When cruise-ship operator Holland America Line went looking for a new president in 2014, it thought way outside the boat. It hired Orlando Ashford, an executive with a wealth of experience in human resources but who had never been on a cruise ship. He took his first cruise within a few days of his official start.
He’s been using that outsider’s perspective and his expertise in recruiting, training and managing people to shape the new Holland America, one that retains the features that bring people back to cruise travel while updating and reenergizing the brand to bring in new customers who, like him, haven’t tried it before.
Ashford’s approach has been to excel in destination, food, entertainment and service. He has built affiliations and partnerships — including one with Oprah Winfrey — so that customers get a deep menu of activities, cultural exchanges and experiences on and off the ship, not just stops on an itinerary. Passengers interested in local culinary traditions might meet with a chef at a local market to buy ingredients for a meal to be prepared at a local restaurant.
Holland America, whose fleet of 15 ships offers more than 500 cruises to more than 400 ports in 98 countries and territories around the world, has 18,000 employees. Their interactions with customers shape impressions of the company and decisions to return, so Ashford’s human resources background has proven invaluable. Ashford says Holland America is enjoying strong positive scores in customer feedback and surveys, indicating that “what we’re offering, and the way we’re offering it, is really matching our guests’ expectations and interests.” Lest complacency set in, he promises that “there’s always more to be done. We don’t want to just be really good. We want to be the best.”