Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: March/April

“The African American market is estimated at $72 billion, and the market for diverse populations overall is significantly bigger than that, and provides us with a huge business opportunity. We believe that having a diverse population of guests on board makes our product a better experience for everyone.

“We know that travel provides people the opportunity to experience new cultures and perspectives off the ship, in destinations all around the world, and we believe these experiences and the personal change that can come from them, make the world a better place.”

If those aren’t words you hear universally in the cruising industry, that’s because Orlando Ashford isn’t your typical cruising executive. He’s president of Holland America Lines (HAL), part of the Carnival Corporation & PLC’s array of nine cruise lines worldwide. The Seattle-based company offers 14 mid-size ships with cruises to Alaska and Europe, and also sails to Australia, Asia, Hawaii, South America, the Caribbean, and Antarctica.

He’s also an African-American executive with a longstanding commitment to increasing African-American representation at the highest corporate levels. Since 2009, Ashford has served on the Executive Leadership Council, and was its board chair in 2017-18.

Under the leadership of Carnival President and CEO Arnold Donald, HAL has been intentional in building a leadership team that reflects the corporate dedication to diversity as a business imperative.

I have made it a point to hire and promote diverse people,” Ashford said. “Three-quarters of my direct reports are female, our chief commercial officer is female, one of my sales leaders is an African-American woman, the head of global marketing is African-American, our chief brand and communications officer is a woman.”

Jarvis Bowers, HAL vice-president for digital marketing, said the broad cultural background of the leadership team expands the parameters of the company’s potential customer base. “Having that unique perspective and understanding of the challenges for being African-American helps me look at all the opportunities presented to me with a lens of fairness,” he explained. “It’s not race, sex or income that determines if you will like Holland America Line. It’s about who you are and how you travel. We use those psychographics, and take the pre-disposed stereotypes that limit our view, and our potential, out of the equation.”

Denella Ri’chard, HAL senior director for trade engagement and onboard sales, explained how this approach has increased the talent pipeline as well as the potential consumer pool. “Carnival Corporation has more African-Americans in senior-level positions than any other cruise line,” she said. “African-American students finally see working in the cruise industry as a career choice. Hospitality students traditionally think about working in hotels, however they don’t think of us as being a ‘moving hotel’ that will give them access to the world. We’ve opened their eyes to a new industry that will give them new experiences, take them around the world and give them a global resume.”

Still, cruising is a bottom-line business, and Ri’chard noted the goal to make HAL a top-of-mind vacation choice. “Whether it’s traveling with family, friends, solo or as part of a group or conference, Holland America Line is a great vacation option, with cruises around the world from seven days to 128 days.” She also noted HAL’s “give back” program, which offers to donate to the charity of a customer’s choice, including a campaign to raise $1 million for HBCUs.

Lisa Blake, HAL business development manager for affinity and diversity group sales, also wants to bring groups out of hotels and onto HAL for their meetings and events. “We are a ‘moving hotel’ with the same amenities and functions of a hotel,” she said. “We have complimentary meeting space and are able to host small and large groups. The beautiful thing is that you get to experience different foods, countries, and cultures when you book your meeting on one of our ships.

“A lot of individuals aren’t aware that the President of Holland America is African-American,” Blake noted. “African-Americans are always willing to support and want to work with companies that have a presence for African-Americans in decision-making positions. I have encountered many organizations that never thought about cruising but want to give us the business, when they find out about our leadership.”

Ashford projects HAL’s mission beyond just the tourism industry. “So much of our perspective comes from being African-Americans, but when you look outside this country, you can see that across the globe, the perceptions and value associated with being Black are often quite different.

“As our world becomes increasingly global, and the Black discussion of our real and perceived value continues to intensify, it’s important for us to understand and assess our value, in business, in government, in society, and then leverage and exercise our power for the betterment of ourselves as individuals, and for the African diaspora as a group.

“And one of the best ways you can experience those differences in how we are perceived internationally is through travel. Experience the world, and then have those conversations out loud as you travel globally. Educate oneself about that power by experiencing it first-hand.”
Meet Brilliantly