With over 20 years of travel industry experience, Ted Sykes knows cruising. Before coming to American Queen Steamboat Company he had previously been CEO of eWaterways, as well as CFO of Viking and The Vantage Group. Ted made his entry into deep sea cruising by launching the cruise shipping division of Saga Group in England, where he served as CEO from conception to full operation. Holding a B.B.A in Finance from the University of Wisconsin, Ted Sykes got his start in the travel industry through finance; before diving head first into travel he was a partner with Young & Rubicam, Inc. In 2012 Ted became President and COO of American Queen Steamboat Company where he remains, spending each day working to provide customers with the experiences they desire.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Before entering the travel industry, you held both consulting and financial roles. Have those roles helped you within the travel industry? How?
Ted Sykes (TS): Certainly. This is a for-profit business and we need to be constantly mindful of that fact in order to succeed.
TRO: What inspired or motivated you to make the jump from finance to travel?
TS: I joined Royal Cruise Line as CFO so my introduction into the travel industry was finance. From there, I got caught up in the romance and allure of “selling dreams” and delivering a product that has a very high satisfaction rating with our guests.
TRO: With over 20 years of travel experience, you have worked at both large scale and small scale cruising companies where the vessels ranged in passenger size. Do you feel these experiences have helped to shape the intimate atmosphere of American Queen Steamboat Company’s river cruises?
TS: Yes, whether it was at Royal, Saga Cruises in the UK, Vantage or Viking River, I learned that everyone approaches the market a bit differently. These experiences have collectively taught us how to approach the thoughtful, intelligent customer. We strive to craft a product that will suit them. At American Queen Steamboat Company, we are especially proud of the genuine hospitality and personal attention that our crew provides our guests.
TRO: Has your experience working from conception to full operation with a Cruise line helped benefit you at American Queen Steamboat Company? How?
TS: Yes, as you know, in a small company or a start-up you have the opportunity to wear many hats and do a bit of everything. This has been extremely beneficial, as it affords me a better understanding of each person’s role in the company.
TRO: What does your average workday at American Queen Steamboat Company look like?
TS: There aren’t too many “average” days. I try to divide my time between the customer facing roles and the back office, whether that is sales and marketing, operations, or finance and administration. All of the days are full!
TRO: American Queen Steamboat Company is a member of the Passenger Vessel Association’s Green WATERS program for their dedication to the preservation of marine life. Can you tell us more about that? How do your ships contribute to a healthy and clean marine environment?
TS: We are strongly committed to preserving the marine environment and continually strive to do our part in keeping America’s waterways cleaner by utilizing PVA’s best business practices in the areas of power sources and energy conservation, fuel type and consumption, vessel design, and, of course, ensuring that our guests are aware of their environment with the hope that they do their part while aboard our vessels. The inland waters where we operate are zero emission, so that means our vessels are responsible to the environment in leaving nothing behind.
TRO: Your ships boast regionally inspired cuisine that uses fresh and local ingredients. Can you give us more insight on that process?
TS: We pay careful attention to delivering a varied and high quality menu. That means offering a selection of classic starters, tasteful and creative salads and soups, then a choice of four to five entrees including vegetarian, fresh fish or fowl, and red meat, followed by several mouth-watering desserts.
TRO: What is the most popular meal served on the river?
TS: Hard to say. It varies by the geography of the country and the season we’re in. In the Pacific Northwest it’s more likely to be any dish with freshly caught salmon. In the Creole country of the lower Mississippi it could be shrimp and grits, red snapper or Andouille hash served alongside perfectly turned-out Southern biscuits. On the upper Mississippi it’s more likely short ribs of Angus beef, roasted duck or veal Marsala again always served with a complement of tasty vegetables from America’s heartland.
TRO: Which river cruise offering from American Queen Steamboat Company is the most popular? Why?
TS: By numbers it is the Lower Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans (or reverse) because this is the introductory product for most of our guests. They enjoy the content of a cruise on this part of the river because it has everything – spectacular regional cuisine, culture, plenty of history including many Civil War sites, the whole range of music from Memphis Rock and Roll to Delta blues to gospel to the jazz of New Orleans, and the antebellum plantations all delivered with gracious Southern hospitality.
TRO: What is your personal favorite place to travel?
TS: The English Cotswolds or the northern Italian countryside.
TRO: What should we be on the lookout this year for from American Queen Steamboat Company?
TS: The launch of the American Duchess is front and center for us right now. The market is thriving and we intend to keep meeting that opportunity.
For more information on Ted and American Queen Steamboat Company, visit them online at www.americanqueesnsteamboatcompany.com.