The Cruise Line Executive Shuffle: Worrying or Business as Usual?

November 8, 2013
It seems every week there's yet another shuffling of personnel at the highest levels of the cruise industry. This week alone, Carnival Corp. and SeaDream announced major changes at the top. The changes highlight what seems to be a trend in 2013.

Among the big moves announced over the past couple of months:

   • Micky Arison, son of Carnival Corp. founder Ted Arison, stepped down as CEO of the company, Carnival Corp. announced

   • Holland America Line President and CEO Stein Kruse will be CEO of the Holland America Group, overseeing Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn and Holland America Princess Alaska land operations;

   • Carnival Corp.'s Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman Howard Frank is retiring;

   • Princess' President and CEO Alan Buckelew will be transitioned to Carnival Corp. COO, while Jan Swartz, the line's current executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service, will be promoted to Princess President;

   • Long-time Crystal executive Gregg Michel resigned after 25 years at the company and was replaced by Edie Bornstein, formerly senior vice president of sales and marketing at Azamara Cruise Line;

   • SeaDream's CEO Pamela Conover resigned after 10 months on the job;

   • Cunard's long-time managing director Peter Shanks left the company.

Are all the management changes a sign the cruise industry is in trouble? Cruise Critic reached out to two experts to get their takes on whether cruise lovers need to be worried.

"The travel and cruise industry is a tight circle, and it's common for professionals to move around within our industry," Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of the Cruise Planners-American Express Travel franchise company, told Cruise Critic.

Mike Driscoll, editor in chief of the travel trade publication Cruise Week, echoed Fee.

"It's cyclical. In 1993 there was a ton of changes," he said, adding that circumstances do play a role in the cycle. "Generally, it means a lot of things are coming together at once."

The most obvious similarity between now and 1993 is a difficult business environment, Driscoll added.

"1993 was a difficult time for the travel business, and when that happens, change occurs."

But in this case, the difficult times overlapped with the age of some of the players involved. Carnival Corp.'s Frank, who recently announced his retirement, is in his 70s. He delayed retiring after the Costa Concordia tragedy in January 2012 and the fire onboard Carnival Triumph in February 2013, but he is simply of age for retirement.

And at the time Crystal President Gregg Michel resigned, he had 38 years of cruise industry experience under his belt. Edie Bornstein, on the other hand, is in the prime of her business career, Cruise Planners' Fee said.

"There are people in the industry who have a lot to offer, and in order for them to grow, they may need to move -- sometimes within an organization and sometimes to another one," she said referring to Bornstein's move from senior vice president of sales and marketing at Azamara Cruise Lines to president of Crystal Cruises.

Overall, Driscoll said, all the movement in the industry is a good thing for the industry. "They seem like all the right changes."

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor