Cruise industry giant Carnival Corporation announced Wednesday that it has chosen Christine Duffy, head of the Cruise Lines International Association, to lead its namesake brand.
Duffy, who started out as a travel agent more than 30 years ago, will begin her job as president of Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line on Feb. 1. Her predecessor Gerry Cahill, who had been president and CEO of the line since 2007, retired on Nov. 30.
“I love what I’ve been doing at CLIA, I love the cruise industry, I love the broader travel industry,” Duffy said in a phone interview Wednesday. “This was not anticipated. It’s very, very exciting.”
Duffy said “things evolved pretty quickly” after Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald approached her about the job. She found out late last week that she had been selected to take over the world’s largest cruise line, with 24 “Fun Ships” sailing around the globe.
“Christine is one of the most respected and dynamic leaders in the travel industry,” Donald said in a statement. “She brings a wealth of experience to Carnival Cruise Line that will help the cruise line continue to deliver unmatched vacation experiences to millions of guests each year.”
Duffy, 53, served as president and CEO of CLIA over the last four years, a rough stretch for the industry. Her tenure overlapped with the fatal shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in 2012 and a disabling fire aboard the Carnival Triumph the following year, crises that forced the association to steer through negative news coverage and plunging public trust. After the Concordia disaster, CLIA spearheaded a review of safety procedures and recommended 10 new policies that were adopted by member lines.
During her time at CLIA, Duffy also expanded the group globally to bring smaller cruise groups under the larger association umbrella, a feat she called her proudest accomplishment. As part of that worldwide push, CLIA also established associations in emerging markets including Southeast Asia and North Asia.
Before starting at the association in December of 2010, Duffy was president and CEO of corporate meeting and incentive company Maritz Travel. She started her career as a travel agent in Philadelphia, where she still lives. She and her husband will move to Miami — where Duffy’s grandparents once lived — for the new job.
Duffy said her immediate priority is focusing on helping CLIA transition to new leadership. A spokeswoman for the association said that Duffy, the group’s executive committee and Adam Goldstein, CLIA chairman-elect and president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises, were developing a transition plan that will include a search for a successor.
Once she starts at Carnival, Duffy said she expects to do plenty of learning.
“My goal is to come in and learn and get to know the team and figure out together how we continue to grow the business and deliver great cruise vacations to our guests,” she said.
(One new tidbit that the entire industry will have to learn: Carnival Cruise Line is dropping the “s” from the final word in its name, a change that was integrated into Wednesday’s announcement without explanation. When asked about the missing letter, a spokesman said the transition would be “a gradual change that is more closely tied to how we refer to our other brands.”)
With the announcement about Duffy’s hiring, Carnival became the latest operator to promote a woman to a leadership position. Just last week, Celebrity Cruises named Lisa Lutoff-Perlo president and CEO. Late last year, Crystal Cruises chose Edie Rodriguez (then Edie Bornstein) as president and chief operating officer and Jan Swartz was named president of Princess Cruises.
“I think it’s great to see there are more women at these levels in the cruise industry — as it should be. I don’t want to take that for granted,” Duffy said. “You always have to pick the best person for the job. I am honored to have been picked for this job; the fact that I’m a woman is just gravy.”
Industry observers were surprised, but praised the decision.
“I think it's a bold move no one could have predicted,” said Miami-based cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, in an email. “Christine is highly respected inside and out of the cruise industry and having a former travel agent run one of the world's largest cruise lines is testament to Carnival's commitment to hiring the best talent they can find.”
The hiring also resonated with travel agents, with whom Carnival has been trying to improve relations for more than a year.
Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, said Duffy understands the importance of travel agents to steering customers toward cruise vacations.
“To me, it’s such a powerful, great, fresh perspective for Carnival,” Garcia said.
WOMEN IN CRUISE LEADERSHIP
With her appointment to president of Carnival Cruise Line, Christine Duffy on Wednesday became the latest woman named to a leadership role in the cruise industry.
Last week, Royal Caribbean Cruises named Lisa Lutoff-Perlo president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. She had been executive vice president of operations at Royal Caribbean International.
In December of last year, Jan Swartz took over as president of Princess Cruises, a promotion from her previous position as executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service.
Last October, Edie Rodriguez was named president and chief operating officer of luxury line Crystal Cruises.
— HANNAH SAMPSON