organization works with trainings etc.
The other thing is that there are a lot more people working from home. It used to be that you could walk into a travel consultant’s office, and you could walk around the office and give everyone a high-five for the company, ask for more business, share the numbers. But now, with everyone at home, we’ve had to change our approach to where we actually need to go where they are. It has changed the way we have to sell, but I think for the better. It makes it a bit more personal.
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