“I’m in charge of the operation, including everything from product delivery to marine and hotel, port operations, itinerary planning and brand delivery,” said Hernan Zini, chief operating officer of SkySea Cruise Line. “With one ship at this time we can focus solely on the ship, fine-tuning the product for the future, and building the core of the brand as we start our expansion.”
Zini moved to SkySea and Shanghai in late 2014 from Miami, where he headed up nautical operations at Royal Caribbean, which is a part owner in the SkySea venture.
“I am permanently assigned to Shanghai,” he said. “It has its advantages as our ship homeports here with short cruises; the ship is here 85 times a year which is great for our ability to go aboard for a day or sail with the ship.”
Having done his share of start-ups with newbuildings at Royal Caribbean, Zini was in the perfect position to take over a new brand in a new market.
“It was short notice to come to China and take the job,” he recalled. “The period between the idea and operations starting was short, we had to be focused and creative to make it happen.”
Zini was born in what he described as a nautical community in Argentina.
“At 11 I told my parents I wanted to go to boarding school with the navy,” he said. “So I did boarding school with the navy for five years, and was an officer in the Argentinean navy. From there I had a choice of continuing in the navy or moving to the merchant marine, and I did the latter.”
Zini went to a nautical college following his navy stint, graduating as a navigational officer and spending two years working on cargo ships.
“That was not for me,” he recalled. “So in 1991 I joined the Nordic Empress sailing three- and four-day cruises from Miami as a second navigation officer.
“I joined the industry during an expansion period, and there were opportunities for people who worked hard,” he said.
Talking to Cruise Industry News via phone on his morning commute in Shanghai, Zini said the city was a modern and vibrant place to live, and in some cases, reminded him of Latin America.
“It’s a family concept here,” he said. “People have love and respect for their families, their kids and the elderly; it resembles Latin American culture.
Zini said he used caution when managing his team at SkySea.
“Part of me being here is to have the mental flexibility to understand what the market and what my team is telling me, and adapt that to running the ship,” he added. “In China, people are very proud of what they do. My team doesn’t want to disappoint and they work extremely hard.
“One of the best compliments you can give them is taking the time to teach them something. That is valued here very much and is something I am used to as a captain.”
While Zini runs the brand from Shanghai, there is an operations agreement with Royal Caribbean, meaning most of his morning and evening time is spent on the phone with colleagues in Miami.
“We have a service agreement with an operating team in Miami,” Zini said. “With a 12 hours time difference the windows of opportunity are mornings and evenings.”
While it has been a busy start-up, Zini said he was enjoying Shanghai, spending time with his wife and also taking Mandarin lessons four hours per week.
“It is very exciting, it is my new hobby. You start learning and you also see parts of the culture and start thinking based on the language. It clears my mind.”