Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2023

70 American Countess will sail AQV’s longest-ever itinerary on both the Ohio River and Upper Mississippi in July 2023 INTERVIEW A small-ship operator with a big vision Cindy D’Aoust outlines to Rebecca Gibson how creating strong connections between guests, crew members, partners and destinations will help make American Queen Voyages the cruise brand of choice for discerning travellers When Cindy D’Aoust stepped onboard American Queen Voyages’ (AQV) river cruise ship American Duchess shortly after being appointed as the brand’s president in late 2022, she was most impressed by the convivial atmosphere. “Guests and crew members were hugging, laughing and sharing updates on their lives,” she says. “I wasn’t watching polite, formal greetings between staff and customers; I was watching old friends genuinely delight in catching up with one another and excitedly preparing to create new memories together. Similarly, our crew members have formed deep friendships and familial bonds with one another after working with us for many years.” More than three decades of working in leadership positions at travel and hospitality organisations such as Cruise Lines International Association, Cape Resorts and Meeting Professionals International, has taught D’Aoust that friendly, dedicated and loyal employees are the backbone of any brand. That’s why people were at the top of her list when setting priorities for AQV, which is part of Hornblower Group and operates a fleet of seven ships sailing river, expedition and lake and ocean cruises to destinations across North America. “I have three key priorities: people, prestige and partners,” says D’Aoust. “My biggest commitment is to give AQV’s shipboard and shoreside teams all the tools, resources, training and support they need to grow personally and professionally. I also want to build a more collaborative, equitable and enjoyable working environment – we need to work hard but also have fun!” Since joining AQV, D’Aoust has hired new executives to lead different departments. “These highly skilled, knowledgeable and experienced leaders will help me build an inclusive and stimulating working environment that will empower us to advance AQV’s success,” she explains. “I also want to increase diversity so we can benefit from new perspectives and ideas. This is already working well on our river cruise ships where local crew members can share their personal stories and insights into the culture and history of their hometowns. This enriches the guest experience and helps us to improve our itineraries and shore excursions.” As one of a growing number of women leading successful cruise brands, D’Aoust is particularly keen to encourage gender diversity. “Cruising has historically been dominated by men, but we now have more women in senior shoreside and shipboard roles,” she says. “For instance, AQV’s Andrea Mickelson joined our housekeeping team in 2014 and is now captain of American Empress. There’s a whole new generation of women like Andrea who have greater freedom than their predecessors and they’re looking at women leaders like me to show them how they can forge a similar path. I aim to inspire them through mentorship and by demonstrating admirable leadership to help drive further diversity and equality in the industry.” D’Aoust’s dedication to supporting people extends to the travel advisor community too. “Travel advisors are vital because they help us to educate travellers about our brand,” she explains. “We’ve made it easier for them to sell our cruises and earn commission by extending our all-inclusive pricing to