01 Mar LIFE AFTER SHIPS: INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR OF SHORE EXCURSIONS, HOLLAND AMERICA LINE – ELLEN LYNCH
Ellen, who has held her Director position at Holland America Line in Seattle since 2004 – fell head over heels in love with the cruise industry as a recent college graduate. After graduating from Florida Atlantic University in 1983 with a degree in business administration and marketing, and with several cruise vacations under her belt, she embarked on a tour with Royal Caribbean International, encouraged by a love for travel instilled by her parents, who held jobs as a travel agent and in the airline industry. Bit by the travel bug, and enamored by the idea that no two days are the same, she’s never worked in any other industry.
“The people are who make the cruise industry. It’s just a cool group of people, whether it’s going to industry functions or meeting people at other cruise lines,” says Lynch. “Travel is absolutely my passion. Even now, on my time off, I don’t necessarily cruise, but I do have a big trip planned. I always have one in the works. It is who I am. I can’t not have that in my life.”
What was your professional experience prior to joining cruise ships?
I worked as a bank teller in college, which ended up being my first job on the ship – as a purser. Michael Bayley, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, and I started our shipboard careers together on Royal Caribbean. He was the second purser and I was the assistant purser. Back then when you got your assignment you stayed on that ship for three years.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the cruise industry?
My parents gave me a cruise as a high-school graduation gift. My friend and I sailed out of New York to Bermuda. We met some amazing people. I moved to Miami for college and did another cruise. That got me hooked. On my vacations I did three cruises before I thought that this is what I want to do after I graduate, even if it’s just for a year.
What position(s) did you hold while working onboard cruise ships?
At Royal Caribbean I was an assistant purser, then got promoted to second purser. At that time, they were just based in the Caribbean and I wanted to see more, from a travel standpoint. So I worked for Sitmar, which isn’t around anymore, as the captain’s secretary, and learned a lot of information that is usually just at the captain level. I also got to see Alaska and the Panama Canal. While on vacation I got a call from another cruise line that doesn’t exist anymore – Royal Cruise Line (later bought by Norwegian Cruise Line). I stayed with them for about three years and saw a large portion of the world. Finally, I became Assistant Shore Excursions Manager and then Shore Excursions Manager.
What did you enjoy most about working onboard cruise ships?
The people made it interesting, everybody who you met, either guests or the onboard staff. I liked that when I did have vacations, they were long. That gave me four to six weeks to travel. When you become a land person what do you get, two weeks’ vacation?
What did you find most challenging about working onboard?
Being away from my family. Back in the 80s we didn’t have the Internet. It was all we could do to find a newspaper that was three days old in some port of call. You couldn’t even figure out how to get your money home. For the crew today, they have that connection through their smartphones.
What skills did you develop in your cruise line jobs that lead you to where you are today?
Working onboard taught me attention-to-detail, customer service and excellence, and how to generate revenue through sales and public speaking. When I started at Royal Caribbean they had very strict guidelines. You were never allowed to walk while holding a drink. That stuck with me during my whole shipboard career. You’ve got to be mindful. What I do now is a job where you’ve got to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s. I definitely learned that on board. The idea of walking with a drink, that’s a detail.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in the cruise industry?
It sounds fun, but it’s a business. You have to know what the corporate goals are and be willing to work toward those. Make sure that your intention is truly to be part of the business. You have to have a streak of independence. If you’re multilingual, that’s a bonus. There are a lot of jobs now and a lot of ships but persistence in following up is still important. You need to know your brand and who the guests are.
As Director of Shore Excursions for Holland America Line, what would you consider the most fascinating aspect of your current role?
Interacting on a global level. Whatever is going on in the world impacts me, whether it’s the Arab Spring in Egypt or what’s going on with Russia. You’ve got to react to that.
We now have an iPad app for staff to sell tours. They can be out socializing with guests, show pictures of the tour and book it right there.