In part two of our cruise industry spotlights, we talk to another of our Fellows, and in fact an IoH Ambassador, Carmen Vlasceanu FIH, who has spent her adult life working in the industry.
Tell us a little more about yourself and your career to date.
My passion for travel stems from the profound desire to celebrate life at its fullest! I’ve been lucky enough to visit over 50 countries around the globe while sailing on over 800 dream cruises during my career.
I’ve always been fascinated by the global tourism and hospitality industry. I started my career at 16 working in a local hotel and later on at the Bucharest international airport. A few years later, I enrolled in maritime hospitality which quickly became my passion. Over the years aboard cruise ships my passion became professional expertise and I ended up dedicating 11 years working as a senior officer. Along with other shipboard specific roles, I was responsible for the service quality of over 5000 passengers and 2000 crew members – a customer centric role, focussed on ensuring outstanding customer experience and memorable holidays to our guests. More recently, I’ve been taking on new challenges such as various entrepreneurial business projects focussed on travel and hospitality. The sudden halt in hospitality due to the pandemic presented me with the opportunity for business writing, publishing and speaking at international conferences, as well as undertaking a PhD in global hospitality and cruising industry.
What do you enjoy about working in the cruise industry?
Our industry has been the fastest growing and by far the most profitable economic sector within the global tourism witnessing tremendous growth for the past two decades. What I enjoyed the most was visiting astounding cities around the world, tropical coastlines with stunning beaches and crystal-clear reefs, scenic mountain landscapes with its beautiful Alaskan fiords and glaciers, lush tropical forests and unique safaris, incredible wine-lands, and countless other fabulous places have enriched my life experience over the years.
How does working in international waters differ from land-based hospitality jobs?
However fun it may appear to be working on cruise ships, there are always difficulties and challenges posed by the tough ship jobs. Working at sea can be a challenging opportunity for some and success in shipboard positions, besides determination, require the ability to work in a fast paced and challenging environment, needing strong problem solving and excellent communication skills.
It is important to consider that unlike land-based hospitality jobs, the nature of all professions on board is essentially different, in the sense that each crew member is intensively trained to perform specifically assigned safety tasks in case of emergencies. As cruise ships are floating hotels that carry the responsibility of health and safety of thousands of souls on board, efficient crowd and crisis management is cruicial for the wellbeing of everyone on board. Management and senior officers have to be on call at any hour of the day or night. Another differentiating aspect is the multicultural environment specific to cruise ships employing over forty different nationalities from countries around the globe. The ability to work well for many months in a row, away from home and loved ones is of paramount importance and the cruise industry proudly demonstrates to the entire world that coexisting in a multicultural environment is not only possible but a lot of fun too.
For me this international exposure allowed me to develop a successful career in five-star hospitality, sharpening on leadership skills, communication and hotel management aboard the cruise mega-liners leading and inspiring multicultural teams to consistently deliver on company vision and its core values while uplifting customer experience in every occasion.
What are your favourite and least favourite ports from around the world and why?
Oh, this is by far the toughest question, as I have many favourite ports and there are numerous stunning world destinations that everyone must see at least once in their lifetime. To name a few of my top picks: the exotic islands of Hawaii with its various landscapes, lush vegetation and its world-renowned ports of Honolulu, Hilo, Kona. The Alaskan fjords, it’s amazing glaciers and breathless scenery – home of the iconic grizzly bear, bald eagle, wild salmon and countless other species, the astounding Aurora Borealis painting the Alaskan skies and its historic ports of Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan dating back in the gold rush era. Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta Cabo San Lucas in Mexico abundant with local culture and traditions. The port of Nassau in the amazing islands of the Bahamas with its world-famous Atlantis resort. I absolutely adore the beautiful Caribbean islands and let’s not forget the amazing European ports of Venice, Naples, Messina in Italy, Dubrovnik in Croatia, Nice in France, Corfu in Greece, as well as many incredible ports in Asia Singapore, Sidney and Dubai. I could go on and on as there are no least favourite ports in my opinion each destination has its amazing attractions whether natural landscapes or historical heritage and cultural treasures.
How do you cope with sea sickness, or finding your “sea legs”. Are you born with it or do you develop it?
Sailing aboard the ship at cruising speed and enjoying the fresh sea breeze is an amazing experience, in my humble opinion. However, depending on the weather conditions and the type of vessel sometimes the seas can be rough causing motion seasickness. Cruise ships are known to be a lot more stable than smaller sea crafts but not everyone may experience symptoms and things get better once the brain adapts to the movement of the ship and people find their balance often referred to as “sea legs”. There are also alternatives such as sea sickness medicine as well as non-medicated wristbands that help control the nausea and prevent vomiting and are widely used by the guests and crew.
Given a cruise ship is essentially a floating community, how have you had to revise crises procedures as we come out of the pandemic?
We have been significantly impacted by the virus outbreak. In accordance with the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, the cruise companies have adopted preventive and counteractive measures to enhanced hygiene protocols aboard cruise ships.
All CLIA member companies adopted a comprehensive protocol that incorporates a set of essential rules applicable to the cruise operations at the ports of embarkation/debarkation as well as on board and at visited ports. Following the guidelines of CDC and recommendations of the World Health Organisation in conjunction with the scientific community’s very strict contingency plans have been elaborated incase of high numbers of Covid-19 related illnesses arising during a cruise. It includes designated arrival times minimise congestion… the provision of a negative covid test in the last 72 hours, fever screening, physical distancing onboard, flow management of groups at restaurants and entertainment venues, redesigned restaurant space layout, intensive sanitisation process of cleaning, fogging and wiping with hospital grade disinfectants in all public areas and on board facilities, controlled cabin capacity to allow available cabins destined to be converted into quarantine rooms when required and flexible itineraries.
Does travel broaden the mind?
Among the advantages of globalisation is the limitless approach to travel and we are fortunate to live in a technically advanced world where people are able to explore worlds countries and their rich cultures and traditions. Besides boosting people’s happiness by relieving the urban living stress, travelling enhances creativity and lowers the risk of depression by the exposure to new places and people acquiring travel knowledge. The mind-expanding benefits of travelling have been scientifically proven over the years… It is well known that travelling enhances social and communication skills, increasing the confidence of the global traveller.
What is your hope for the cruise industry as we hopefully come out of the pandemic?
As the “100 days No Sail Order” was issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in spring last year, within a few months, the industry went from being the fastest growing sector in global tourism to a paralysed state of uphold. The disruptive impact of the pandemic had devastating implications defying the previously forecasted growth of the cruise industry and challenging the future recovery trend.
Nonetheless, the rapid response to the global crisis made the cruise industry one of the most resilient segments of the global travel industry. Although the cruise industry had been in survival mode for the past year, many cruise operators have modified their vessels with technological improvements designed to aid in the battle against the spread of the virus. In addition, cruise companies have allocated considerable funds in research and development to innovate and overcome the effects of this pandemic and prevent a dramatic impact of any such similar crisis in the future.
With the recent creation of vaccines, in addition to the enhanced health protocols implemented aboard cruise vessels and cruise destinations, the gradual resumption of cruising in various regions around the world is expected to increase in the second part of 2021 and continue onwards.
What is the most memorable thing a passenger or guest has asked you?
One of the advantages of directly interacting with the guests onboard is that you get to hear a lot of funny stories that brightens up the day. I remember one particular memorable question I received from a guest one port day when the ship was anchored in the Grand Cayman Islands: “How long is the seven miles beach?”even the guest started laughing upon hearing his own question! Seven Mile Beach is a long crescent of coral-sand beach on the western part of the island famous for the colourful reefs and snorkelling.
What made you join the Institute of Hospitality?
The global hospitality industry has consistently expanded over the last two decades, with traveller needs and demands continually changing. Therefore always being informed is essential to understand the modern customer profile in such a manner as to exceed their expectations and ensure a sustainable long-term success of the business.
In February 2019 I joined the Institute of Hospitality as a Fellow member in order to attain the international recognition of my professional expertise and connect with the largest global network of hospitality industry professionals, executives, corporations, tourism educators and associations around the globe. Besides mentoring some of the younger professionals, I’ve been presented with the opportunity of exclusively representing the Institute of Hospitality as an Ambassador for Romania. The great advantage for young professionals is the number of networking opportunities that are available to them in addition to the virtual library, a variety of courses, webinars and online events.
Which elements of Membership did you use most during lockdown?
By far the greatest advantages of being a part of the Institute is that it brings the industry together to share insights and drive business forward by uniting professionals from around the world to promote best industry practices. The specialised training and online courses are designed to enhance skills and raise the overall profile of the hospitality industry.
During the lockdown period when we’ve all had to experience home confinement, the activities organised by the IoH helped alleviate some of the self-isolation related symptoms by shedding a light upon the times of uncertainty we are crossing. What I find extremely useful is that the Institute has numerous partnerships with famous hospitality schools across the world which favours the opportunity for universities, students, undergraduates and young professional to experience and benefit from the professional guidance and mentorship of executives and senior managers through the Education Membership Scheme (EMS). Besides the numerous webinars organised during the last year addressing the issues triggered by the global pandemic I’ve been enjoying the weekly Coffee and Conversation online sessions where many members of the Institute meet and spent some quality time sharing their thoughts, impressions and advice on the professional challenges that hospitality industry had to face.
Do you have any advice for people considering joining the cruise industry?
The main benefit has to be the opportunity to travel to world famous destinations, which they otherwise may not have the opportunity to see. There’s also the international environment and friendly atmosphere onboard – ideal to learn about world cultures and make lifetime friendships.
However, a strong set of intangible character traits is needed when working onboard… A positive and can-do attitude, empathy, optimism, determination, and strong work ethic are all essential… working hours are long and you can get home sick. Above all you’ll need respect and consideration for all nations of the world.
Tell us something about yourself that we don’t know!
My deep love for a life lived authentically with passion, presence and sense is my lifetime motto.
In my opinion, life is about sharing and experiencing the people and places around you with great curiosity and enthusiasm. Living life in alignment with our core values makes us happy and life is about being happy.
You can connect with Carmen on LinkedIn.