In conversation with retiring cruise veteran, Steve Odell

LATTE chats with Odell about his career highlights, travel partners and what's next

A week after the announcement of the early retirement of Steve Odell as Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific for Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, LATTE spoke with the cruise veteran about his decision, career highs, passing on the baton, and what he plans to do next.

Steve, congratulations on a stellar career. What have been some of your proudest moments over the years?

I am proud to have been the startup leader for NCLH in Asia Pacific seven years ago and to steer this business to the top of the luxury sector in the region.

We ended this year picking up all the major industry awards for luxury cruising, especially the Signature Awards for Best ships in respective categories. I believe we have and established the brands as the leaders in the market. The culmination is the arrival of Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer on 29 December.

Harry Sommer, now NCL’s President, offered me this terrific opportunity in 2015 to lead the company’s three brands in APAC. I was employee #1 and today we have over 150 local-based team members. I loved this whole journey and where it has taken the brands to leadership in their segments.

Steve Odell with Harry Sommer, in February 2019

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I am also proud of the Asia Pacific start-up I lead for Silversea back in 2003. I spent 17 great years of my career there and I’m proud that I took a leading role in introducing luxury cruise to our market way back then. I finished my time there as President of the brand for 4 years based in Monaco.

Along the way, I made a big contribution to CLIA – our industry Association – and was proud to lead the Board as Chairman 2006-2008 and 2016-18.

What triggered your decision for early retirement? Has this been in the pipeline for a while, pre-COVID, or have you seen this window as an opportunity to pass on the baton?

I had been thinking about stepping down for some time. Next year, I will have spent 40 years in the cruise business. Above all else, it felt like time to get off the treadmill for a while.

Our families are at a distance overseas and we were constantly dropping in for 4 days at a time – not ideal! So priority #1 was to get a better balance on that.

NCLH had been working on succession planning for sometime so when the early retirement was presented it was almost like the stars aligned!

It’s very poignant that my last day will be to welcome Seven Seas Explorer into Sydney Harbour! A great moment in our journey here!

Steve with the teams from Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, on Sydney Harbour.

You are leaving Regent and Oceania in excellent hands locally with Lisa and Jason stepping up for each brand. You must be pleased to see their growth within those brands?

I will be leaving the company in the very capable hands of our highly experienced senior management team – Lisa Pile (Regent Seven Seas Cruises) and Jason Worth (Oceania Cruises), who are, of course, supported by a range of highly talented team members across the region including our smart and resilient Asia Sales Directors.

I am passing the baton to two highly polished leaders and I am very proud to have had a part in bringing them to the next stage of their careers. I am also proud to call them my friends.

Steve with Lisa Pile, RSSC and Jason Worth, Oceania Cruises, with Danielle Galloway, Flight Centre Travel Group

You must be extremely proud of NCLH’s part in driving the recovery from COVID?

The pandemic was tough and challenging but it has brought out the best in our team. As a leader you have a responsibility to motivate and be strategic – I couldn’t have wished for a better group of people that pulled together in the hardest of times. Luxury and premium recovered very quickly – we continued to market and promote through the pandemic – we didn’t stop.

Loyalty and trust is paramount, from both agents and consumers, and not to forget the safety and security factors that are intrinsic to what we do. It was a total team effort.

What challenges remain in the local cruise industry? Negative consumer news reporting on COVID cases, and the ongoing capacity issues in Sydney Harbour for cruise berths?

There will always be challenges — we have survived a lot of different geopolitical and economic challenges over recent years but we are a resilient and innovative industry that can adapt and reinvent effectively. The impact of COVID is being well managed with the close co-operation of cruise lines and local authorities.

We need to remove the rhetoric and focus towards the overall excellent management of the pandemic in the Worlds cruise fleet. The cruise industry is pretty much back to normal and stringent protocols mean we can continue to march forward.

And yes, we absolutely need a solution to the capacity issues in Sydney!!! Ultimately Sydney will lose out if there isn’t a plan that is viable for all stakeholders.

Steve with travel advisor partners in Rome, Italy ahead of the launch of Seven Seas Splendour in early 2020.

And what’s next for Steve Odell? How do you plan on enjoying your retirement?

After nearly 40 years of a continuous career path in the cruise industry, I want to take a well-earned break to spend quality time with our family, plus tick off some bucket list destinations that have so far eluded us like South America. We want to include walking the Inca Trail, Antarctica and the Galapagos in those plans. I really can’t wait!!!

Can the industry expect to see you popping up at cruise industry events from time to time?

Absolutely! After I take my break, I am keen to share my deep knowledge, global experience from my roles around the World and with my extensive network, to help develop luxury travel and cruise further. As you know I am also passionate about the arts (we brought superb partnerships in the arts to both Regent and Oceania like AGNSW, MCA and The Australian Ballet).

I’m also keen to play a part in fostering better diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I hope I can make a difference in that arena.

Steve with Oceania Cruises' outgoing President Howard Sherman and Museum of Contemporary Art Director, Suzanne Cotter.

You’ve always been an advocate for the travel advisor. Where do you see their future?

When it comes to luxury cruising, the Australian market has always been robust with enormous potential. We are lucky to have such a professional and talented travel advisor network that understands destination, luxury and has an appetite for cruise – they support and understand it.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our partners most sincerely for their support as we built the Norwegian Cruise Line Holding brands from ground zero in 2015 to a thriving business in Asia Pacific today. The future is very bright!

Any closing comments for travel partners in Australia and New Zealand?

There is an unlimited opportunity to benefit from investing in the luxury cruise business with its high ticket value and generous commissions. This is supported by huge investment by the cruise lines in marketing spend. Travel advisors and agents are in a win/win position but you need to get on board as quickly as you can.

There are so many tremendous success stories. Now is the time!

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