Fast Talk: Pamela Conover
Published: May 2009
One can say that Pamela Conover, president and COO of the Cunard Line, was destined for a career in cruising. Her father's job at a British trading house in Thailand exposed her to the sea and the shipping industry at a very young age. After she completed her education in England, she combined her financial acumen and shipping knowledge with a stint as assistant treasurer of United States Lines, a container-shipping company in New York. But it was her job as managing director of Citibank's North American ship financing business, where Carnival was a top client, that led to her current position. Carnival—which later acquired Cunard and merged it with Seabourn to form the Cunard Line Limited—quickly tapped Conover to be a chief operating officer and later promoted her to president of the Cunard Line in 2001. She is now one of the highest ranking women executives in the cruise industry. Travel + Leisure caught up with Conover, in an airplane en route to Miami, for an insider's perspective on the cruising industry.
1. Where are you right now?Where would you rather be, if anywhere?
I am 30,000 feet in the air on my way from Southampton, England, to Miami, returning from a business trip. I would rather be cruising on one of our ships.
2. How often do you travel?Is it usually for business or pleasure?
I spend two weeks out of every month traveling, and I make a constant effort to visit the ships. I usually travel on business, but when you are in the cruise industry that also means pleasure!
3. How many cruises have you been on?What is your most memorable experience?
Too many to count! My most memorable experience is sailing into New York Harbor at dawn after a transatlantic crossing on Queen Elizabeth 2. I've done that twice, and I will be doing it for a third time this year.
4. What are some destinations that Cunard's ships will travel to this year?
Cunard ships are global, so we visit some of the most beautiful ports on earth. Already this year we've called at exotic destinations such as Bali, the Philippines, Indonesia; the Seychelles and Mauritius off the coast of Africa; and Peru, where guests can visit the Inca temples of Machu Picchu. Later this year we'll call at many ports in Norway, which is always impressive on a ship because you can sail into the fjords and get spectacularly close to the glaciers and waterfalls. Other wonderful but not-so-common ports are Dubrovnik, Croatia; Tallin, Estonia; and Tunis, Tunisia. We have our favorites, too, like Villefranche and Cannes, France; Cape Town, South Africa; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Venice, Italy. But as we like to say, the greatest destination between New York and London is the QE2 herself!
5. Tell us more about Queen Mary 2, debuting in late 2003.
Queen Mary 2 will be the biggest, longest, widest, most expensive vessel ever built. At $800 million, the QM2 will have lavish accommodations, exquisite public rooms with sweeping staircases, beautiful furnishings, and cuisine options like no other cruise ship in the world. Her inspiration was surely her namesake, Queen Mary. Yet QM2 will be a 21st-century luxury liner. I have every confidence that the QM2 will be a piece of history and a work of art.
6. What changes has Cunard made to adapt to the new travel climate?
As the operator of the world's most famous ocean liners, Cunard Line maintains a comprehensive security program as among the most extensive of any passenger ship afloat. To detail the security precautions would minimize their effectiveness. However, we have had in place, for some time, photo identification cards for all passengers and crew, and we are searching all passengers, carry-on items, and luggage that come aboard our vessels.
7. What trends have you seen lately in the cruise industry?
We have witnessed more last-minute bookings. Passengers are waiting to book their cruises closer to their sailing dates. Nevertheless, our bookings are up over the same period last year, and I believe it's because people are realizing that cruising is a wonderful way to see the world. They're no longer waiting to take their dream vacation.
8. How do you plan to attract a younger clientele?
QM2 is going to be a thoroughly modern liner with price options for all levels. The world-famous Canyon Ranch health resorts will operate the spa, beauty salon, and wellness and fitness facilities. We'll also offer a vast array of dining options in addition to the formal restaurants, including the Carvery, Chef's Selections, Italian and Oriental cuisine, alternative pool-side dining (weather permitting), and a British pub. Onboard amenities will include everything from the first planetarium at sea to in-cabin Internet access, and facilities for basketball and golf on the deck. To attract more families, QM2 will have extensive children's facilities called The Zone and The Play Zone complete with nannies and junior counselors. There also is a splash pool for the younger cruisers.
9. Have you any advice for someone who wants to start a career in cruising?
Determine which area of cruising best suits your talents. There are so many aspects of running a cruise line that many people don't think about: accounting, entertainment, hotel services, customer services, air operations, marketing, human resources, marine and technical, computers—the list goes on and on. For some positions you don't need to have a vast knowledge of cruising, but you'll learn! Many lines, including Cunard, post job opportunities on their Web sites, so that is a good place to see if there is a position that interests you.
10. What is the travel advice you give most often these days?
Be patient and expect slightly longer than usual lines at airports and cruise ship terminals, but appreciate that it's for your own safety.
Consider a cruise for your next family reunion. A liner is a wonderful place to enjoy the company of family where all generations are entertained. Everyone can do his own thing during the day and get together at dinner.
Take the time for a vacation. Don't put it off.