During my 35 years working in cruising, I never could have predicted the turmoil of the past year. In our industry, there's a contingency plan for everything, yet in my wildest dreams, I never imagined a global pandemic would force us to shut down indefinitely. But a year later, that nightmare is still our reality and it's forced me to reevaluate the leadership qualities I've been developing for decades, namely my determination and focus on perfection.
For the first six months of the crisis, I was consumed by the logistical, day-to-day challenges associated with getting our guests and crews home safe. It was a complicated and arduous process because it was not just our industry shutting down, but the whole world shutting down as well.
As a global brand, we were navigating protocols established by government and health authorities in more than 70 countries and 300 different destinations. When we were repatriating 20,000 crew members, rules and regulations were changing daily. Though we shut down in March, it wasn't until August when we finally got our last crew member home.
However, once the daily unknowns subsided, I started to think of the pandemic as an opportunity to make our brand better and stronger. This year-long (and counting) pause in our business provided a chance to take a step back and reevaluate what we offer, and how to implement change in a meaningful and authentic way.
But a year later, that nightmare is still our reality and it's forced me to also reevaluate the leadership qualities I've relied on for decades. In the face of unprecedented turmoil, some of my inherent qualities, such as optimism, compassion, and communication, needed to take a more prominent role, while other natural characteristics, like perfectionism, needed to be de-emphasized.
As the leader of a company that hasn't been able to operate and generate significant revenue for a year, maintaining optimism is easier said than done. As has been reported, our parent company and others like ours have borrowed billions of dollars to stay afloat. We've had to make grueling decisions about our workforce both on land and at sea, cutting back an average crew of 2,500 to a skeleton of roughly 80 to maintain our ships while they sit idle around the world.
I've always been an optimist, both professionally and personally, but this year tested my capacity for positivity. There were many days where my mind was consumed with doubt, but I forced myself to focus on the silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud, to give my staff a sense of hope. What helps is, despite moments of doubt, I truly believe the industry will fully bounce back and our brand will not just come back, but come back stronger. I believe in the transformative power of travel and the enriching luxury of experiencing it aboard a cruise ship. And once the CDC gives the green light, I'm convinced cruising will be the safest option for the millions of people with pent-up wanderlust.
I refuse to allow this pandemic to destroy everything we've worked so hard to build. And I've learned optimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy once a large group gets on board. For instance, when I held firm on holding our prices, many were rightfully skeptical, but with our corporation's 2022 bookings now within historical ranges and a 30 percent increase in bookings compared with even the end of last year, the team now believes it, too.
Eye on Innovation
I've always operated with one eye looking forward to the future, but this year the present took center stage. I've been asked every difficult question possible: How much equity do we have to raise to fulfill our burn rate and still have cash in the bank to make payroll? When are we going to get back into service? How many liquidity models and return-to-service plans do we have to build?
Adamant that these questions would not define this experience or our brand, I insisted we use this time to redefine our strategy and drive innovation within the company. We brought in a brand positioning consultant and simplified our pricing with an "Always Included" model where tips, drinks, and WiFi are now always included in a customer's cruise fare. We've re-imagined our brand to be even more relevant for today's contemporary traveler. And we're continuing to develop the newest ship in our fleet, which we will announce soon, as an experience beyond imagination and expectation.
Commitment to innovation has become a rallying point for the entire organization, allowing us to plan for the future, rather than obsess over the uncertainty of a present that we can't do anything about.
With staff scattered throughout the globe, I've made it my mission to communicate candidly and frequently. The staff needs to see my face and hear my voice to believe my optimism is real. That communication also needs to happen regularly, to maintain a sense of motivation.
From April through July last year, I communicated every week with our 20,000 crew members, and since then we've continued weekly "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) sessions rotating with different members of the C-suite to lead and increase visibility with our staff. I also realized that I needed to pivot to lead with my heart versus my head to connect with what my team members, crew, guests, and stakeholders were going through.
They say a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. I think it's safe to say all of us have had our fair share of rough seas this year, and I know my team has learned new skills and become stronger for it. As we continue to weather the storms Covid brings us, I'm hopeful that my renewed focus on innovation, optimism, and, most important, people will help us look to the horizon with renewed hope.
Of course, the industry still faces challenges, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. By focusing on the light, we can see the opportunity to make a positive difference for our business.