Ambassador Cruise Line Expands Its Executive Team

Ambassador Cruise Line has announced three new executive management team appointments.

According to a press release, Phil Gardner (pictured right) has been appointed chief commercial officer, Matthias Seeger (pictured left) chief financial officer and Nick Hughes chief operating officer.

Ambassador said that together they bring both substantial cruise and wider business experience to the cruise line that is expanding itself by adding a second ship to its fleet for 2023.

“I am very excited to formally welcome Matthias, Phil and Nick to the Ambassador family. Their expertise from both within and outside the cruise industry will bring extremely valuable and diverse knowledge to the business, further accelerating Ambassador’s growth plans to be the leading premium-value, authentic cruise line,” said the cruise line’s CEO Christian Verhounig.

According to the press release, Gardner has over 20 years of travel industry experience, commencing with First Choice where amongst other roles he was an integration program manager for the First Choice/Thomson merger.

He went on to lead the ‘flight only’ division of the newly created TUI UK business and then progressed to run the commercial arm of TUI UK Cruises. He moved to Thomas Cook in 2015 to focus on distribution, where he assumed several different roles including Director of Sales, E-Commerce & Marketing and was a member of the UK Board.

Prior to joining Ambassador, Gardner was chief commercial officer at Fosun Tourism Group, where he focused on re-launching Thomas Cook. In the CCO role with Ambassador, Gardner will have responsibility for the guest proposition, sales, marketing and commercial planning, including digital and reservations center interaction with guests and the travel trade.

“Opportunities like this don’t come round often. To be joining Britain’s newest cruise line, with the prospect of building on the amazing start Ambassador has made and be part of growing the business, was a compelling proposition. I look forward to being back in the heart of the cruise industry and developing a brand and business that is the envy of the UK cruise market,” Gardner commented.

Ambassador said that Seeger brings with him over 25 years’ experience as a finance and business executive from a “broad range of commercial disciplines, spanning large blue-chip consumer goods and retail companies.” His most recent appointment was as chief financial officer and board member for the Costcutter Supermarket Group (a British convenience store symbol group retailer) where he served from 2015 to 2021.

Prior to this, he held a diverse range of regional and global finance leadership positions with Procter & Gamble across several business entities.

“Within under a year, Ambassador has achieved a solid financial basis to build on. It’s an exciting time to be joining the executive team. With ambitious plans for its growth and development, I am looking forward to further defining the company’s financial plan and expanding the strategic finance function,” Seeger commented.

Hughes is a chartered marine engineer. According to the press release, his career spanned many different sectors including defense, shipping and cruise ship operation. He has led several “complex business reorganizations, juggling a demand for technical modernization alongside significant expansion criteria.”

Until 2020 he spent seven years as head of technical operations with Marella Cruises (TUI UK Ltd) where he was responsible for fleet management, budget control and compliance, and contributed strategically to asset management and business growth. His most recent role was as director of the ROPAX Fleet at P&O Ferries.

As COO for Ambassador Cruise Line, Hughes’ responsibilities will include overseeing maritime operations, engineering and the delivery of the onboard/in cruise experience.

“I am really delighted to be part of Ambassador’s exciting plans for the future. It is a great product, and I am looking forward to working more closely with guests. The overwhelming attraction for me was Ambassador’s clear vision and commitment to environmental protection, sustainability and upgrading the fleet to qualify within the top 10 percent of all cruise ships globally in terms of ESG rating. This is critical to the future of cruising. It will be fantastic to demonstrate Ambassador’s serious commitment to responsible holidays,” Hughes commented.

Gardner and Seeger commenced their roles on Feb. 1. Hughes will start in March, Ambassador said.

As a result of these changes, Chris Coates, who delayed his retirement plans to operate as the first CCO of Ambassador Cruise Line, will transition into a consultancy role as “ambassador-at-large”, operating from June onwards in a part-time capacity. In this new role, he will be able to continue to contribute his expertise to Ambassador, advising on market and ship deployment and programming, route planning management, cruise industry relations and acting as counsel to the rest of the executive team on other strategic matters.

The appointment of Seeger as CFO will enable Simon Weeks who has been operating in an interim capacity in that position to fully take up his new position as chief administrative officer. Weeks, who helped establish the corporate, financial, and regulatory structure of Ambassador, will now focus on building and maintaining business processes, performance, and inter-departmental collaborations throughout the organization.

He remains a “key member of the executive team,” Ambassador said.

“The contribution that both Chris and Simon have made to the initial set up and commercial launch of Britain’s first new cruise line in over a decade has been exceptional. It is a real asset to the business and the new team we have hired to have both continue their involvement in the business in their new roles outlined, leveraging their considerable experience. We are about nine weeks away from our inaugural cruise. Our first ship, Ambience, is completing its refit in dry dock in Croatia, our crew are assembling for training and the excitement about what we are going to deliver to our guests is palpable,” Verhounig noted.

Ambassador will begin the operation of its inaugural season in April 2022.

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