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FIU launches the world’s first master’s specialization in cruise line operations

by Monica Smith

Jun 13, 2022, 3:00 PM.

New M.S. in Hospitality Management: Cruise Line Operations track leverages deep ties within the cruise line industry to provide graduates with specific knowledge to manage the business side of the $23.8 billion industry.

When he thought of creating the 12-month M.S. in Hospitality Management: Cruise Line Operations track, Joseph Cilli, department chair and director of distance learning for the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, envisioned it as a “flag in the sand” to make the cruise line industry synonymous with FIU. 

“We are leveraging the university’s deep connections within the cruise industry for this first-of-its-kind specialization and we certainly have the embedded industry partners to give students real-world working knowledge,” describes Cilli. 

Despite the last two years, the cruise line industry continued its steady growth and is predicted to reach explosive levels of expansion, states Margaret Fan, global talent attraction operations manager at Royal Caribbean Group and adjunct instructor for the program.

With a full recovery predicted by mid-2023, this rapid growth poses a challenge—finding individuals steeped in specific knowledge to help run the shoreside support needed to make cruising safe and entertaining.

“The major cruise line companies are headquartered in South Florida. When people think of the cruise line industry, they should immediately think of FIU as the primary educational partner,” adds Adjunct Professor Patricia Sadar, who teaches a course in cruise line management for the Chaplin School.

Much-needed demand

The ongoing workforce shortages in the hospitality business, states Fan, have accentuated the skills gap in the cruise line industry. 

An FIU alumna, Fan, who completed her bachelor’s degree in hospitality in 2010 and her master’s degree in hospitality in 2012, appreciates the partnerships the Chaplin School has with the cruise line industry. An internship almost 10 years ago helped equip her for the role she now occupies.

 “My internship with Royal Caribbean, obtained through my program, was the catalyst for my career,” she offers as she speaks about creating enhanced guest experiences and attracting and recruiting top talent for the international cruise line market.

Cilli underscores that the program, which launches fall 2022, will be peppered with an ample number of internship opportunities, like the one Fan participated in, and discusses the full contents of the track, which reflects real-world and relevant information for what graduates will be required to know in the next years.

“The idea behind this unique degree is the creation of jobs. Having students learn in the cruise capitol of the world creates a direct pipeline to opportunities and potential positions within the industry or related fields after graduation,” said Michael Cheng, dean of the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.

What students will learn

The master’s degree track will cover human resources from a cultural perspective and the leadership requirements to manage individuals from other cultures.  The implications of maritime law regarding foreign employees and guests, as well as legal compliance issues related to public health, will also be covered.

In addition, students will learn how to understand contracts and the implications of duties. The program also centers on sustainability efforts and the cruise line industry’s effect on local destinations’ economy and the environment.

Sadar says that the sustainability course is novel and needed. Currently, the industry is working hard to reduce environmental impacts and to satisfy all needs for compliance.

Going further, Sadar reasons that when a ship leaves a port, at sea, it’s difficult if not impossible to receive supplies. With the supply chain issues worldwide, this is a great concern for cruise line operations.

“Global logistics is one of the backbones of the cruise industry. The program explores trade agreements with foreign entities, as well as the customs clearance process.  The technology involved in communication and scheduling of logistics, and the processes of provisioning a ship are explored,” expounds Sadar.

Explosive growth predicted

With more than 2,000 cruise line ports worldwide, the total number of voyagers globally is in the tens of millions and this volume requires a finite number of specific skills to orchestrate the success of each cruise.

“There is a big learning curve—it can take several years for a professional to understand the complexity of the cruise industry, which features so many different components beyond what hotels and restaurants require,” explains Fan who details the visa requirements of crew members, the logistics needed for supplies and the vendors and partnerships on shore for excursions, to name a few areas.

Every cruise line operates under the same external forces and pressures, which is why Fan stresses the need for the track.

Sadar agrees and says the curricula included will prepare qualified individuals for a career focused on their field of study rather than general education. It also provides an opportunity for current cruise line employees to further their education and prepare them for the next level of management. Moreover, she highlights that the program, delivered 100 percent online, will help streamline knowledge as the industry expands worldwide.

“With the global expansion of the cruise industry, our online program allows us to attract students from all over the world while using our location as the backdrop for our online courses,” says Sadar.

Expansion isn’t stopping

According to industry reports, China is the fastest-growing cruise market in the world and is expected to be the largest by 2030. There are 12 new departure ports and up to three new home ports slated for construction in China. Pre-COVID, it was projected that the Chinese cruise line market would host roughly eight to 10 million guests a year. 

But this kind of growth is nothing new to South Florida or FIU, states Cilli. He notes the longstanding partnerships the Chaplin School has with Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean. 

The Chaplin School’s location is strategic. Florida is home to PortMiami, the No. 1 busiest cruise port in the U.S. More than 6.8 million passengers traveled through PortMiami in 2019, and the port is also home to 20 cruise lines berthing 55 ships. After PortMiami, Port Canaveral, No. 2, is home to 47 vessels. Port Everglades, No. 3, is home to 41 vessels.

Jobs in the cruise line industry are plentiful

Even with the effects of the pandemic, in 2021, 28 new ships launched, and more than 17 new ships are on order to launch in 2022 and 2023. Experts indicate that pandemic-induced, pent-up demand for cruise line travel will propel the industry to new heights in the years to come.

FIU is in a unique position to offer real-time information and current case studies to instruct students on the most salient aspects of cruise line travel and operations today, affirms Cilli, who lists the vast range of positions that need to be filled in ports, headquarter offices, in travel agencies and in many other locations, aside from those onboard ships.

“The M.S. in Hospitality Management: Cruise Line Operations track takes this vast range of managerial pathways into consideration to prepare graduates for immediate application of their skills,” Cilli points out.

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