Holland America's Orlando Ashford Talks Executive Team Changesby Lynn Elmhirst /
Earlier this month, when Holland America Line announced the departure of Vice President of Sales Eva Jenner and Senior Director of National Accounts Charlie Dunwoody, the cruise line also advised that President Orlando Ashford would be assuming both roles in addition to his current slate of responsibilities.
Ashford provided little insights into the shake-up other than a post on the line’s Partner Facebook page, where he said, “I’m looking forward to working with you more closely.”
In Toronto this week, for a “Live with Holland America Line” event for area travel advisors, he met first with the media, and expanded on that statement, implying the changes were part of the bigger plan all along.
“December 1 marks my five-year anniversary with Holland America Line,” he explained, “My first five years here were about changes in product. Now I feel really good about the product, and I want to focus on trade partners and guests. My intention in making organizational change is to get personally closer to the trade to get this message to the trade and consumers. That’s why I’m in Toronto on Thanksgiving week, not pushing papers in Seattle.”
Getting the message out to the trade
Attending the Toronto event were 160 advisors. It followed a similar event Ashford also attended in Vancouver earlier this month.
The advisor events are the face-to-face follow-up of a webinar initiative that saw a whopping 12,000 advisors log in to learn about the line’s updates.
Holland America recognizes that strong trade support. Ashford pointed out that three-quarters of the line’s business is generated by the trade. But he still sees the opportunities for progress that he can make in his new roles.
Citing what “works and resonates,” including strong destination programming, cuisine (including HAL’s Culinary Council and brand partners), entertainment (like live music, which he calls the “best in the industry”), and service, Ashford committed to continuing to “elevate each of those swim lanes.”
He spoke of HAL’s “phenomenal” success with its relationship with Oprah Winfrey, based on a mutual belief in how travel enriches peoples’ lives. “She only does things she believes in, she doesn’t need the money,” and the media/self-help/lifestyles guru declared the cruise she shared with 2,400 other women to be “unlike anything she’s ever experienced.”
“I feel really good about that for its purity,” Ashford said.
At the same time, he acknowledged “frustration” with continued misperceptions and how well advisors and consumers understand “the new Holland America Line.”
“Our guests are 55-plus, and that’s great. We love our mature guests,” he said, “When I get frustrated is when that is equated with old, boring, or slow.”
“If an agent last sailed with us 10 years ago,” he claimed, they may not see how HAL has brought “new energy to the brand while maintaining loyal customers.”
“I’m completely confident in the product,” Ashford clarified, “And I’m now delivering it personally.”
That translates into Ashford spending “more time in the field and at trade events” to help “accelerate” the understanding of “the new version of HAL” among advisors and accounts.
Framed that way, the president of HAL has no concern that the recent executive team shake-up will have a negative impact on travel advisors’ confidence in Holland America or its leadership.
On the contrary, Ashford’s taking the helm of the sales team will ensure trade issues have top priority, he said, and “speed of decisions” that will facilitate trade and HAL success together.
Canadian BDM Mary Goldsmith jumped in to agree with these assurances. “With Orlando at the helm, we’ll have direct access and fewer barriers to discussing trade (and Canadian) needs,” she said.
Advisors that Travel Market Report spoke to seemed to agree with this positive assessment of the executive team changes.
For Expedia Cruise Ship Centers’ Marilyn Mirabelli, the recent changes in top leadership are a non-issue. “I’m happy with the service when I call; and if I need anything, I call Mary [Goldsmith, BDM]. In fact, I just emailed her happy client feedback.”
Ashford’s presence at the live event in Toronto, she said, “shows his support for agents.”
Her analysis was echoed by other advisors. David Shaw, a travel consultant with Sell off Vacations, had never met Ashford before, and his priority was to get news on new developments and new ships straight from decision-makers.
“Orlando Ashford coming in person shows two things,” says Jim Livingston of Expedia Cruise Ship Centers. “One, that HAL cares about Canada. And two, that he cares about agents.”
Holland America plans to continue to accelerate getting the word out to advisors across North America with more events, webinars, and one-on-one opportunities to engage with the entire HAL sales team.