ANA HURA - KEEPING HER GUESTS HAPPY
As a small child, all Ana Hura wanted to do was travel. During her schooldays in her home city of Belgrade in the Republic of Serbia, she set her sights on seeing the world and enrolled in tourism courses in high school and college.
When she was 20 years old she saw an ad recruiting cruise personnel and, a year later, she boarded her first cruise ship, Celebrity Constellation. More than eleven years later this personable (and pretty) lady from a land-locked country is still at sea.
Her first position was as an assistant waitress and her first contract lasted eight months. The next job was on Celebrity Summit and Ana moved up the ladder to working in the specialty restaurants onboard. After two years she applied to work in the guest relations department. During the next few years she worked and, during her spare time, completed her college studies. She then joined the Human Resources department and familiarized herself with crew welfare and other human relations aspects.
In 2010 she then decided that guest relations was where she wanted to apply her talents and started as a junior guest relations officers, then front desk duties and next came documentation officer where Ana took care of the ship's port clearances, customs and immigration. Two years later she was promoted to the position of Assistant Guest Relations Manager and, at the beginning of 2014, she earned her stripes as Guest Relations Manager.
"Although my department is not so big in the number of staff and officers," she told me, "we still cover a huge area of the ship's operation. The majority of my work is managing, controlling, supervising and delegating all the aspects of guest relations. Part of it is the telephone operations, the Concierge services and Michael's Club Lounge, designated for our suite guests.
On top of that I have an Events Coordinator who organizes the special parties onboard such as anniversaries, corporate groups and such. Then there is the Documentations Officer, the International Host who interacts with our foreign language speaking guests, my assistant who is responsible for the Guest Relations Desk, our Captain's Club loyalty program hostess and, of course, the people that report to my officers."
During her more than a decade at sea, especially since moving to Guest Relations, Ana has heard of or encountered some very interesting requests from her guests. She told me, "A couple of years ago we were in the Caribbean and we had a request from a guest that we ask the captain to pass by a nearby island so that we could make a stop so they could make a quick visit to their friends who live on the island."
Celebrity Cruises GRM
Each cruise season brings with it a complete change in passenger demographics which can be quite a challenge for the Guest Relations team as well as other departments on the ship. The ship I was on, Celebrity Equinox, spends her winters in the Caribbean and her summers based out of Barcelona sailing the Mediterranean. Add to those two transatlantic cruises a year and the passenger profiles fly all over the place.
“It takes a lot of planning. Fortunately we receive files for each cruise giving the breakdown of our guests by age and nationality among other data. This allows us to schedule the number of foreign language hosts, documentation staff and others to make the operation run smoothly and keep our guests happy,” she said.
While a cruise vacation has long been a popular vacation option for North Americans and the British, it has only been in recent years that it has seen an upsurge with citizens of Europe and other countries. Ana has her own views on this. “The cruise industry, with the big ships being built today, were mainly first introduced to the North American market. As such, they had more time to adjust to it and to recognize it and to adopt it as their regular vacation experience. However, it is still a relatively new area for the Europeans. In the last five years, though, these people have become more aware of this type of vacation and we are seeing more and more Europeans onboard.”
When it comes to the topic of the crew and how representatives of more than eighty countries seem to get along so well, Ana, who has worked her way up from the bottom, weighs in. “Being a crew member, having to live and work with different nationalities, you get to see all different cultures, different customs, different religions… so you get to see how things are done differently but then you realize how people are the same. Getting to know all the differences, you get to know all the similarities. I may be living in Serbia and a friend of mine may be living in Asia. However, the same things that make her sad… make me sad.”
The topic now turns to how cruise passengers should approach a problem, should they have one, and what Ana's department can do to help.
“I love mistakes. We can only learn from them. And we always do. Each challenge is also an opportunity to learn and, once we resolve the issue, to help the guest. All the staff on Celebrity, including my Guest Relations staff, are selected because they want to help the guest and to assist the guest. We are in the hospitality business and those are the basics, of course.
Quite often guests can help us to help them just by communicating the proper information to us. If you, as a special needs passenger, have a piece of equipment with you that we are not familiar with, please bring it to our attention so that we may be of more assistance to you.”
I asked Ana, who has seen a lot of the world since first joining the ships, to list some of her favourite destinations. “I love the Mediterranean itinerary, the Greek islands and Turkey.“
Like some other cruise lines, you have your dedicated, loyal, repeat cruisers onboard any Celebrity ship at any given time. It is not unusual to meet fellow passengers on their thirtieth, fortieth or even fiftieth cruise. Ana, of course, comes in contact with many of them. “It is a different mindset to them. For them it isn't about coming to see the ports or to travel… it is more like coming to see their friends. Over the years they build nice, friendly relationships with crew members and those are the kind of guests who generally take an interest in peoples' lives and careers. It's a nice thing.”
When it's time for Ana Hura to take her vacation from travelling what does she like to do? “Besides wakeboarding and scuba diving it is a time for family and friends. When you are working aboard a cruise ship, the best kind of vacation you can have is when you get to spend time with your family... and sleep!”