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HOLLAND
AMERICA
NOORDAM
NOORDAM
While the captain retains overall
responsibility for all that happens on a ship
and is the most visible representative of the
cruise line, the person who is most directly
responsible for whether passengers have a
good cruise is the hotel manager. He or she
is responsible inter alia for the
accommodations, the service, the food, the
entertainment, the onboard activities and the
shore excursions.  This is normally the
largest department on a cruise ship and
because these functions are critical to the
ship’s success, the hotel manager is a senior
position reporting directly to the captain.

      In the days when transporting
passengers was just a sideline to a ship’s
main business of carrying cargo and/or the
mails, the responsibility for taking care of
the passengers often fell to the ship’s
purser.  This remained so even when the
focus shifted to carrying passengers in the
days of the great liners.  Often the purser
would have started out with an entry level
position at sea and worked his way up
through the shipboard organization.  Today,
however, the hotel manager is typically a
graduate of a university level hotel school
with his or her prior experience often being
with a major hotel chain rather than at sea.

      Henk Mensink is one of this new bred
of cruise ship hotel managers.  In 1988,
Mensink graduated from hotel school in The
Hague in the Netherlands and then took a
position with the Ritz Carlton Hotel
Company in Boston.  However, he had long
been interested in working on cruise ships -
- partially inspired by watching episodes of
the television series “The Love Boat” - -
and so he joined Holland America Line in
1994 as a Food and Beverage Manager.  In
2001, he became a hotel manager and has
done five world cruises or as HAL calls
them “Grand World Voyages”.  When I
spoke with him, Mensink was hotel
manager of Holland America’s latest Vista-
class ship NOORDAM.

      The service on the NOORDAM is very
good with friendly restaurant managers,
waiters, stewards and bartenders who are
eager to please.  Achieving and maintaining
an “at-your-service” attitude is one of
Mensink’s primary objectives.  “You
motivate staff predominantly by creating an
environment that makes them feel at home.  
If somebody comes to me and says
somebody passed away at home, what do
you do?  Do you say: ‘Tough luck; that is
your problem?’  Or, do you do something
as a company and initially, as a department
or as a manager?  We create an
environment where you say we care, we
care about you, we care about your
emotions.  Even if it is the most expensive
time of the year, we are going to get you
home with your family and we work on
that.  And, that spreads like wildfire.  
People know it.  People know there is care.”

      “Simple things like crew parties,
raffles, bingo [are important] but also
finding time to train, finding time to
recognize them, to be polite and courteous
to them and treat them like you wish to be
treated yourself.  Create something that will
make our staff want to do a job rather than
having to do a job.”

      A good attitude alone will not create a
good restaurant or a good floating resort.  
Accordingly, HAL invests heavily in training
the staff.  “We have a training school in
Indonesia which is a hotel school.  It houses
about two hundred students, so it is fairly
large.  We train them for entry level
restaurant and entry level housekeeping
positions.  We also have training for our
beverage department and for the front office
and for the culinary department, which
takes place in Manila in the Philippines.  

      They come aboard the ships and start
at the entry level positions and progress up
through the organization.  Besides practical
experience, there is also training before one
actually gets accepted into staff.  [Final
acceptance is] based on merit - - actually
being able to do the job, not only knowing
it, but actually doing it.”

      The majority of the hotel staff on the
HAL ships are Indonesian or Filipinos - -
from nations where, according to the media,
there is a lot of resentment against HAL’s
primary customer base, Americans.   “That
is bad publicity.  I think with much of news
there is sometimes a tendency to overdo it
and stereotype an entire nation because of
20 or 60 or 100 people that are off the
rock.  That is a pity for them because they
have to work twice as hard to make up for
the belief that is ingrained in the people’s
mind before they have even met.”

      While the majority of passengers are
Americans, the particular market
NOORDAM appeals to “depends upon the
season we are sailing in.  When we are in
Alaska, obviously, it is a different market
from when we are sailing from New York
on a ten or eleven day cruise.  The market
that we seem to be attracting the most,
although we are not specifically aiming for
that, is the market from the New York area,
New Jersey and the northeast part of the U.
S.  Guests don’t have to travel far.  Either
they take a bus or luxury limos and such,
they don’t have to fly, don’t have to worry
about luggage.  They know the luggage is all
going to be here.  They don’t have to
careful about how much  weight there is in
the luggage.  It seems to be our market for
this run.”

      “The Christmas cruise and the New
Year’s cruise are slightly different than our
average.   We do have more families
onboard.  Last one we had 300 children
aboard.  We now have 200 which is not
normal for our regular sailings throughout
the year.  It is usually about 10 or 20.  So
there is quite a big difference.”

      When the ship was cruising the
Mediterranean in the summer of 2006,
“around 20 percent of our guests were
European.”  When there is a shift in the mix
of nationalities onboard, there is “not so
much a different use of the facilities
onboard, but certainly there is a different
appreciation level of what we do.”

      At the end of each cruise, passengers
are asked to fill out questionnaires and
comment on the cruise.  When there are
more Europeans or Canadians on a cruise,
the numerical scores that the ship receives
are less than when there are more
Americans onboard.  “To our corporate
offices, it sometimes seems like we are not
doing what we are supposed to be doing in
terms of numbers and that is probably true,
but in terms of satisfaction, the appreciation
and the comments that you read show the
opposite is certainly true.”
         Holland America currently operates four
classes of ships.  There is the R-class, which
are approximately 61,000 gross tons and
include the flagships
ROTTERDAM and
AMSTERDAM, the 55,000 gross ton S-class
ships, the one-of-a-kind
PRINSENDAM and
the four largest and newest ships, the Vista-
class (88,000 gross tons) which includes the
NOORDAM.

      “We have been able to attract a different
market, a younger market, on the Vista ships
as opposed to the other classes.  The pace of
the Vista ships seems to be a little bit faster,
which attracts a younger crowd.  Guests who
are a little older have to walk further [in the
Vista ships and] that is one of the issues.  If
you look at the layout of the ships, you pretty
much can’t go through any of the public areas
without being in some sort of a revenue-
associated event or an entertainment-type
event.  There are [fewer] quiet-time, quiet-
spaces in these ships and that is what an older
generation looks for.  Our traditional Mariner
[
i.e. HAL’s repeat passenger association]
crowds appreciate that more and like the mid-
size and smaller ships in our range better in
general than the Vista ships.”

      Even though the different classes of
HAL ships attract different markets, HAL
does not market its particular ships.  In
contrast to lines such as Cunard where the
particular ship is emphasized in the marketing
of the cruise, HAL emphasizes that it is a
Holland America cruise with relatively little
mention of the particular ship.

        “With Cunard you have ships that are
in a class in and of themselves.  We market
seasons, itineraries, destinations, and
departure ports for convenience purposes but
not specifically a ship like the NOORDAM.”  

      This is because HAL has a practice of
upgrading its existing fleet so that all of its
ships have the same amenities as its newer
ships.  As a result, “other than the ship’s size,
you don’t find that many different features.  
When the Vista ships came out you couldn’t
find a Greenhouse spa on an R class or an S
class.  Now you do because we have
upgraded the ships and you find the same
things in a smaller scale.  That then leaves
you with itinerary and it leaves you with the
size of the ship.”

      In addition to upgrading amenities, HAL
is continually adjusting its practices to meet
competition and to meet the desires of its
clientele.  For example, in the wake of
Norwegian Cruise Line’s implementation of
“Freestyle dining” in which passengers can
chose when and where they want to dine,
several of the cruise lines have sought to add
more flexibility to their dining practices.          

      “Mariners told us that they would like to
eat a little earlier and would like to have a
window during which they could come down
to the dining room.  Then you have the other
clientele that would like to not be restricted to
one time at the later seating.”  Accordingly,
HAL has introduced a program whereby
passengers can arrive between 5:30 and 6 for
the early seating in the dining room and
between 8 and 9 for the late seating.  “We
should be careful not to say that it is Freestyle
dining because it isn’t, it is still according to
the dining room assignment and table
assignment.  It is just the arrival time that
gives you the flexibility.”

      Holland America is a subsidiary of
Carnival Corporation.  However, while there
is communication at the senior level between
the parent company and the subsidiaries,
there is little or no contact between the ships
of the different companies.  “We all have our
own branding, if you will, and we retain a
certain following and position.”  Accordingly,
although the subsidiaries utilize the parent’s
purchasing power and expertise, the supplies
purchased for one line are not necessarily the
same as for another.  “For instance, our
chicken breast is not the same chicken breast
as it is on Carnival [Cruise Lines].  We do a
lot of product specification.”

      HAL’s efforts appear to be succeeding.  
There are now 13 ships in the fleet with a
new one, the EURODAM (86,000 gross tons)
scheduled to go into service in the summer of
2008.  “Across the fleet, I think the average
occupancy is 98.3 percent.  The average
works out to about lower berth capacity.  But
there are some cruises, such as [holiday
cruises], where we sail at 110 or 112 percent
occupancy.”  (More than 100 percent
occupancy is achieved by the use of upper
berths, cribs etc).   Even on those cruises
where there are a couple of empty cabins,
“for all intents and purposes you could say we
are full.  There is always something that
happens which requires you to use another
cabin for whatever reason such as a marital
disagreement.”  
AN INTERVIEW
WITH
HENK MENSINK

Hotel Manager, M.S. NOORDAM

by RICHARD H. WAGNER
Cruise ship interview - Holland America Line - Noordam - Hotel Manager Henk Mensink
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