Stan Kupens has been a hotel manager for Holland America Line for more than a decade. Among other things, he has been the hotel manager that the line turns to when bringing out new ships, including its three most recent ships, Noordam, Eurodam and Nieu Amsterdam. Thus, he is more than familiar with the type of cruise experience that Holland America offers. “We have this slogan that we try to give everybody a once in a lifetime experience every time. All the aspects that we offer is how we try and accomplish that goal.”
It is an elegant and gracious cruise experience with museum-like artwork and fresh flowers that is favored by sophisticated cruisers. “If you look at the awards we get, we are very often awarded the best cruise value. The guests maybe pay a little bit more to come on Holland America Line but what they get for it is much more than what they would expect.”
There is an intimacy to the Holland America cruise experience dervived from the fact that it is offered on small to medium size ships. “Our clientele prefers to stay on smaller ships. Over the years, [Holland America's ships have] gone larger but not as drastic as other companies have done.” Indeed, the new ship that Holland America has on order will be just under 100,000 gross tons, which is still a medium size ship by today's standards.
The cruise experience onboard the Eurodam is shaped not only by the ship and its amenities but also by the people who provide the cruise experience. Long before they step aboard, Holland America reaches out to ensure that the people that it hires are grounded in the line's own distinct style of premium cruising. “It starts with our recruiting and the schooling that we do.”
To illustrate, most of the people who work aboard Eurodam are in the hotel department, which encompasses such positions as cabin stewards, waiters, bartenders, and kitchen staff. Most cruise lines look for experienced people and then train the people they hire onboard their ships. While Holland America also requires applicants to have “certain qualifications,” it does its training before the people go to sea.
“We have a Holland America Line school in Indonesisa and a Holland America Line school in the Phillipines. We hire people and they get trained [at the schools] before they are sent out to the ships. So, when they are out on the ships, they know exactly what the product is that they are supposed to present to our guests.”
The intial training focuses on language skills. “They first get a five-week English course and they have to graduate from that English course.”
This language training is not just to ensure that the staff is able to interact with the guests but also for safety reasons. “It is very important that in case of emergency, they are able to fulfill their safety finction. Everybody has a safety function onboard. These people, whatever other function they have, it is very important that that safety function be executed with proper understanding.”
After graduating from the language course, the new hires “get a five-week specific job training course.” It is during this period that they learn what Holland America calls “SOP” or standards of procedure for each function that the person will be performing once he or she is aboard the ships.
“We have a complete set of standards which makes it Holland America Line. For each standard of procedure, they study that first and then they have to master that in practice.”
Accordingly, “the schools are both set up as ships. The bar where they get the training looks like a bar aborad ship. The kitchen where they get training looks like a kitchen that we have here with the same equipment and everything that they use here. In the restaurants, they have the same plates, the same cutlery, the same tablecloths. In the cabin training, they have the same baths, the same linens, the same sheets, the same towels and so on. They study first how they have to set up a cabin and then they go out on the floor and they actually do it.”
Most of the people hired come from the countries where the schools are located. “The reason why we have chosen the nationalities that we are working with is specifically because of their gracious service and the hospitality that they have. Beautiful people, very hard working people, very motivated and it is very wonderful for us to build on those foundations in order to get a very nice and sturdy product.”
For many, working on a cruise ship is the path to a better standard of living. “This is a good way to find a good life for themselves and for a lot of other people in their family. They do not only work for themselves. If they are not yet married, [they work] for their parents; otherwise for their wives and children. They work for uncles and nephews. They provide for a lot of different people. So there is a big responsibility on them as well, which is a very good motivator for them to do a good job.”
“We have also looked at other [nationalities] that have the same culture, the same friendliess and so on. But their English was so far behind that it was just not porssible.”
Holland America also seeks to put its stamp on the hotel department managers, most of whom come from the Netherlands. “We have three higher level hotel schoools in Holland, university level, and 11 or 12 middle management hotel schools. [Holland America has] a great connection with those hotel schoools.”
This connection includes programs whereby students can gain experience aboard Holland America ships. “We have a practice program with [the hotel schools] and even a cruise ship module that [students] can use to learn about what it is like on cruise ships. Part of that module is that they come out to the ships to actually see and sail on the ships, not working yet but staying on the ship. This way we still see a very great feed of European management, which is kind of the tradition of the company.”
Along the same lines, Holland America is involved in the training of deck, navigation and engineering officers. Holland America works with nautical schools in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and students from these schools can obtain practical experience on the line's ships. “They are still students at the time, they come out to Holland America Line, do their apprecticeship, learn the job and then go back to finish the school. Then they come out to the ships again if they enjoyed themselves here.”
Thus, the crews are well-versed in the style of cruise experience that Holland America is seeking to provide even before they set foot on their ships. However, on the various ships one finds different nuances of that experience.
On Eurodam, for example, “I hear that quite a lot, people say that this ship is very friendly.” Along the same lines. Mr. Kupens pointed to Eurodam's stellar results in the passenger satisfaction surveys that are done at the end of each cruise. “Within the fleet at this moment, we have the most perfect scores. At the end of the cruise, you get this survey form and for every single line item, there is a standard for it. On this ship, we have been able to score, the most overall ratings with everything above that standard.”
“I think that it has a lot to do with the captain and the managers that we have here because it comed from the top. If the captain is very approachable, very much part of the crew, and willing to do all sorts of things for the crew, that makes it so much nicer.”
“It is in their culture, if you go to the Phillipines, if you go to Indonesia, these people are welcoming you with open arms. But what is also in their culture is if they don't feel 100 percent comfortable, they close up. They will still be gracious but they are a little bit closed up.”
In addition, “what I have heard is that for whatever reason, a lot of people really enjoy being here. So when [people are applying to work on a Holland America ship] the Eurodam and the Nieu Amsterdam are very often requested. So right away you have a motivated crew - - a crew that is willing to do a good job, a crew that is willing to show us that they are worthy of being on the Eurodam. If you have that kind of motivated crew, that willingness, happiness comes by itself. It lifts up the whole ship.”
Cruise ship interview - Eurodam - Holland America Line - Hotel Director Stan Kuppens