Dean Reynolds, thank you for that kind introduction. Associate Dean Back, Associate Dean Dawson, Regent Brooks, Associate Vice President Pede and Vice President Cornell: I am thrilled to be here at the Conrad Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership’s spring 2023 commencement, and to share such a glorious day with the graduates and their families. You made an exciting choice to join the hospitality industry. There are many, many different places a career in this industry can take you. I’m a great example of that, given my start as a receptionist in a travel agency – to 40 years later, being President of the world’s most popular cruise line!
With the priority that people are putting on having experiences over things, travel and hospitality have become a top priority for multi-generational consumers. Travel and hospitality contribute greatly to communities through direct and indirect economic impact locally, nationally and around the world. Prior to the pandemic, travel and tourism was responsible for one out of every four new jobs created around the world. Travel and tourism’s contribution to global GDP was more than ten percent.
Here in the U.S., travel, hospitality and tourism represented one in every ten jobs, and inbound travel from foreign countries generated more than what Americans spent traveling abroad – one of the few major industries that generated a trade surplus. And let’s not forget that travel and tourism’s impact goes way beyond consumers staying at hotels, visiting amusement parks, eating at restaurants, holding conferences and flying on airplanes. We generate tens of billions of dollars in economic activity and innovation: in manufacturing, in employment, construction, technology, sustainable energy, food security and water conservation. Our size and impact crosses multiple sectors where we spend money. That means we have the ability to influence and drive innovations – partnering with both public and private organizations.
And the great news is that demand for travel and hospitality in 2023 and beyond is greater today, than it was in 2019 – which bodes well for your future!
The industry needs leaders who are thinking about the future of travel and hospitality, just like people are thinking about the future of technology, medicine, transportation infrastructure and aerospace. The pandemic showed us just how important the “Freedom to Travel” is. While the cruise industry was shut down for 16 months, most of the country and the world was faced with restrictions that severely limited the ability to travel. Sometimes it takes losing something to realize how important it is.
I also like to remind people that ours is a noble profession. While we may not be curing cancer or going to the moon, what we do matters. It matters to communities big and small. It matters because we bring people together and help create memories and experiences that last a lifetime. What do people talk about when they get together? They talk about the places they’ve been and the experiences they had together with their friends and families. They talk about the next trip, and we know that planning and looking forward to a trip is part of the experience!
Remember, no matter what part of the industry you choose, you work contributes to what are often the most memorable moments in people’s lives – which is why as an industry, we must stay diligent and focused on educated policy makers on the importance of travel.
When I was hired for this position, I was called an “Unconventional Choice,” and I was. Not because I’m a woman – although I am the first woman President of Carnival Cruise Line – but unconventional because I came from outside the company, had never worked in a public company, and I don’t have a college degree. But, hiring someone unconventional was a purposeful decision by our CEO, Arnold Donald. When Arnold took the helm, he focused on bringing together leaders with different backgrounds, and he knew I would bring a different perspective to the job and to his corporate leadership team.
Arnold, who hails from New Orleans, learned a long time ago that a diverse team will outperform a homogenous group. And his definition of diversity isn’t defined by gender, nationality or ethnicity – but on diversity of thinking!
What I learned quickly and consistently over my career is: I could only succeed if I surrounded myself with people who had the skills and experience that I didn’t have, because being successful in business and life is a “team sport.” I also firmly believe that if you have the right team and a culture that supports, empowers and values people – you will succeed.
As you know, Carnival Corporation is a global company with employees who come from over 200 countries. They work together and live together, but they start with what they have common, which is our mission: to deliver memorable experiences to our guests. So, a big part of my job is ensuring that we put our people first and lead authentically. We aren’t perfect, but by putting people first, we enable a culture that allows our team members to serve our guests, while management and leadership supports our team by ensuring we have the right skills, experience and people to deliver against our brand promise.
No matter what you do in your life and career, remember the basics: Work hard, stay focused on the task at hand – and not the promotion you may be striving for. With good health, life is long and it’s okay to make mistakes – but learn from them. One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill who said:
“Success is now final; failure is not fatal. What matters is the courage to move forward. As you graduate today, success is at your doorstep. Don’t focus on the prize but on the journey.”
I’m truly honored that I was invited to be here with your today, to share in your happiness, to celebrate this important milestone, to extend my sincere congratulations, and to offer a few words of wisdom and advice as you set out on your career journey. As Maya Angelou said about being a speaker, “They won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” I hope that I can make you feel proud and excited to be part of an industry that makes a difference in people’s lives.
The University has prepared you for the market you will enter, but they’ve also prepared you to lead. Not just to lead the best hotel in town, or to create the most popular restaurant, but to lead in your communities, in your industry and to lead your colleagues and your teams to embrace the idea that we have a responsibility to lead beyond our own business, and to set an example for other sectors in how we must innovate, improve society, protect natural resources and create a workplace that is diverse and inclusive. And it’s that last point that I want to close my comments and offer my perspective.
Diversity is not just bringing together people of many backgrounds, nationalities and cultures and claiming victory. People must feel welcomed and included. Yes, that’s the inclusion part. They must feel that decisions are made in an equitable way. We must break down the silos, not just of functions and departments, but the silos that exist amongst cultures and nationalities, and that exist between employees and customers.
I’m proud that at Carnival, we continue to make improvements, which we measure regularly in our culture surveys, and in the diversity of our applicants. It can also be measured just by walking around a ship and seeing women and people of color in certain work groups, where none could be found ten years ago.
The other reason this is so important is because a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is really in our DNA. After all, we are working in the hospitality industry. Being hospitable is core to what we do, and making people feel welcome is our job. One of the things I love about the cruise industry is the relationship between employees and customers. In most other parts of travel and hospitality, it’s a very transactional relationship. You check the guest in, you serve them a drink, you swipe their credit card or conduct some other aspect of the business.
But when you go on a cruise, you go on vacation with the crew. They learn your name quickly and they remember your favorite cocktail. Guests and crew share stories of their families and their hometowns. It’s a very symbiotic relationship in which the crew is part of the vacation experience – sometimes even the most important part.
I realize it may not be easy in other parts of travel, where you might be interacting with a guest for a few hours, and you might not see them again. But I urge you to think about how you can build that kind of relationship with your customer of guest, even for just a short while. It will make each and every day more meaningful for you, your colleagues and your guests. It will give you and your team a sense of purpose. And by demonstrating that ability to make a connection with each and every person you encounter, you are showing your capacity to lead in this industry.
So, as you prepare to lead in the hospitality industry, I hope you will take up the responsibilities of creating a workplace, an industry and a society that is better than what it is today. And never forget, that by securing this degree, you have created a bright and exciting opportunity for yourself. No doubt some were helped by parents and family and inspired by professors and mentors. But the most important investor in your future, and inspiration for your career, was the person standing in front of you in the mirror today, as you were getting read for this special event. It was you! You did this! Others helped and others inspired. But you did this, and today is the result of your hard work. So, build on that, and continue to invest in yourself and believe in yourself.
Given the glow from the smiles in this room, the flashing of cameras and the Texas sun in May, not only is today bright, but your future is bright. Thank you for the invitation to be a part of this special day for all of you.