Celebrity Cruises’ new president Laura Hodges Bethge took the helm of the brand from Lisa Lutoff-Perlo on 1 May 2023 and within the first 80 days, she visited UK shores three times, cementing Celebrity’s commitment to the British market. The brand’s former managing director Jo Rzymowska, who called Hodges Bethge “an absolute diamond” before she retired in July, was right by her side while she settled in.
Hodges Bethge has 23 years at Celebrity Cruises’ parent brand Royal Caribbean Group under her belt, having first been recruited to make the ships accessible for people with disabilities, before being bitten by the hospitality bug.
“I made a promise to myself that they were going to have to kick me out of there, and so far, it’s still going on,” she says. “Before it was the law to make ships accessible, our organisation was doing it, which speaks volumes about our purpose and what it means to do good consistently.”
Following the 9/11 tragedy, Hodges Bethge found herself taking on responsibility for housekeeping in a company reshuffle. “That’s how I learned the business and earned the respect of the operation,” she says. “But it’s also why I fell in love with cruising.”
After three years, Hodges Bethge moved into sales and then investor relations. She immersed herself in the business, spending almost two years in investor relations with Royal Caribbean Group’s former chairman and CEO Richard Fain and Jason Liberty (now current chairman and CEO) at the helm. “Seeing the business through their eyes was formative for me and made me want to achieve more.”
Then came a stint in China running commercial operations before she returned to start the product development team. Highlights of this role included co-designing Perfect Day at CocoCay and creating the Icon of the Seas strategy and team.
“Pre-pandemic we had one ship coming every year for the next decade, and high aspirations to build out destinations,” says Hodges Bethge. “During the pandemic I was overseeing risk management, safety, security and environment, travel services, workplace solutions in real estate supply chain and port operations. This was a catalyst to connecting the dots between the rest of the pieces of the organisation that I hadn’t been responsible for.”
Fast forward to spring 2023 and Hodges Bethge was promoted to the role of Celebrity Cruises president. “Getting the opportunity to shepherd this amazing brand is fantastic, and the premium nature of what we do is spectacular,” she says.
So, what are her key focuses as the brand moves into a new era? “My vision is to make sure we’re delivering on all of our customers’ passion points,” she explains. “If you’ve ever sailed on our ships, you’ll know we do a stellar job when it comes to service, accommodation and food.
“There are two other areas where I think we can do more – one is entertainment. We do an amazing job, but we could do even more from a programming perspective and from owning the night out for our guests.”
The other is destination. “The first thing a consumer thinks about when they want to go on vacation is where they want to go, followed by how they are going to get there,” says Hodges Bethge. “I want the first to be a place Celebrity goes, and the second for them to take a Celebrity cruise to do it.
“We’re thinking about how we deliver the destination in a bespoke way that lives up to the premium nature of what we offer onboard – we want to make sure we’re extending that to shore.”
According to Hodges Bethge, the UK is a significant part of that. “Celebrity Apex will be sailing next summer out of Southampton, which is not only a testament to how important we think this market is, but also how much the British consumers enjoy what we’re doing.”
The aim is to have an Edge-class ship in the main destinations next summer: Celebrity Ascent will be based in the Mediterranean, Celebrity Edge in Alaska, and Celebrity Beyond will move out of the European market into the Caribbean and onto Celebrity’s new itinerary coup, the private island resort Perfect Day.
“It’s a little disruptive to reposition a ship, but our consumers told us loud and clear that they wanted their own destination,” says Hodges Bethge. “I asked Michael [Bayley, Royal Caribbean International’s president and CEO] if we could borrow the island at certain times, and he was happy to oblige.”
As well as inaugurating Celebrity Ascent on 1 December 2023, what else is on the agenda? “We’re thinking about other ways we can use Perfect Day, and dreaming up what our ships and future destinations will look like in the future,” says Hodges Bethge.
“We’re really excited about where the product is going – the consumer will consistently be our North Star. And I think that’s where success lies.”
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.