Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2023

INTERVIEW On the ascent Celebrity Cruises’ new president Laura Hodges Bethge gives Rebecca Barnes an insight into her plans to ensure the brand continues to go from strength to strength 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” 68 Laura Hodges Bethge co-designed Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay island, which will be used by Celebrity Cruises for the first time in summer 2024