*In late January 2019, women from all walks of life set sail on Holland America Line’s (HAL) first-rate “Girls’ Getaway“cruise with Oprah Winfrey and her BFF Gayle King.
“Within the first 24 hours, the ship was sold out when we announced that Oprah and Gayle would be hosting the ‘Girls’ Getaway,’” said Denella Ri’chard, HAL’s senior director of trade communications and engagement, in a phone interview with the EUR. “I had a chance to be on board and it was absolutely amazing.”
The inaugural three-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Half Moon Cay (a private island in the Bahamas), is not HAL’s first venture with Winfrey and King.
“We have a partnership with ‘O, The Oprah Magazine’ and we started that relationship a couple of years ago,” said Ri’chard, who is responsible for developing relationships with travel agents and the trade worldwide mostly in the United States and Canada. (She oversees trade communications, technologies, events, social media and the award-winning HAL’s travel agent training program).
Ri’chard continued, “We brought the ‘O’ magazine experience on the ship. So, if you’re flipping through the magazine and see the different areas in fitness, healthy eating, or the reading room, we brought those experiences to life on board our ship. And as a result of the partnership, through a conversation with the editors at the magazine, Gayle King (editor-at-large), working with our president, Orlando Ashford, and our marketing team, they had the idea to do this cruise.”
The ‘Girls’ Getaway’ showcases HAL’s dedication to diversity. In November 2019, the cruise line, a division of the Carnival Corporation, added the position of business development manager with a primary focus on affinity & diversity group sales.
“The African American travel market makes up over $60 billion dollars in business,” said, Ri’chard. “When you just look at an annual basis of the amount of groups that are out there – whether it’s faith-based groups, fraternities and sororities, HBCU’s (historically black colleges and universities) events, and other organizations and corporations – you’ll see that the business is really there.”
Ri’chard added, “We noticed that so many of these conferences and events are being held in hotels, but we were not seeing many of these events on a cruise ship. We felt like it was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to cruising because cruising is simply a moving hotel. So many have their events in Las Vegas, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans and other destinations, which are all fantastic, but we did not see them reaching across and coming to cruising.”
The perks of having a conference or event on a cruise line versus a hotel are varied.
“In most cases the audio/video and the meeting space are complimentary,” said Ri’chard. “Also, in terms of our restaurants, our main dining room, and some of our other dining experiences, they are also complimentary, except for our specialty restaurants. So, many things are already included but when you are in a hotel, you will have to pay separately for those items.”
“And you can wake up to looking at the parking lot if you’re staying on the bad side of the hotel,” said Lisa Blake (also on the phone with Ri’chard and the EUR), a hospitality and travel industry professional with more than 20 years in the business, who was appointed to the new role. “That’s your view every day. Wouldn’t you rather have a view of a whole other country every day when you wake up? Of course!”
In addition to courting African Americans, Blake’s new position, which reports to Ri’chard, is looking to spread the message to other groups as well.
“I’m looking at different organizations,” said Blake. “Women’s groups, like women in sports, Latino groups, LGBTQ groups, and any diverse group that wants to get aboard the Holland America Line.”
Blake, who has mostly worked in the hotel industry, said that her new career at HAL is, “The B-J-E, ‘best job ever.’ I love everything about it. I’ve been in every sector of (the travel industry), except for cruising. A long time ago, I wanted to be a cruise director like Julie on the ‘Love Boat’ (TV show that aired from 1977-1987). While I won’t be the cruise director, I love my new role.”
According to Ri’chard, who has also worked in travel for over twenty years and at HAL for close to four years, said the cruise line is leading the way in the business with someone whose main job is to attract affinity and diversity groups. (More on Carnival Corporation’s diversity in the EUR article “Black Women Sail To Top Positions In the Cruise Industry” – April 12, 2018).
“We’re even hearing from other cruise lines and asking us how is it going so far because they are considering creating a similar position,” said Ri’chard. “When you look at the group travel market within all of these diverse groups there is no doubt a huge area of business.”
If your group is interested in getting more information about what Holland America Line offers, including even a possible tour of a ship before booking, Denella Ri’chard invites you to connect personally with her at [email protected] and/or Lisa Blake at [email protected] Also go here, for general HAL information.
For more information on “O, The Oprah Magazine” cruises, go here.