Steve Simao, Vice President of Sales for Windstar Cruises, got his start working in Allentown, Pennsylvania working in operations at a local theme park, and has since been in the cruise industry for the last 20 years. An avid cruiser from a young age, he aspired to work within the Cruise industry. Graduating from Mansfield University with a BS in Business Administration with an emphasis on travel and tourism, Steve currently oversees both domestic and international sales for Windstar Cruises. In the past Steve has served as the Purser for the Holland America’s annual Grand World Voyage, quite an experience for the books. To learn more about Steve Simao, Windstar Cruises, and his role in the travel industry, continue on to his interview with Travel Research Online.
Travel Research Online (TRO): You have spent the last 20 years of your travel career in the cruise industry. What about this sector of travel inspired you to work within it?
Steve Simao (SS): At the age of 13 my grandparents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary and decided to bring the entire family on a cruise. I immediately fell in love with the sea and the (at the time) relatively young concept of cruising. I stepped off the ship and announced to my family that “When I grow up I want to work on board a cruiseship for a few years and then become a District Sales Manager for a cruiseline.”
TRO: You got your start in the industry working as Assistant Manager of Operations at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, located in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Has your experience in operations helped shape your sales career? If so, can you elaborate on how?
SS: I always do say that even though I work in sales, I’m an operations guy. That being said, my initial experience in the cruise industry was also onboard ships as a Purser which is also an operations position. It has totally helped my sales career because I have lived and breathed cruising… I was a part of the experience I am selling daily. I believe in what I am selling and I understand a lot of details about it. I think also that it further helps me because I understand the importance of following up after a sale and supporting our partners throughout the entire process.
As Vice President of Sales for Windstar Cruises, what do your responsibilities and day-to-day activities entail? Do you travel often within the position?
SS: I am responsible for retail sales (supporting our Travel Agent partners), international sales (our network of International General Sales Agents across the globe), and our Charter and Incentive Sales department. The biggest area by far is our retail sales and so much of my job is to support my team who in turn support travel agents. I always say it’s my goal to ensure that when a client comes into a travel agency and requests information vacations to the destinations that we serve that they recommend Windstar Cruises. I spend time on developing training programs, marketing materials, and sales support that will help our travel agents become experts on Windstar Cruises. I can’t do this all alone and I have a team of 5 Regional Sales Managers in the field as well as a team in our office in Seattle and so much of my time is dedicated to supporting them. I travel about 50% of the time, which I enjoy; after all, I am working in the travel business. While I do cruise, I don’t cruise as often as people believe. Much of my travel is to attend various industry meetings and conferences to connect with our partners.
Do you have a favorite component of your position as Vice President of Sales for Windstar Cruises?
SS: Deep down I am a people person and so I most enjoy the travel aspect of the position where I can get out and connect with the people who are selling our brand. I think the industry as a whole feels this way – it’s the human element that makes our industry unique. I love telling the Windstar story, whether it be in front of a conference or 1:1 in the office of a travel agency.
You have done a lot of work as a Purser throughout your career in the cruise industry, even serving as the Purser for the Holland America’s annual Grand World Cruise. Is there anything you learned from having such a background that has aided your career in domestic and international sales?
SS: I think it is about understanding the customer. I spent a lot of time when I was a Purser simply talking with guests onboard. In fact, I was able to host a dinner table with guests each formal night. It helped me understand what motivated them to select a cruise and even a particular itinerary. This helps me craft the right messaging on selling our cruises and helping agents understand their own clients so that they can direct them to the right brand. I also think that sales of cruises (particularly a brand like Windstar that is so unique) requires a lot of storytelling. I have a lot of stories from my onboard experience.
At Mansfield University you received a BS in Business Administration with an emphasis on travel and tourism, and working as Vice President of Sales for Windstar Cruises combines both of these fields. Do you have any other field of interest within the travel industry you would like to gain knowledge in?
SS: It was a very unique degree and I credit the professor Dr. Frederick Piellusch for developing the program. Now that I have the responsibility for our Charter and Incentive department I think I would like to learn more about the meetings side of the business.
What would you say is the most popular, or most purchased destination or travel itinerary offered by Windstar Cruises?
SS: There are two iconic itineraries that Windstar Cruises has operated throughout the years – Tahiti and the Greek Islands. We operate one of our sailing yachts year round in Tahiti and our Greek Islands itinerary is one of the best opportunities to truly experience cruising completely under sail with the right wind conditions. In addition on the Greek Islands cruise we offer a complimentary event in Kusadasi – dinner in the library at Ephesus which is one of the most iconic travel experiences of all time.
Of all the destinations you have visited or cruised to, what is your absolute favorite? Do you have a destination at the top of your travel list you want to visit but haven’t yet?
SS: My favorite cruise itinerary is the Baltic. The Scandinavian countries are very welcoming and there is always something new to see in St. Petersburg, Russia. I’m also really excited that Windstar is returning to Asia – particularly Japan, because Japan is my favorite country to travel to overall. Personally on my bucket list is S.E. Asia. I want to explore more of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. I’ve seen a lot of the big cities in Asia, but I want to see more of the smaller countryside towns and villages.
What can we expect to see from Windstar Cruises this upcoming year?
SS: Windstar Cruises is the leader in small ship cruising. We’ve announced a lot of new destinations and itineraries including Asia, Alaska, and Canada/New England. But even on programs like Europe where we have always sailed we are introducing new ports, new itinerary lengths, and new cruises that can be created by booking back to back sailings. For a cruiseline with only 6 small ships we truly have a large global footprint. So that’s the first thing you will see – is a lot of new destinations and itinerary expansion.
Beyond that, we have a number of new team members in our operations department, and our team itself is made up of a lot of experienced small ship industry veterans each of whom has some connection with our fleet. They are passionate about taking Windstar’s cruise experience to the next level and I’m sure they have a number of innovative surprises instore that will be 180 degrees from Ordinary!
To learn more about Windstar Cruises, visit them at www.windstarcruises.com .