20 February 2013
Hotel Director Interview: Yannis
Yannis Kazalis, the Hotel Director aboard the Norwegian Star, was one of the many individuals who made our cruise experience a uniquely memorable one.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Yannis during our a day at Costa Maya. I met Yannis in his seemingly hidden, though easily accessible office, tucked in the corner of one of the lounges aboard the Star. He welcomed me in, and, in what I've heard is typical Greek hospitality, offered me a choice of beverage to enjoy while we conversed.
Yannis is in charge of 950 of the 1050 crew members aboard the Star, so when he continually reassured me that there was no rush with the interview, I was surprised. Despite having to answer a number of phone calls (each time apologizing), he did not make me feel as if he was pressed for time. (Even though I knew he had other meetings, events, and obligations later that evening.)
At 34 years old, Yannis is the youngest Hotel Director in the company. His experience, education, and rapport with crew and guests, would lead one to believe him to have many more years under his belt than that, though. Yannis began working at 17 1/2 years, with the signature of his father. He holds a Bachelor's in Finance, a Master's Degree, and a PhD in Human Resources Management. He went through an intensive program that gave him training in all areas of hotel directing (bar, restaurant, sanitation, etc) where he spent a rotation of months learning the areas, and then months directly working and running each area. As mandatory in Greece, Yannis also served in the military where he spent a year as a petty officer in the Navy.
As an officer on the Star, Yannis works 4 months on, and 2 months off. During those 2 months, he returns to Greece where his parents and sister still reside. His parents own a small winery that he helps out with. But during these couple months off, he doesn't like to travel, as he does all that at work. He's "seen most of the world besides parts of Asia and South America." Yannis told me he misses getting his hands dirty, lighting a fireplace, and going hunting in the winter. The simple stuff. "I love driving. I love getting stuck in traffic."
During his 4 months on-board, though, Yannis goes non-stop. He told me on his typical day he wakes at 6am. He treats himself to his Greek coffee while he checks emails. Before 7am, he checks from deck 4 to 13, to inspect all the public areas for the cleanliness of the night crew. Every day is a little different after his morning routine, though all packed full with both scheduled (checking restaurants, meet and greets, various parties for VIPs guests) and unscheduled happenings.
And his least favorite part? Signing off on the stack of paperwork. He told me he never finishes before midnight. And this is 7 days a week. Naturally I asked him if he gets any time off during his days. It surprised me to hear that he's lucky if he gets a couple hours break in the afternoon. All the while he had a smile on his face while talking to me about his non-stop schedule.
“I follow and run it very simply… apart from following the company rules and regulations, it’s a very simple concept I ask them [the crew] to follow: You invite someone to your house for a weekend, you need to make sure they have good food, a clean bed to sleep, maybe you throw in a party, maybe you invite some other friends. You treat them nice and politely and that’s it.”
"You cannot run it from [a computer]. You see all of us [the officers], we're around. Out and about, as you say, because unless I speak to the guests, I cannot keep the passengers happy. Plus, when the crew sees me, talking to the guests, saying hello to the guests, interacting with the guests, they are engaged as well."
And what about competition?
“I know we have competition. I know there are ships much more luxurious than ours. But our asset is our people. The way they treat our guests is what is going to make them come back.” “Our old lady [the Star] was born in 2001, so she’s getting a little bit old. The people make the difference, and the Star, people keep coming back to the Star. We have a very good crew. I think in my 9 years at sea, it is one of the best crews I have ever worked with.”
One of the ways he keeps a positive attitude and energy with the crew is by holding special nights hosted for the crew, but served by the officers.
“It takes time and effort yes. We all have our bad days. But when you’re in this industry, you must leave this in your cabin because if I am in a bad mood, this doesn’t justify me destroying your vacation. You work hard 51 weeks, you come on a week cruise, you need to have the time of your life. I need to be professional, and learn to deal with my problem without you seeing me, and that’s it. You work hard for your money. People work hard, and they’re here to enjoy. We’re here for the people.”
But the most resounding comment Yannis made (numerous times) during our conversation?
"I have one of the best jobs in the world. For me, it's a dream."
Many thanks to NCL and Yannis for arranging this, and the other, interviews!