Ted Sykes joined American Queen Steamboat Company as President and COO in December 2012 with over 20 years of experience in the travel industry. Prior to joining American Queen Steamboat Company, Sykes served as CEO of eWaterways, an online aggregator of small-ship cruises. He also served as President and CFO of Viking, the largest river cruise operator in the world. He has been COO and CFO of The Vantage Group, a Boston-based seller of travel and operator of European river boats. Serving as CEO from conception through full operation, Sykes moved to England and launched Saga Group’s entry into deep sea cruising. Prior to the launch of Saga Cruises, Sykes served as both CFO and Managing Director of Royal Cruise Line in San Francisco, operating four cruise vessels in the premium sector with a combined 2,500 beds.
Before entering the travel industry, Sykes was a senior partner with Young & Rubicam, Inc. and held management consulting and financial roles in industry. He holds a B.B.A. Finance degree from the University of Wisconsin and is a certified management accountant.
Travel Research Online (TAS): What motivated you to transition from the marketing and advertising industry with Young & Rubicam to the travel industry?
Ted Sykes (TS): The travel industry is far more interesting and fulfilling. We’re in the business of fulfilling peoples’ dreams, but my marketing background was great preparation.
TAS: Tell us about your role at American Queen Steamboat Company.
TS: Essentially, I handle most of the customer facing roles. We are fortunate to have very capable hospitality, marketing, sales, finance, and customer service team leaders on staff. Our Chairman, John Waggoner, has a strong technical and maritime background and covers those areas very well.
TAS: You have previously worked in the European river cruising industry. What are the differences between the European and American river cruising markets?
TS: The largest difference is running under an American flag here in the US versus a flag of convenience in Europe. We have a qualified, all-American crew. Our passengers are pleased to “buy American” and support American industry, and we also have the benefit of being close to our primary source market. Overall transportation is much more convenient. For our international customers, we offer an in-depth view of America’s heartland.
TAS: What unique experiences can an American river cruise offer that traditional ocean cruises cannot?
TS: We can deliver the heartland of America and its regional cultures and cuisines. We have a smaller, more intimate environment where people can relax without concerns about crowds or the congestion of large, deep-sea vessels.
TAS: What can travel agents expect when they book their clients on an American Queen Steamboat Company cruise?
TS: Travel agents bring us the largest share of our customers. We deliver a high quality experience that keeps their customers coming back for more. We sell a largely all-inclusive product which translates into higher earned commissions than lines who sell a lower entry level ticket then charge separately for other items (principally shore excursions, wines, etc).
TAS: What services do American Queen Steamboat Company offer that you want travel agents to be more aware of?
TS: We provide promotional marketing materials, customizable promotional emails, aggressive marketing and advertising campaigns, a dedicated Travel Agent website, Regional Sales Directors in the field to support individual Travel Agents, a substantial Tour Conductor policy, and fully protected Travel Agent commissions. Most importantly, we have no non-commissionable items. On select Off-Peak sailings we offer a range of 5 – 10% additional commissions.
TAS: What is new and exciting on the horizon from American Queen Steamboat Company?
TS: New for 2016 we are offering Mighty Mississippi Voyages on which guests can experience the entire length of the Mississippi River either northbound or southbound from New Orleans, LA and St. Paul, MN. Additionally, we have introduced an elite level of hospitality known as Commodore Services for guests of select suite-level accommodations, along with River Butler Service for our Luxury Suite guests.
To learn more about Ted Sykes and the American Queen Steamboat Company, visit them online at www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com.