There’s A New Vibe At HAL

Cruise Week

Now that Orlando Ashford - a newcomer to the industry - has been President of Holland 
America Line for more than 10 months, Cruise Week asked him to share his vision for moving the brand forward.

In response, Ashford points to a press conference held earlier this year in Miami Beach, 
introducing the new Music Walk concept on the upcoming ms Koningsdam. “We intentionally 
introduced the Music Walk in a more energetic way to set the tone that Holland America 
wants to maintain over the coming months and years.”
The event was an upbeat affair that featured performances from B.B. King’s All Star Band and a display to highlight HAL’s relationship with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The end result?
“People said, ‘Where am I? Is this the Holland America press conference?’”
So there’s a new vibe at the cruise line, but Ashford emphasizes that it’s not a total brand makeover even with the 2 newer and larger Pinnacle-class ships coming in 2016 and 2018.
“I want to maintain some of the elements that have made Holland America great for 142 years, so that our core guests and our loyal guests don’t feel like we're moving away from what makes us great. However, I also want to do some of those things bigger and better.”

Ashford says some of the changes that kick off with Koningsdam will migrate to the rest of the fleet over time, and that HAL’s “energy level” is going to be on the rise.

He knows what people say about Holland America clientele and understands the reasoning: “Clearly a person that has the time to do a 30 or a 60 or a 114 day cruise tends to be at a certain age, because those people have had that time. That's something that I want to attract.”
Nevertheless, he says, “I definitely don't want to be perceived as the cruise line for old people.”
What does he want? “I want to be the cruise line for people that want to touch, feel and taste destinations in a European-elegant, classic, timeless way, with wonderful music, wonderful food and elements of fun, however subdued or exciting you want them to be.”

Ashford says one of the biggest lessons he has learned is that HAL customers love the line’s offerings. “My "A-ha" moment with this company as President was the deep affinity that our customers, our guests, have for our product,” says Ashford. “And it's not just, ‘Yeah, I like it.’ It’s like ‘This is mine.’”

To explain, he points to his experience travelling for a week on the Grand World Voyage. During that time [CEO] Stein Kruse and I spent a lot of time with a lot of our Mariners and we did a town hall in the theatre on the ship. In my mind, I think, ‘well these people are on vacation, they don't want to see the President of the company or whatever.’ But that thing is packed! I mean waiting room, people are there early so they can get a good seat. They're bringing their cameras because they want to videotape it!”
He puts this in perspective. “I've been travelling for a long time. I've never stood in line to meet any CEO from any of the brands that I travel with, hotels or airplanes. But they were there. And there with very personal, passionate questions. Things like ‘I like this tea bag. Why'd you change the tea bag?’ Or ‘I like this flavour of butter.’"

Ashford concludes, “It's probably an industry thing, but it's definitely a Holland America thing with our guests.”

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