There are many common denominators that affect the industry and the different cruise lines, but the people factor seems to be the most important.

For instance, all the cruise lines need qualified staff to serve passengers, and the higher up the product ladder, the more important the staff becomes in terms of offering six-star service.

But also for the contemporary and premium lines that have invested millions in hardware, it is important to deliver an experience that exceeds passengers' expectations so that they will come back again. With more and bigger ships, there is competition for staff. Hence, the cruise lines are stepping up recruitment efforts, building training facilities aboard and working with hotel schools, as well as tapping new source markets.

Deck and engine are other areas that are critical. As the ships are getting larger and have more complex systems, the need for qualified and experienced officers becomes even greater. Officers have typically come from Western Europe – from countries where improved living standards and more job opportunities now make it less attractive to go to sea. In order to continue to attract the best, cruise lines are offering better contract terms, including, in some cases, better compensation packages.

At Holland America Line, Dan Grausz, senior vice president of fleet operations put it this way: “Holland America has been in business for 130 years. The formula has changed, but it has always been about people – and will be about people.”

When it comes down to it, it is people who have to make critical decisions that, if wrong, can mean an uncomfortable cruise, or in a worst case scenario make the difference between life or death for passengers and crew. And it is people who deliver the product to the passengers – whether cleaning their cabins, preparing and serving food and drinks, or entertaining.

It is no surprise, but a good reminder, when we have talked to executives in marine, technical and hotel operations for this issue that they all agree on one thing: they could not do without the people on ships.

Not to forget, the people on the ships are not working alone, they are supported by the men and women in the offices ashore whose role it is to enable the people on the ships to do their jobs. Whether it is a critical moment or serving a passenger, when it happens, the officer and crew member on the ship is acting at that very moment totally on his or her own.

For that moment, cruise lines recruit carefully, train thoroughly, and follow up with job and performance appraisals. In addition, the lines provide career opportunities and better living and working conditions than ever, and in some cases, also promise better pay and retirement benefits. Maybe that is also a story they need to tell better. For more details, please see our articles on marine/technical and hotel operations, as well on corporate social responsibility.

Angela Reale Mathisen and Oivind Mathisen

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2006/2007