What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
March 8th has become a global day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and fully harnessing the power of women’s leadership to realize a more equal, more inclusive and more sustainable future.
Growing up in East Germany, I remember celebrating this day in school by picking bouquets of wildflowers, creating cards and pictures as tokens of appreciation for all the women in our lives. The first National Women’s Day was actually observed in 1909 in the United States but the idea of an International Women’s Day was created a year later by Clara Zetkin, who was the German delegate at the International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen. The following year more than 1 million women and men throughout Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland attended rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained and end discrimination.
The tradition of celebrating this day continued in Europe and eventually spread around the world.
There is still much work to be done on encouraging all forms of diversity as we know that more inclusive leadership and representation leads to stronger democracies, better economies, and more peaceful societies.
As co-founder and co-owner of AmaWaterways, what advice would you like to share with the next generation of women leaders?
If you want it – go after it! I would have never dreamt that I would be a co-owner of a leading river cruise line when I was growing up in East Germany. If I have learned anything from my own journey, it is that through hard work and perseverance, anything is possible. I would also encourage the next generation of women leaders to speak up and trust their instincts. Raise your hand and volunteer for challenging tasks – don’t wait to be asked. Women tend to underestimate their skill set or readiness to take on new or more difficult roles, and as a result, often get passed over when the big opportunities come up.
You recently were named to Inc Magazine’s Female Founders 100 List. What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned while leading through the pandemic crisis?
We rise by lifting others! One of our company mottos is: “Be extraordinary – together.” This not only applies to our internal teams, who have shown such flexibility, resilience and creativity over the past year, but also to our travel advisor partners, the majority of whom are women. During a year that has brought many challenges for the travel industry, I am very proud that we have been recognized for the support we have shown them. We have focused our marketing efforts on providing travel advisors with current information, training opportunities and digital marketing materials so together we will be in the best possible position to capture the pent-up demand for river cruising and ensure the world travels safely again.
Looking post-pandemic, what permanent positive changes may result for AmaWaterways?
The use of technology to stay virtually connected is not going away. It has become the norm to meet virtually and “see” as well as “hear” what co-workers and partners have to say. While Zoom calls will never replace the pleasure of human interaction, they do provide a personal way to stay connected with a larger circle of friends, guests and clients. I see video calls becoming a personalized option for interacting with our Call Center teams.
When it comes to services on board ships, for some time we have wanted to replace the breakfast and lunch buffets with a full-service concept that eliminates line-ups and still offers personalization, variety and choice. We think we have found the perfect solution with our new “Chef’s Stations” and are preparing that, along with other surprises, for our guests to discover when they cruise with us later this year.
What trend do you believe will have the biggest impact on the industry in 2021?
When travel restrictions are lifted in 2021, I believe that destination stewardship will play a larger role in travel decisions. This involves sustainable ship practices, more outdoor tours that venture off the beaten path and the knowledge that you can contribute positively to communities visited.
At AmaWaterways, we prioritize supporting the local economies and fostering respect for the places we visit. In 2019, AmaKristina became the first river cruise ship in Europe to receive the Green Award and this was followed shortly after by the rest of the fleet being recognized for same industry-leading safety, quality and environmental performance.
River cruising is an intimate way to travel, and I expect that the demand for exclusive and safe travel experiences will continue to rise in 2021. People are prioritizing health and safety, as well as travel experiences that help them slow down, live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of nature during their journey.
2020 was a year marked with great challenges but I believe that 2021 will be a year marked with great opportunities. Despite the barriers, women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements for social change. That includes their leading role in taking a stand against climate change, fighting for a green economy and pushing for women’s rights.
*image from Toronto-based mural artist Leslie Phelan.