An Interview with
Hotel Manager of QUEEN MARY 2
by Richard H. Wagner
Dirk Brand, a native of Germany who now lives in Spain, already has an impressive list of
accomplishments for such a young man. In addition to managing the biggest department on the ocean
liner QUEEN MARY 2, he has headed the hotel departments on some of the world's largest cruise ships
including GRAND PRINCESS, CARIBBEAN PRINCESS, CORAL PRINCESS and DIAMOND
PRINCESS. Further proof of his ability to accomplish things in this area is that after joining CROWN
PRINCESS for her first season in the Baltic, he will join RUBY PRINCESS during her construction in
order to shape her hotel department. All of this is on top of substantial experience with the Crown Plaza
& Intercontinental hotel chain.
On QUEEN MARY 2, the hotel manager is one of four senior "four stripe" officers. The captain is in
overall charge of the ship. The staff captain is second in command and in charge of the deck
department. The chief engineer is responsible for the technical part of the operation. However, the senior
officer with the most direct impact on the passengers is the hotel manager. "The hotel manager on a ship
is generally responsible for everything except the engine and the deck department, which on the ocean
liner QUEEN MARY 2 is pretty massive at nearly 1,100 crew members on board. The medical
department, the entertainment, the food and beverage, the housekeeping, all the concession areas, are the
main areas. They are responsible as departments to the revenue managers who run those departments
and oversee those departments and they work together and report to me."
The hotel manager is charged with ensuring that the ship delivers the type of voyage that was promised in
the line's promotional literature. In doing this, he must act within the framework of the policies and
procedures set forth by the line's head office. "A uniform system is important. If a guest is on one ship
that runs the product this way and [then comes on another ship in the fleet where] the management runs
the product a different way, the guest would say: 'Hey, hold on. Here's the menu and this is all totally
different. On one ship you provide this service for free and on the other one you charge me for it.' So,
there is a uniform system in place which guarantees a similarly and a style which is the copied throughout
In addition, with modern technology, there is increased oversight and communication between the head
office and the ships. "There is a very good, excellent communication and feedback and a very good
support and advisory role from the head office. There is clear guidance and regulation for each company,
policies and procedures but there is, of course, a certain amount of freedom that we have on board
where we can manage and handle things in the interest of the guests. If there are any questions, issues or
advice that we need the head office is there as well."
There must also be good communication within a ship. For example, if there is bad weather ahead, it will
affect not only the deck department's navigation of the ship but also the serving of meals and the nightly
entertainment. Also, the decisions made by the senior officers and the head office are meaningless unless
they are communicated throughout the chain of command. "There is a very good communication aboard
between the senior officers as well as in my team because at the end of the day they are the ones who
make it happen and they need to be behind the idea and make the product successful."
Managing the hotel operations on a passenger ship is significantly different than managing a hotel on
shore. "It is a massive and a large hotel. You don't find many hotels the size of an ocean liner like
QUEEN MARY 2 with nearly 3,000 guests and 1,260 crew members. The two key things are: number
one, the people live on the ship; it is a 24-hour environment, it is their work and their time off. It is very
important the comradeship, the teamwork, working with each other and it is just amazing to see how
many different nationalities you have here and different beliefs and interests and everybody works
together happy as a team. They live here, they know they are all on one ship, you need to stick together."
"The other thing is the logistics. Here, especially on a transatlantic crossing, six days at sea, we can't just
call the suppliers and say 'hey, we forgot the carrots, the butter and the sugar.' A lot of flexibility, a lot of
organization, a lot of planning. The quality of the service that you find here, you wouldn't find in a
shoreside hotel. Maybe in a small exclusive hotel but not in a large hotel of this size, I don't think that
But, that was not always the case. When QUEEN MARY 2 first debuted, which was prior to Mr.
Brand's tenure, the service was not all that could be desired on a premium ship. "I think first of all, every
new prototype, every new, really unique establishment - - and the QUEEN MARY 2 being a totally,
amazing and unique ocean liner, the first prototype of its kind - - takes a little while to settle in. It is the
normal process regardless of if it is in the auto industry, the cruise industry, if it is a new hotel, the crew
members learn to settle in, they get used to a routine."
In addition in seeking to remedy this problem, Cunard focused on building crew morale. "I think it is
important not to put too much pressure on the crew. Let them do their jobs, let them do what they are
good in, what they have learned and what they trained. And it is part of good morale to have a good
management team who give them recognition so they can be proud of the product. It is also important to
offer them as well a lot of programs in their free time, a lot of activities because the crew lives on the
ship. This is their home here. Other people go out of their companies, go to the movies, go in the
restaurant, do their activities, meet with their friends, so it is important that we provide those activities."
Indeed, Brand lists crew morale as a top priority "because a happy crewman makes a happy guest. I
think very important is the bonding between the crew and the guests and we want to achieve the best
service we can provide -- excellent five-star plus service to provide to the guests. [My goal is to]
increase the guests' satisfaction and provide a service that does not need even the guests to ask for it, be
able to provide it before."
On Cunard, the bonding is not just between passengers and waiters, bartenders and stewards but
includes the ship's officers as well. "Here, the focus is very much on the guests. It is a tradition on
Cunard, that is why. I think the guests come back because there is a very close bond, a very good, close
bonding between the guests and the officers. It is still one of the few companies in the world, the few
lines, where we are hosting tables [in the dining room] and have many, many functions and parties in
order to have good contact with [the guests] and recognition. I think the guests enjoy it as well as the
officers and everybody else who participates in those functions. That is what makes Cunard very unique
and different to other products and I think, also QUEEN MARY to other ships in the world."
Cunard is known as being a quintessentially British line with an emphasis on a British tradition of service.
How does Cunard maintain that tradition when the majority of the crew is from countries other than
Britain? "I think many of the crew members have a tradition of hospitality starting from when they were
growing up. If it is India or Asia, the people are coming from hospitality countries. If you do a history,
[there was] a lot of connection there with the U.K. [In addition, while] the focus is still absolutely a
British product and the tradition of Cunard, I think a little bit of an international atmosphere onboard, if it
is from the crew, the international crew, helps to carry to the international clientele that we have, which is
very much mixed, many different nationalities."
There is also training in the British/Cunard tradition of service. Cunard uses various manning agencies
located around the world who select potential employees based upon criteria established by Cunard.
The people selected by the manning agencies often have a "background in the hospitality industry, either
in a five-star or first class hotel or even in the cruise industry. In addition, we do White Star training
onboard. We have a White Star Academy where every new joiner goes through a certain training
program for some weeks [in which] we train them and focus on the White Star service. Then, there is the
day-to-day program. Of course, within two or three weeks, you can't train somebody from scratch to
the final product. That is why it is important that management train those people everyday. However,
we, of course, want to make sure that those guys are not tested on the guests. What we want is that they
provide the top service right away from the first moment, the first impression. So, [the new people] learn
in the 'back of the house.' The back of the house dining is the crew area, petty officers mess, the officers
mess. They progress through the ranks. When they are ready, we let them go to the front of the house."
With the QUEEN VICTORIA entering service, a substantial number of QUEEN MARY 2's crew went
to the new ship "to make sure she starts out well." Brand believes affording the crew this opportunity
was good for crew morale. In addition service on QM2 did not suffer.
Replacements were brought in but the good morale on QM2 and nucleus of veterans enabled QM2 to
maintain the level of service.
Cunard will face the opposite problem when QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 leaves service in 2008. "Some
crew will be coming over here. There will be some crew members going over to QUEEN VICTORIA.
There might be some people who bring out the VICTORIA from the other fleets [in the Carnival
Corporation family], returning back to the other fleets. So the QUEEN ELIZABETH's crew can either
go on the QUEEN VICTORIA or the QUEEN MARY."
Cunard is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation. This allows Cunard not only to call upon its sister
companies for additional crew but also to tap the sister companies for management expertise. Indeed, as
indicated earlier, Mr. Brand came to Cunard from sister company Princess Cruises. While access to
these resources is clearly beneficial from an economic point of view, will this crosspollination lead to
homogenization of the companies? "The mother company has many different brands and many different
ships. However, the companies still run different products, not similar though the entire fleet. With
Cunard and the other companies, you can see the difference. This is not to say that one is better - - they
are all unique and they are all amazing products and they all provide an amazing service. It is just catering
for a different kind of guests, clientele, in my opinion. You tailor to whatever your guests wish. There is
a different dress code for example. The people here love to dress and it is more formal than on other
brands. For example, P&O and Princess and other brands, people come there to be more casual.
Every product is different and has its unique way and caters for the clientele and what the clientele
see who is doing what. You synergize some things which make sense but the products will still remain as
they are, I am pretty confident, and will not be standardized and lose their character because that is the
whole idea - - to have the tradition and the character. That is why the people come back to the
companies. They do not want to have a copy of this over there. I am pretty sure it will remain the same
and that we still focus and concentrate to be unique here at Cunard in particular. [Even] if you can learn
something from another company and it suits to the product, you still have to tailor it to your product.
You cannot copy the same and put the same over here because it would not match and would not work.
Good ideas are [not always] born totally new, you see something and tailor it around something in order
to fit to a certain product."
Cunard emphasizes tradition. However, that has not prevented the company from innovating and
adapting over time. Indeed, when Samuel Cunard started the line in 1840 passengers were not the
primary focus rather it was to carry the mail. More recently, QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 survived by
evolving for 40 years when all of her contemporary ocean liners were laid-up or removed from
transatlantic service. This tradition of gradual change is continuing on QUEEN MARY 2. "We are
planning a few projects for 2008 which we are reviewing at the moment. We are progressing steadily in
order to make new programs, new incentives and new facilities. There will, for sure, next year be
modifications and changes made to the ship. Not in a major significant way because the ship is amazing
as it is and it is very complex, very unique and runs as a solid unit by itself. But, for sure, there will be
modifications made and service improvements and also facilities. Every month and every day, we
improve in certain areas and we work on further. So, you will, for sure, see some change. Nothing
where you will say 'Oh my gosh, I do not recall the ship anymore.' We always add new things and
people always ask for new things such as the computer technology, updates, modifications, wireless. We
are still learning. It is always a healthy process of trying new things, staying with tradition but also trying
new ways as well."
Hotel Manager Dirk Brand
There are more photos of the interior of QM2 in
the QM2 Photo Tour and Commentary
The chefs parade in the Britannia
Restaurant on the last formal night of a
voyage. Brand believes it is important
for crew morale that the crew received
recognition for their work.
The hotel manager's responsibilities
include making sure that past guests feel
welcome when they return to the ship.
QM2 attracts guests from all over the
world. Accordingly, the hotel department
includes international hostesses who
translate announcements and ensure that
guests from non-English speaking
countries feel included.
Less glamorous but vital, the hotel
manager must ensure that the ship has all
of the housekeeping supplies, food and
beverages, and other items that his
department will need during the course of
Brand has worked to ensure that QM2
maintains her reputation for elegance in
Brand began his career at sea on
subsequently became Passenger
Services Director in charge of her
hotel department. While he believes
the Princess ships are "amazing"
products, he recognizes that QM2 is
much different than those ships and
that the passengers who sail on QM2
are looking for a different type of
Cruise ship interview - - Cunard - - Queen Mary 2 - - Dirk Brand