Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

The cruise industry is full of funny executives.

Take, for example, Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line for the past four years. I got a chance to watch Ashford charm an audience onboard the Nieuw Statendam recently, where he conducted an open Q&A for passengers in the ship's theater.

He told a story about publicizing this month's "Girlfriend's Getaway" cruise with Oprah Winfrey by being locked in a small studio room with a camera and "a guy eating a sandwich" while doing live remotes with local television stations across the country.

"A woman would come into my ear and say, 'Okay Orlando, WXYZ in Atlanta wants to have you on their morning show, I'll introduce you in 3, 2, 1 and Live, Orlando!' and they would ask me questions and I'd tell them what's going on."

After a couple of minutes it would be onto the next station.

"I did that for four hours," Ashford said. "And that guy was sitting there eating that sandwich the whole time."

The line got a well-deserved laugh from the crowd, as did others sprinkled through the 45-minute talk.

And Ashford isn't the only cruise line president with a deft sense of humor. I've heard Norwegian Cruise Line president Andy Stuart respond several times to some bit of fulsome praise by a cruise passenger or travel agent with a quiet, "Thanks mom," which never fails to get a laugh.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. president Richard Fain, starting a press conference aboard the new Celebrity Edge recently, couldn't resist touting the ship's stylish new excursion tenders, which were offering demonstration rides at another location on the ship. "While I think this conference is going to be interesting," Fain said to the journalists, "I would get up and go right now," he quipped.

I think Princess Cruises sales vice president John Chernesky is the funniest guy in a group of witty sales vice presidents. At the Cruise Planners annual conference in November, Chernesky as part of a panel discussion said he was so impressed with some of the technological tools being rolled out to Cruise Planners agents that he hoped to get some side work done for Princess.

"I'm taking notes to take back with me, and if we can get you to develop some of our systems, that would be great," Chernesky said.

His wisecrack, along with those by Norwegian's Camille Olivere, HAL's Eva Jenner and others, helped liven up an hour-long discussion.

Humor goes a long way in a business setting towards relieving the sometimes tedious details of strategy and product features that are a necessary evil in public presentations.

Cruise sellers are lucky to be in a fun business to start with, but to have executives who can distract us from "exceeding guest expectations" and "net promoter scores" with a well-told joke now and then makes our work that much more of a pleasure.

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