“Ultimately, the reason we do it is guest satisfaction”

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One clear night off the coast of Spain, the master of Azamara Journey turned his ship about-face for a single, non-essential reason.

He wanted to give a guest a dazzling sunset for her birthday.

Captain Johannes Tysse turned his ship 180 degrees that night as a vivid example of the mindfulness that ensures the memorable experience guests expect from an Azamara Club Cruises voyage.

A line’s success is in the hands of its captains. From avoiding bad weather by changing course, to inspiring every member of his crew, the captain makes hundreds of decisions every day that impact not only guest satisfaction but also the bottom line.

Tysse served in the Royal Norwegian Navy and worked on ferries, tankers and other cruise ships before taking the helm of Azamara Journey in 2010. Here, he shares some thoughts on that responsibility:

Who is the typical guest on an Azamara cruise?

Our guests are looking for something different. They pick us because we offer longer and overnight stays in ports, and excursions and tours at night.

Azamara has two mid-sized ships that carry about 680 guests, so we go to more intimate ports that larger ships can’t. We stop at over 130 different ports per year while most ships go on a track of three to four ports a week, month after month, year after year.

Guests come from all over the world for these experiences. While about half of our guests are from the United States, we can have up to 40 different nationalities represented during one cruise.

Azamara Journey at sea. (Azamara)
Azamara Journey at sea. (Azamara)

What are your main priorities as captain?

The safety and comfort of our guests and the crew are always my number-one priority.

Because we offer a greater variety of destinations than other lines, we often work around unexpected weather issues; we change ports, substitute ports and rearrange our stops several times each month. Ultimately, the reason we do this is guest satisfaction.

What goes into making those decisions?

We try to look at the big picture. If there’s a cost, we look at the potential return. On our last cruise, for instance, there was some heavy weather west of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean, where we were scheduled to stop. We would have battled through 20- to 30-foot waves, guests would have been sick, and we would have been delayed.

We have the freedom to do what needs to be done to enhance the guests’ experience.

So we adjusted the itinerary to avoid the storm. Although we spent extra fuel, we stayed ahead of the weather — and our guests were comfortable and had a great experience.

How do you go above and beyond your responsibilities?

I try to think of something on each cruise to give guests a special memory.

A couple of cruises ago, we were headed from Roses, Spain, to Barcelona, and there was this beautiful sunset on the starboard side. That’s not a long trip, so the required speed was about 7.5 knots. You could almost paddle that. We were out in the open with no other ships around.

You could see the sunset from the specialty restaurant and the main dining area, but not from the Aqualina, our Italian restaurant, which is on the other side of the ship.

I called the Aqualina and asked if they had anyone celebrating a special occasion. They said they did and gave me her name. So I made an announcement telling our guests that we’d be turning the ship around so Mrs. McCormick, who is celebrating her birthday in the Aqualina tonight, can enjoy the sunset.

That’s something special they will talk about with friends and family. That transforms guests into ambassadors. A few dollars in fuel will pay many times over in marketing.

What does it take to be a great captain?

Respect. I treat my crew the same way that I treat my guests. No matter their nationality, background or religion, no matter how many stripes they have earned, I treat them all with respect.

What differentiates an Azamara captain for those on other lines?

We have the freedom to do what needs to be done to enhance the guests’ experience.

That comes down from our CEO, Larry Pimentel, who told me, “If it enhances the guest experience, you go ahead and do it. You don’t have to ask.” We’re smaller, so it’s easier to handle changes.