We meet some people, who we connect with instantly. One such person was Ms. Melania Parmisari. I met her at Cornell University where we did two Professional Development Programs. She came across as a great professional and a warm human being. She has been in the cruise industry for over two decades and has travelled the world, knowing a lot about different cultures and human nature as such, I was really impressed with her thoughts and vision. Also her leadership style. I thought she could be an inspiration and a mentor for people specially women who aspire to build a career in the cruise line industry. When I got in touch with Melania for an interview for the IWH, she said, “I am very glad to share my experience and opinions hoping that other women may find some of this useful and be of benefit in their path to continued success”. IWH in conversation with Ms. Parmisari, General Manager, Princess Cruises ship, the lady who believes in ‘Carpe Diem’ and ‘Never Giving Up’!
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Melania: I was born and raised in a small town in Northern Italy, close to the Swiss border in a touristic area where it was normal to deal with people from different countries, in our case mostly from Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. I have always been fascinated by travelling and thrilled at the opportunity of meeting people, which led me to major in foreign languages and eventually to graduate from the Milan’s college for Interpreters and Translators. As a student I took up several jobs around Europe, to improve my language knowledge whilst earning some money and enjoying meeting people. My first “real” job was as a translator in an office in Milan, but I knew this was not my thing; through some connections I had forged whilst working as a tour guide in Germany I eventually landed my first job on a cruise ship, doing river cruises in Europe, where I definitely fell in love with the hospitality business whilst fulfilling my dream of traveling and meeting people.
IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
Melania: My first interest was actually tourism in a broader sense, which is however very closely connected to the Hospitality industry as such. I have always been dreaming of traveling and meeting people, and a profession that would allow me to combine both was my ultimate goal. As a student I worked summer jobs as a group leader and tour guide, and had the fortune of forging good relationship with the various business partners which opened my eyes to opportunities as well as eventually the one right door which allowed me to board my very first ship back in 1989. It was a small ship so I worked together with each and every other crew member, soon coming to appreciate how important everyone’s role is in achieving success. I was 21 at the time and I had not planned a career at all, but after the first year when I served as a Social Hostess I was promoted to Assistant Purser and this was the boost I needed, I never looked back!
I should also add that as a kid we used to watch the “Love Boat” series on TV and as a girl I was dreaming of becoming another “Julie”, the Cruise Director. Well… many years later I actually worked on the original Love Boat – the Pacific Princess – it was a dream come true!
IWH: What is your current role?
Melania: I am the Hotel General Manager on one of the ships from Princess Cruises. My role is similar to that of a land based Hotel Director, with a few basic differences: Contracts with partners, suppliers etc, Hiring Process, prices and products are decided at Corporate level shoreside with little to no input from onboard management, though our feedback is always appreciated when dealing with situations. Plus, our guests are with us 24/7 when the ship is at sea and most of the day when in port. We have thus a very close, prolonged contact with them and can develop good, personal relationships, whilst having to cater to all their needs at all times.
IWH: How has your hospitality journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Melania: I have always been passionate about what I believe in and what I do, both at a personal and a professional level, and I consider myself a positive person, looking forward rather than looking back. For this reason, I would not change anything that I have done in my life, no regrets, with lots of lessons learnt Inevitably, not everything is perfect, but every challenge is there to be analyzed and overcome, at the end of the day there will always be something positive to appreciate at the end of the day. I believe the hospitality industry offers endless opportunities, but always requires sacrifice. This journey must be a choice, if you are looking for a job just to make a living, this is not the way to go. You will be working when everyone else is off, weekends, holidays… this has never been a problem for me, but I have seen lots of people, both males and females give up because of these schedules. It is not for everyone, and each and every person must honestly look at herself or himself and see what she/he really wants. Passion must be there, and the rewards will come.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Melania: I have been fortunate to have been appreciated for my work ethics and results and for the hard work I have put into every task. Once on board each of us becomes part of an extended, international family as we spend all our time together, whether on or off duty. The one person I have in particular to thank for the opportunities at Princess Cruises has been the now retired Master Chef, Alfredo Marzi. He taught me so much from shipboard life, they dynamics and – yes, even the politics! when I was totally “green” and had no idea what I would be facing. He accompanies me through the years, from my beginnings as a “Junior Assistant Purser” to where I am today. He has been a mentor and has become a friends, I will always have to thank him for being there in such a positive way, always full of energy.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Melania: Personally, I consider every day a success because there is always something good in each day. Each of my promotions over the years has been for me a highlight, being the first female promoted to the position of F&B Director in the company was most certainly a highlight and an encouragement for others; the same applies to being the first Italian female being promoted to Hotel General Manager in the company (and I am still the only one, so more work to be done here…). Another highlight for me was being the HGM on the Sapphire Princess, introducing our ships and product to the Chinese market a few years back. And on a more personal level, a few years ago I actually met Gavin McLeod, the “Captain Stubing” of the Love Boat. I told him he was the reason I was where I was today!
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Melania: Thankfully in today’s world things have developed in a positive way. It sadly remains predominantly a men’s world, but in my 25+ years in the industry I have most definitely seen many huge steps forward, and the younger generations have more open doors than we used to, or at least have more opportunities to open these doors than we had. I never actually experienced a personal hurdle because I am a woman, yet, it was very clear that we had to work much harder to prove ourselves, and women in higher ranks at the time were just a few. I actually felt that my own promotion at a certain time was held back because of being a woman, and also of being of a certain nationality that at the time also had to prove worthy. The best thing about the cruise industry is its being so international, which at times however it can also be its biggest challenge. The main problem was certain higher ranks trying to live by the “we’ve always been doing this” philosophy, but again, thankfully we have moved slowly away from this. I have always been a fighter, and never been shy of expressing my opinions, factually and politely, even to those above me and even when not in agreement. This has gained me their respect and opened more doors. At the very beginning of my seagoing career I was not happy with the hierarchy and with the superior attitude of some senior Officers, who appeared to judge the new hires simply by looking at us and seeing a gender and/or a nationality. I was thinking of resigning, but then I listened to the advice of a colleague who had been with the company for a few years – in the same rank I was at the time – and gave myself and the company another chance. I am happy to be able to tell this story now, over twenty years later, and I like to tell this story to my new hires to encourage them to never give up.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Melania: As I said before, I have no regrets; I believe that you cannot have everything in life and things happen for a reason, I am very grateful for the many things I have experienced and enjoyed, the experiences I have made and the lessons I have learned. I feel very privileged to have traveled the world and met many fantastic people over the years, and to count them as dear friends.
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
Melania: I only know little about this platform, but what I have seen looks very encouraging. And I believe that anything that supports and encourages development for women deserves praise and support itself. My best wishes to IWH, keep doing the good work and keep bringing out inspirational stories.
IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students.
Melania: Carpe Diem, follow your heart, believe in your dreams and do not give up.