As I concluded my last blog, I challenged all of us to use travel to inspire inclusion and make way for change. After all, the year that travel stood still has made me reflect on the wonder of it. On the lessons that travel teaches about how others live—and about who we are, and who we can be.

For those of us with wanderlust, there’s nothing else like traveling. So many of the people I’ve worked with in this industry are fellow travelers. What better way to understand how travel celebrates inclusion and diversity than to share their perspectives too.

Because access for everyone is everything

In this spirit, I’m pleased to introduce you to Martha Poulter, CIO of Royal Caribbean Group. Martha lives and breathes technology every day, developing innovative ways to use it to transform customer and employee experiences on ship and shore.

Her views reveal something compelling about technology and inclusion. Both are fundamentally about learning and improving access. This convergence of themes opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about technology in travel.

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Meet Martha Poulter

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Lessons in living differently—from a baby chick

Martha learned about the power of travel from a young age. Her family emigrated from Colombia to the United States when she was two years old. During her childhood, they often took trips back there to visit family and friends.

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Caption: Martha during her first trip back to Colombia as a five year old

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“I can remember the kids in school asking me if people wore clothes in Colombia,” she recalls. This naïve curiosity is expected from children. But it makes a larger point. When we don’t know about something—when we haven’t seen it for ourselves or experienced it directly—our imagination runs wild. This can lead to misunderstanding and intolerance. “When you travel, the learning takes the mystery out of things. You not only learn about the difference with people and places. You see the similarities too.”

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Caption: Martha and her Mum during a visit to Bogotá

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Martha had one of these learning experiences that still stays with her today. At a birthday party the summer she and her family spent in Guatemala, all of the children were given a baby chick as a party favor. While this was a “mysterious” first for Martha, she learned it was quite common in Guatemala City.

You can find the word “us” in cruising

As a technology leader, Martha understands technology as not just an enabler, but as an equalizer and demystifier. “Technology has equalized access to information even in the poorest parts of the world.”

She draws an interesting parallel between this kind of access and what cruising offers guests. “Cruising is a wonderful way for people to get exposure to new destinations,” she explains. “It is a highly-curated experience that sets up a common framework.” This makes cruising ideal for people who want to see the world, but may have a little less risk tolerance for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel.

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Caption: Martha enjoying a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas with her husband and two children

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What I find fascinating is that cruisers value I&D even more than airline customers or lodging guests do. In a survey we conducted prior to the pandemic, more than three in five say it’s key for cruise companies to share their I&D values and that it’s important to book with a company committed to I&D practices1.

Where technology and humanity meet

Equally fascinating is how thoughtful Martha and her team are in their consideration of the relationship between technology and the cruising experience. The days when guests expected to unplug on a cruise are long over. “We have pervasive internet access for our guests and for ship operations.”

Because technology fuels data insights, it can transform the cruising experience in countless ways. It’s the means to the end of those smile-inducing moments when your favorite chocolate magically appears on your pillow at night. And it puts information at your fingertips so you get the most out of an excursion.

As Martha sees it, though, there is a fine line between access and distraction from both a guest and an employee perspective. “We don’t want people connecting with guests with their faces buried in their phones.” I think this is such an important point, especially in hospitality. And it’s why Martha puts so much emphasis on using technology to better human-to-human connection, not replace it.

Looking back, and paying it forward

As a female CIO of a travel company, Martha is a testament to how far the cruise industry has come in getting women into leadership roles. She participates in a women’s CIO group that’s 200 members strong—a far cry from her college days in engineering classes where she was only a handful of women. Back then, she wasn’t focused on breaking barriers, she was simply pursuing her interests.

Years later when Martha didn’t get recommended for her first CIO job, her eyes were opened to implicit biases about women leaders. “My boss hadn’t seen me in action and the hard decisions I was making every day,” she explains. This experience fuels her passion for a mentoring program at Royal Caribbean where mentors and mentees interact in work-relevant ways, not simply for coffee and conversation. “I personally believe that it’s hard for someone to support you unless they see you in action.”

Seeing the world for yourself

Thanks to Martha for reminding me of the power of seeing things for yourself—of replacing mystery with knowledge, and sometimes, a bit of magic. It’s the kind of all-access learning that we can get through technology. And when we travel.

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References
1. Accenture, “The Travel Industry’s Best Amenity? Diversity

 

Emily Weiss

Managing Director – Global Industry Sector Lead Travel

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