Sustainability of Labour in the Cruise Sector


With Seatrade Cruise Global having just come to a successful end on the 23rd of April in Miami, the attention of industry executives is now turning to the European event. If industry chatter is to be considered truth, ‘sustainability’ will be a key topic. Google ‘cruise industry’ and ‘sustainability’ and you will get approximately 100,000 hits. Those search results focus mostly on the three key pillars of sustainability: (1) economic, (2) environmental and (3) social. Here, we are suggesting that a fourth dimension should be added; namely, labour.

Part I: Gender Diversity – Redirecting Focus to Ensure Ongoing Leadership for Industry Growth

Sustainability typically looks at practices and procedures that are meant to safeguard the “needs of the present without adversely affecting the ability of future generations to satisfy their needs” (Brundtland Report, ’87). The minimisation of the wasteful use of natural resources, of the pollution caused by cruise ships on the natural environment as well as of the potential damaging impact of mass tourism that super-sized cruise liners carrying nearly 7,000 guests could be perceived to promote, is certainly the most hotly debated topic in the present day. However, in an industry that is so concerned about future-proofing its business practices and minimising its potential negative impact on the environment, is the same attention being given to building, safeguarding and maintaining a sustainable management and leadership platform capable of coping with such high growth rates? After all, what is the cruise industry supposed to do if it fails to build a reliable talent pipeline to manage all this incremental business going forward?

The question is a complex one and it is not only focused and centred around numbers and/or scarcity of talent. Of course, cruise companies will need to find, nurture and develop talent across all functions to be able to maintain current growth rates and to deliver on set targets. However, the topic of the ‘sustainability of labour’ is also one that might address a variety of other far-reaching topics, including, but not limited to:

  • driving diversity to strengthen the future talent pipeline and to better position cruise companies to service an increasingly diverse customer profile (note: an initiative that should not only focus on ongoing recruitment needs but also on better leveraging existing ‘in-house’ talent);
  • improving international mobility to help deal with the backlog of vacancies and to promote transfer of know-how and skills across different divisions, geographies and management levels (note: an initiative that could further help engrain a shared belief system/company culture);
  • raising awareness for mental health issues caused by an extremely high-pressure, high-stakes and hugely complex business environment in which executives are required to take quick decisions ‘on the fly’ with precious little time to re-evaluate or to take stock;
  • recalibrating the way organisations are rewarding commercial success, often without incorporating any tangible sustainable business metrics – trying to create a company culture that rewards ‘right’ sustainable behaviours and business practices.

Tackling the above will be a laborious undertaking for the industry. However, various cruise companies are already working on a number of initiatives to address some of those issues. It would appear, for example, that on the topic of gender diversity, several industry players have been able to make some great strides. Writing on behalf of Conde Nast Traveler, Cynthia Drescher recently highlighted the story of Karin Stahre-Janson and Kate McCue, two of the first women to captain a cruise ship at Royal Caribbean. Other cruise companies, including major competitor Carnival Corporation, have made equal progress in promoting women to the top. Citing some statistics, Drescher points out that “women now constitute between 18% and 20% of the cruise industry workforce, depending on the [cruise] line.” Speaking to Virgin Voyages, she also found out that the company has put together a strategy that is meant to grow “leadership roles for women in marine, technical, and hotel management positions on board.”

Aethos™ data further reveals intriguing insights on the topic of gender diversity at a corporate level. Looking at the C-suite and regional leadership teams of Carnival Corporation, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Royal Caribbean, Viking Cruises and Virgin Voyages show that, slowly but surely, the voice of female executives is being heard in the board rooms across the globe. Of the surveyed positions (CEO, CFO, COO, CHRO, CMO and CIO, as well as Brand Presidents), slightly more than 25% are held by women. Most notably, the female brand presidents for Celebrity Cruises (Lisa Lutoff-Perlo), Tui Cruises (Wybcke Meier), Carnival Cruises (Christine Duffy) and Princess Cruises (Jan Swartz) stand out from the crowd. However, there are also other women in senior leadership roles, such as the Chief Human Resources Officers Kasia Anderson (Virgin Voyages), Laura Miller (Royal Caribbean) and Lynn White (Norwegian Cruise Lines). Other female leaders are holding senior commercial and/or digital functions at, for example, Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and Royal Caribbean.

Arguably, the industry is far from well-balanced boards and/or leadership teams. However, it is also important to celebrate where and when progress is made. It would appear that cruise organisations have started to look much more seriously at gender diversity – but how is it fairing on the other identified topics as it relates to the ‘sustainability of labour’? In a serious of upcoming articles, Aethos™ will look at those more closely.