Last updated: 06:56 PM ET, Sun August 07 2016

Carnival Proud

New Carnival Cruise Lines President Christine Duffy is working to rebuild ties to travel agents

Vacation Agent Cruise Line & Cruise Ship Theresa Norton

Carnival Proud

PHOTO: New Carnival Cruise Line president and CEO Christine Duffy.

Originally a travel agent, Christine Duffy has risen through the ranks over the past three decades, becoming a top executive at Maritz Travel, the CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, and now president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Line. Vacation Agent recently caught up with her.

You’ve been president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Line for a couple of months now. How are you enjoying it?

I’m loving it. Carnival, as you know, is an iconic brand and people who work at Carnival are very passionate about the brand, the company and one another. I think they’re very proud, and rightfully so, of all the contributions Carnival makes to the community.

One of your first tasks was to listen to long-time Carnival employees. Did anything they say help you to formulate new goals?

We did announce that we’re going to recruit for a new Chief People Officer. At Carnival, we’ve had a human resource operation that supported the seaside team and a separate organization that supported the shipboard team. We’re going to bring all that together under one leader who will report directly to me. I think we’re at the point of really focusing on where do we take the brand going forward, and we are recognizing that people are our most important asset. At the end of the day, the biggest differentiator customers have when sailing with us is the experience they have with our people.

What is the biggest challenge facing Carnival right now?

I think our challenge is no different than it is for the broader cruise industry, which is how do we generate greater demand for cruising? How do we get new-to-cruise travelers onto a ship? We know once they get on board, we will get them back.

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There’s a cruise for everyone out there. We used to believe there’s one brand you like and always cruise on, and to some extent that’s true, but we’ve also come to believe there are different cruise brands for different experiences and occasions and who I’m cruising with. Across the Carnival Corporation brands, we have a cruise for anyone. How can we leverage that and attract cruise rookies?

Carnival Corp. placed a massive newbuild order in late March for nine cruise ships for delivery from 2019 to 2022. Are any of those ships for Carnival Cruise Line?

Of course, I cannot tell you, but we’re excited as a corporation that we’ve got nine cruise ships coming into the family.

Tell us about the new Carnival Journeys program, which launches in October with unique, longer voyages to less-visited ports. And why the “Throwback Sea Day” and “Authentic Eats” programs?

The new itineraries that we developed really look at some of the more exotic or unique destinations further into the Southern Caribbean, and that requires a longer trip. In addition to these longer itineraries of nine to 15 days, we’re also adding some unique shipboard programming that will immerse people in authentic food or entertainment or hearing about the culture in these destinations. On Throwback Sea Day, we’ll do some of the retro vintage games and fun things people may remember from back in the 1980s.

There’s been plenty of excitement and build-up to the Carnival Vista, scheduled for delivery in May 2016.

We haven’t had a new ship since the Carnival Breeze came out in 2012, so it’ll be four years when Vista enters service. People love the Breeze, so we’ve taken things we know customers love and are expanding them, as well as doing some new things on Vista. The response we’ve had has been very positive.

Carnival Vista will have family cabins and the first IMAX theater at sea, which we think will be really cool. It will have popular Fun Ship 2.0 features like Bonsai Sushi and Guy’s Burgers.

As a former travel agent, continuing to rebuild Carnival’s relationship with the trade is a priority. Is it continuing to improve?

The team here has been very focused and committed, and a lot of investment has gone into rebuilding the relationship with the trade, particularly following the Triumph incident.

We do a survey on a pretty regular basis with a wide group of agents, and the surveys have shown a marked improvement in all aspects — the training we’ve invested in, Carnival Conversations, and giving agents the tools and the print brochures they’ve asked for. A lot of things that really mattered to the trade have been brought back or built new. It’s very clear the team here responded to the trade.