From helping his Aunt and Uncle in their Swiss bed and breakfast as a child, to becoming hotel director aboard the six-star Crystal Serenity, Christian speaks to e-Travel Blackboard about his journey to luxury.
Natalie: How did you make your way to the position of Hotel Director for Crystal Cruises?
Christian: It started with my Aunt and my Uncle. They owned a small bed and breakfast in Switzerland.
I used to go there in my school holidays, especially in the winter and learn how to ski.
After skiing I would help out cleaning the bar and putting all the bottles in the fridge, stuff like that. I would help a little bit in the galley chopping up things and just having fun playing within the restaurant.
Then, as I became older, when it was time to make a decision about what I was going to do with my life and what kind of job I would like to have, my parents decided to put me into hotel school.
At 16 I moved on and went to a nice resort in the western part of Austria in Tyrol and got my training as a chef and waiter for four years.
After my training I went on to Switzerland and worked in St. Moritz and then I applied for Cunard and they hired me.
After the winter season I went home for a week, did all my medicals and my paperwork and one week later I was on a plane to L.A. down to San Pedro and joined the Saga Fjord which, at the time, was kind of “The Love Boat”.
Soon after embarking the vessel I realized it was all about hard work.
After checking in with the crew officers, they gave you a yellow t-shirt that said, “luggage”.
So a couple of hours after I checked in I found myself carrying suitcases up to the state rooms!
I stayed with Cunard for about two years. It was very nice, I worked as a waiter, then became a wine steward…so that’s how it all started.
From there I moved to Crystal and did one contract in 1991.
Then I fell in love, went back home and didn’t do any ships until 1995.
I went out to sea again…fell in love again, went back home again and then in 1997 I came out with Crystal again.
I worked in the dining room as head waiter but there was no room for me to grow.
So I moved on to a German company and there I was a maître d’.
From there I moved on and got my first job as a hotel manager with Viking River Cruises and from there, after four years, I moved onto another private owned German company and got my first job as hotel director.
I stayed with them for four years then I moved to Oceania because they had the best casino on the seven seas and that caught my attention.
So I handed in my CV and they called me and said, “We like your CV but at the moment we don’t have anything, let’s keep in touch.”
So I called again after two years and they called me back asking me to come down to Venice for an interview.
A couple of weeks later I joined the Nautica in Istanbul.
I stayed almost three-and-a-half years with Oceania.
Then Crystal called and they flew me into L.A. and I went to an interview with all the vice presidents and the operation managers.
I got hired and I started March 26 in Korea…
I have been enjoying it ever since! Feels great to be back!
Natalie: The common kind of theme with everyone I have spoken to aboard Crystal Serenity is that it’s very much a family onboard.
People have worked with the line for such long periods of time which is fantastic for the brand, it really speaks for itself!
Christian: Yes many of the crew members have been here for 15-20 years and it’s a real testament to the company.
Natalie: When you wake up in the morning, what is it about your role that makes you jump out of bed and get excited?
Christian: Well every day is different and you never know what to expect when you wake up in the morning.
First of all almost every day you wake up in a new port.
Then you get to work with 43 different nationalities.
It’s very rewarding being able to work with all those nice young people.
Of course they challenge you but that’s nice, I like to be challenged.
I try to solve things on a daily base and it’s very rewarding.
We have a great product, I mean there are only a couple of cruise lines operating on this high level and I have to say I’m very proud to be a part of such a great team.
For me it’s just simply a dream come true. Right now I’m living a dream and riding the wave as long as I can.
Natalie: What is the difference between running a hotel on land as opposed to on sea, do you think there are more challenges?
Christian: There’s lots of challenges on both sides…we’re such a closed community here aboard the ship.
There are also lots of advantages compared to land because we have our people here 24/7, there are no days off so we actually work every day with the same people.
We know their strong points, we know their weak points, so every day we can put the teams together and achieve the best service for the guests.
The biggest challenge is, of course, when it comes to logistics and trying to keep the crew motivated over a longer period because they don’t have the days off.
So you really have to balance how much you put pressure on them to perform, but you also have to sometimes let the leash go and let them do their own things, not always be on their back.
They need to feel that you trust them and that you allow them to work and just do their job.
Natalie: Do you find that because you are living and working with your employees that there’s an element of difficulty when it comes to boundaries?
Christian: I think everybody knows where to draw the line and they respect you even more so if you spend some time with them personally.
At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
On the ship you learn that you need to spend time with them because sometimes when you spend time with them privately, they might tell you things that they wouldn’t tell you when they’re on the job.
It’s good for both sides, we can only learn.
Natalie: So when you have your time out, obviously you like to head back home, but do you also like to travel yourself? If so where?
Christian: Actually for me the best thing back home to do is to recharge my batteries I try to spend a lot of time outdoors which means I go hiking with my friends back home, we go mountain biking.
Natalie: Where is home?
Christian: Close to the second largest city in Austria which is Graz, it’s about half-an-hour from there, up a little bit in the mountains.
Natalie: Does your contract differ from the other contracts on the ship?
Christian: Yes, for instance all the senior officers, they work three months on and then we get three months off.
Natalie: Do you see a shelf life for your time at sea?
Christian: I can still enjoy it for a couple of years…you don’t know what’s going to happen in ten years.
I still see myself here another five years.
You still can have a family, it’s just a different model of family.
Let’s say I’m away for three months but still I could bring my fiancée on for three weeks and then I’m home with them for three months, 24-hours every day!
If you’re in business back home, you leave in the morning, you come home late at night…it’s not quality time.