TPG honors Larry Pimentel, who ‘raised the bar’ for cruising over a long career

Dec 18, 2020

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Cruise Week banner for the 2020 TPG Awards

Once in a while, a leader comes along who is brilliant, creative and compassionate.

Larry Pimentel is such a person.

He has been a driving force in luxury travel for more than three decades, building four successful cruise brands and creating marketing programs that have become industry standards. An educator and mentor at heart, he is the go-to guy when a travel company wants to appeal to affluent travelers. This is why Pimentel is being recognized as the recipient of The Points Guy’s Lifetime Achievement Award, part of Cruise Week at the 2020 TPG Awards.

When you get on a small ship for a “yachting experience,” that’s thanks to a concept Pimentel promoted when he helmed small-ship luxury line SeaDream Yacht Club. When you hear about cruises offering “Destination Immersion” and promoting longer stays in port, that’s Pimentel too — and how he sold guests on Azamara, Royal Caribbean Group’s upscale brand.

He was similarly influential as top executive at Carnival Corporation’s ultra-luxury brand Seabourn and the venerable Cunard Line.

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“Larry is one of the true icons of the industry,” says Edie Rodriguez, who was head of sales at Azamara, and later served as president and CEO of luxury brand Crystal Cruises. “He is a charismatic leader and a visionary.”

Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group’s chairman and CEO, calls Pimentel an “original thinker” who helped “raise the bar” for the whole cruise industry.

“I have known Larry as a competitor and as a colleague, and I can attest that it’s much better to have him as a colleague,” Fain says.

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Larry Pimentel ran four different cruise brands — Azamara, SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn and Cunard Line — over a long career in the cruise business. (Photo courtesy of Azamara)

Hoping to preserve jobs for his Azamara team, Pimentel resigned his position as president and CEO of the boutique cruise line last spring – just as Royal announced a reduction of 26% of its shoreside staff.

Shy at first about doing departure interviews, Pimentel emailed a few parting thoughts.

“[Every] crisis has a beginning and an end,” he wrote. “Focusing on how the cruise business pivots is essential.”

Of Portuguese descent and with deep roots in Hawaii, Pimentel headed to California for college, then launched a career as an educator, rising quickly to run the social studies department at one of the country’s largest private schools. Hoping to give the kids a wider world view, he started organizing student trips. Then, still in his 20s, he formed a successful venture in airplane charters.

Pimentel returned to Hawaii to work in travel, and was tapped to run startup Classic Hawaii, which he turned into a highly-regarded luxury tour company.

“He did it by doing what he would continue to do throughout his career, innovating and breaking down barriers,” says Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, the exclusive high-end travel advisor network.

“Larry’s hands-on and highly-personal approach meant that he used to personally inspect every ‘ocean-view room’ at partner hotels to make sure they accurately met that description, which led to the recharacterization of more than one room,” Upchurch says.

Related: 6 reasons you’ll want to book a balcony cabin on your next cruise

Recruited by Carnival in 1992, Pimentel served as president and CEO of Seabourn and later Cunard too. He left after a decade to helm SeaDream, a company he also co-owned, before joining Azamara in 2009.

At Azamara, he was tasked with reinventing a product that was based on two (and later three) 690-passenger R-class ships that had been built for defunct Renaissance Cruises. He came up with a destination-focused approach to cruising, believing that by staying late and even overnight in ports, guests would have the opportunity to delve deeper into local culture and have more meaningful people-to-people experiences.

The idea expanded to leaving the ship for overnight stays on land. Enthusiastic about the programs, Pimentel personally led some outings. On a port call in Oman during a Middle East Cruise, he and guests slept in a Bedouin community in the desert – albeit in Louis Vuitton tents.

Pimentel is recognized by many as a generous mentor. “Larry has probably hired, groomed and promoted more women to executive positions within our industry,” says Bruce Setloff, who worked with Pimentel at all four cruise lines and was also his partner in a separate, highly-successful private company focused on full-ship charters.

Setloff says another thing to know about Pimentel is that he is a great family man and devoted friend.

Pimentel is also someone who openly shared his own personal tragedy. In 2000, his first wife died from a rare lung disease, leaving him with two kids to raise. He shared his experience of returning to work with other CEOs in a column in The Wall Street Journal, saying he was glad he went back early and that finding empathy from coworkers was “positive energy.”

He became passionately involved with the Children’s Bereavement Center, an organization focused on life after loss of a loved one. Today he lives with his wife, Sandi, in Key Biscayne. They have five adult children.

Pimentel is a founding member of The Luxury Marketing Council in New York. Often tapped to speak and lecture on luxury travel topics, Pimentel’s numerous honors include Commander of the Order of Merit, the Republic of Portugal.

For his career-long contributions to the cruise industry, TPG is honored to present Larry Pimental with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Featured image of Larry Pimentel courtesy of Azamara   

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