Royal Caribbean’s Ginea Wilson Cruises to Success
Ginea Wilson remembers the exact moment she fell in love with the Berry Islands and knew she would accept a job that was never even close to her radar.
“We were heading over to the island on the boat. It was the most beautiful sunset, everything around was just sparkling, it took your breath away. The water and sky were so blue you could not tell where the water ended and the sky began.”
That was 15 years ago. Today, Wilson, who recalls that introduction to CocoCay as vividly as if it just happened, is manager of the island that is a popular destination for the world’s largest global cruise line, Royal Caribbean. She oversees a staff of 116 and maintains one of the most demanding positions in the hospitality industry – satisfying up to 20,000 guests a week whose pleasure depends on many variables outside her control, including the weather, and many that only she and her staff can manage.
“We handle everything from logistics to tours to staffing needs to security,” said Wilson. “Every day, every incident is unique. You can be handling a major HR (human resources) issue one minute and worry about keeping the birds away from the buffet line the next.”
Like other managers in different positions on the island, Wilson is concerned that the public is unaware of the high-ranking roles Bahamians play in RCL’s private island operation or how important it is to the local economy.
“Over fifty percent of the managers on the island, including top management, are Bahamian,” said Wilson. “People also do not understand how many jobs the operation of this island creates – water taxis, glass bottom boats, straw vendors, parasailing, Customs, Immigration. CocoCay is a very significant revenue generator for the communities of Great Harbour Cay and Bullock’s Harbour. And we are all so proud to showcase our country’s beautiful islands to the guests of Royal Caribbean that come from all over the world.”
RCL’s connection with CocoCay is historic.
“CocoCay was one of the first private island destinations for the cruise industry anywhere in the world,” explained Russell Benford, Vice President, Government Relations, Americas. “That was 40 years ago and since then, the model has changed somewhat but the principle remains the same. There is a sense of adventure satisfying the desire for a fantasy island experience and from all the guest comments we receive, CocoCay continues to be among their favourite destinations.”
RCL is investing $200 million to expand the island’s offerings, creating the first Perfect Day Island experience. Along with a thrilling water park and activities like ziplining, the cruise line is building a new pier to handle the world’s largest ships capable of carrying 6,000 guests plus crew.
“During the 2019-2020 season, we aim to increase the total number of guests we bring to The Bahamas from 1.2 million to 1.75 million,” said Benford.
For Wilson, the higher numbers will be all in a day’s work.
“When you are on an island, you play every role – you are counselor, teacher and preacher in addition to the job you have to perform,” says Wilson. “It is not like telling someone to go down the street and see an expert.” Wilson trained for the work load without realizing it. She grew up in Nassau, her father the highly-respected Permanent Secretary Mark Wilson, her mother a nurse and midwife who somehow also found time to bake cakes for weddings and special occasions. By the time she was 8, Ginea was stirring the mix for her mom’s homemade cakes and the act stirred something in her. She liked the activity of it, but beyond that there was a thought forming, that if you got the scientific reasoning down pat for a mix, you could adapt that formula to any flavor you wanted. Her childhood experimentation in the kitchen turned into a fascination with culinary arts. She attended Bahamas Hotel Training College, did her undergrad work at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and in 2003, with several work stints abroad and consulting contracts in between, earned a Master’s degree in hospitality management. It was as she was graduating from FIU that the cruise industry was conducting a talent search in conjunction with her university department. A professor urged her to attend the presentation. She resisted, but caved in only because he said at least she would help them make up the numbers to avoid the school disappointing the people making the presentation.
By the time her interest was piqued and she agreed to at least see the private island Royal Caribbean ran in The Bahamas she said she felt like she was swept away.
“I felt like Jonah and the whale,” she said. And just like the biblical tale, the story had a happy ending. Wilson signed on as a consultant, initially writing policy to standardize practices in The Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti, where RCL manages another private island destination. She moved up every time there was a vacancy until she hit the top where she is today and has been for the past nine years.
It is harder these days with a 4-year-old at home in Nassau. Sometimes she is gone for three weeks at a time. But she loves the continuing challenges.
“When the guests leave the island, that’s when the real work begins, it’s 24/7, the show must go on, she says. She likes the never-ending change and co-workers like working with her.
“She understands team work, she gets the culture, she knows the people,” says Assistant Island Manager Hubert Rolle. “She’s good, real go