Silversea Cruises is a leading boutique cruise line known for impeccable service, stylish ships, and an expansive port list. They travel everywhere from the warm waters around Vietnam to the icy Arctic. We sailed with them around the South China Sea and all we can say is: wow. As part of our Great Women in Travel series, we spoke with chief marketing officer Barbara Muckermann, who we've met and loved, about her career path and travel philosophy.
Tell us about your work.
I have been the chief marketing officer of Silversea Cruises since November 2016. This is my second spell at the company, having spent almost four years with the cruise line until 2005. Returning to the company a little over a decade later was like coming home: I know Silversea inside-out, and the company has played a formative role in my professional development. After working with various companies in the cruise industry, I am now applying my experience and knowledge to strengthen Silversea’s brand and enhance our offerings. I feel privileged to work for one of the most aspirational brands in the industry.
How did you end up here?
I started in the cruise industry in 1997 and have been developing my skill sets ever since. Travel has always been my passion. It’s more than just a job. I feel lucky to do what I love. I enjoy working to unlock gratifying experiences for our guests in the most remarkable places in the world. I am passionate about human experience and personal enrichment. The belief that travel connects people and different cultures is what inspires me.
What did you do before this?
My specialism has always been in marketing, travel, and luxury. I have held various positions of responsibility at different companies within these sectors, in addition to various other business ventures of my own. In 2006, I decided to continue my studies and completed an MBA at London Business School and Columbia University in New York. The experience was both challenging and rewarding, and I met inspiring individuals with whom I am still in contact. I think it’s important to continue to learn throughout life.
What was your dream job growing up?
I wanted to become an archeologist in Egypt. From a young age, my father took me there with him on many trips. Africa — and Egypt in particular — really made an impression on me. I was so enthralled with the hieroglyphs, the history, and the culture that when I was twelve that I asked for a grammar book to translate hieroglyphs for Christmas. In the end, it was not for me. I realized that I am much more hands-on and, as much as I have studied in my life, I enjoy doing more than thinking, while visiting awesome places and meeting fun fellow passengers.
What's a typical day like for you?
My days are normally very busy, but I like it this way. I am an early bird, so I wake up at the crack of dawn. I normally run in the morning or practice yoga. I then go through the news over breakfast before checking my emails. I head to the office for an invariably busy schedule of meetings and calls. I try not to finish too late, as I value a high quality of life. But, of course, this is not always possible. On my walk home, I stop at the market to buy fresh vegetables. Cooking is another passion of mine, and I find it therapeutic to cook delicious cuisine. My husband and I love healthy food; this is why we prefer to eat at home instead of eating out.
What does a good cruise experience look like?
It’s pervaded with authenticity, inspired by the visited destination, both on board and ashore. It comprises immersive, deep travel experiences, with comforts and luxuries that make it truly memorable: fine food, exceptional service, and indulgent amenities. It is inspiring, stimulating, fun, eye-opening, and bespoke. On a good cruise, you can taste the local flavors, listen to the native music, and discover the surrounding culture.
What are some of your favorite hotels/restaurants/spaces?
The most special hotel I have ever been to is the Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur. Hotels tend to become your home away from home, particularly when you travel far. For this reason, the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai holds a special place in my heart. India is one of my favorite destinations in the whole world. For restaurants, I love Il Baretto al Baglioni in Milan. Milan is also a great city for shopping and meeting friends.
How would you define good hospitality?
It may seem banal, but for me good hospitality is when one can enjoy the comforts of home in the remotest of destinations. It’s bespoke, personalized, and authentic. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simplicity will suffice, but it is the small touches — such as remembering guests’ names — that make the difference. I adore it when I am in a place and I have the opportunity to get closer to the local culture thanks to the people I meet. This is the kind of generosity I look for every time I travel. Luxury in hospitality means anticipating the needs of your guests instead of just putting everything at their disposal in very luxurious self services.
What do other cruise lines get wrong?
I do not like to comment negatively about other cruise lines, as I do not see any single one as a competitor. I see all other cruise lines as allies, who can help to sustain this beautiful industry and increase its awareness and reach. We have a common goal, and we need to move together if we want to achieve it. The cruise industry can still grow a lot, as 72 percent of our planet is covered by ocean. The cruise industry is still very small compared to the global travel industry. I really think that we are just at the beginning of the potential of the industry as a whole.
Describe a career highlight.
I am fortunate enough to have many — maybe because I have enjoyed every step of my career. One that springs to mind is when I launched Silversea’s award-winning advertising campaign with Isabella Rossellini back in 2004/2005. Not only was it a new campaign, but it was a new positioning for the brand, leveraging on Silversea’s Italian heritage. Building on what I started here before, it was about launching a brand positioning that was distinctive and differentiated compared to other cruise lines. This strategy has worked well for more than ten years, demonstrating that it was the right path. People still remember that amazing campaign.
What is most rewarding about your job?
The most rewarding part is related to people — primarily, Silversea’s guest. Meeting them, learning about them, and listening to their comments is precious to me. And our travel advisors too: I love brainstorming with them and listening to their suggestions.
How has travel influenced your work?
Travel is an essential part of my job, hence it has influenced my work a lot. I often travel, as I want to be the first one — or among the very first ones — to test our products before launching them into the market. The Couture Collection, for instance, was conceived during a business trip. I was travelling with Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s SVP of strategic development expeditions and experiences and our Indiana Jones. We were in Bhutan, testing a new itinerary and a few shore-side activities, which was amazing and immersive look into the local culture. At one point, Conrad and I were having dinner with guests — and their excitement inspired us to create a truly bespoke collection of experiences that would take guests deeper into the world’s most incredible destinations, in ultimate comfort.
What's a great place for women to travel?
The entire world. I cannot think of a place that is not worth visiting. Of course, some areas are unfortunately unsafe for women traveling alone, and it is better to be escorted by the right people. This is one of Silversea’s great successes: We have the best knowledge of a destination, so we can unlock unique experiences for all of our guests in luxury. This means that we safely enable people to see the world, in an authentic way and with the best guidance, with the characteristic comfort for which Silversea is renowned.
What's a lousy place for women to travel?
Gender should not matter. I honestly do not believe there are unappealing places in the world: There is beauty and culture and tradition in every destination. Having said that, when women travel, they should always be very aware of the very different cultures in remote areas of the world. I was surprised to find myself in remote villages in India where they had never seen a white blonde woman. All the children were trying to touch my hair.
Tell us about the first time you traveled alone.
I think I started traveling alone when I was seven or eight. Mostly to get to my father or my mother, as they were both spending lots of time abroad — I would travel with a “minor” tag from the airline. The first real adult trip without my parents was when the Berlin Wall fell. I'm a German expat, and the day the Wall started falling, a group of friends and I jumped on the first plane and spent some amazing days in a surreal atmosphere. It was one of the most memorable trips of my life. I felt close to history. It was incredible to go to the disco in West Berlin and to the opera in East Berlin in the same night. You were crossing time in a beat.
What's something you haven't been able to do in your career?
Until now, I have never been able to actually design a ship. I always marketed them, but now, finally, thanks to our RCL partnership, I am very much enjoying working on multiple prototypes. The other thing I never managed to do was prep a company for IPO. I was always fascinated by financial communication, but it just never happened.
Where do you find travel inspiration?
I find travel inspiration in every trip I take. One trip inspires the next. I travel alone, with my family, with my friends, for business reasons, and for personal reasons — and every single trip encourages me to discover new places. I am also an avid reader — this is another source of inspiration. I think that the most important thing about traveling is making sure you are traveling to some place and that you are not trying to escape from some place. I know lots of people who travel all the time but never really live the essence of any place, because they cannot be present. Traveling is different if you allow yourself to be aware of where you are.
Speed Round of Favorites: The Fathom Questionnaire
Favorite destination: India.
Dying to visit: Laos.
Bizarre travel rituals: I bring my own food whenever and wherever I can.
In-flight relaxation regimen: Ideally, a glass of good wine and a book. I eat light: This is the secret for the best in-flight experience. Reality is that I often use transit time to go through my inbox — less relaxing, but often necessary.
Always in carry-on: My Mac, an iPad loaded with television shows and books, and several magazines. I normally read the advertisements first. Sometimes I find them more interesting than the articles.
Concierge or DIY? It depends on the place. In general, I prefer DIY, but there are places in the world where it is better to travel with an escort.
See it all or take it easy? See it all, always. But without rushing. Life is not about a quick run; it’s a long marathon. Same for work. We have to remember to enjoy every single moment.
Drive or be driven? Drive. Whenever I can, I prefer to be autonomous.
Travel hero: My father. His curiosity never stopped, and he spent everything he could afford to travel.
Weirdest thing seen on travels: On one of my first long business trips alone, I spent a lot of time in the north of Malaysia. It was incredible to see how the cleaning crew from the jungle (insects and other locals) were the best possible cleaners after any meal eaten – in huts. After that, I have been able to eat absolutely anything. As my mother always told me: What does not kill you will just make you fatter.
My favorite hotels is Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur because it is feels like landing in a different century.
I dream about my meal at Trattoria da Cicciotto in Naples.
Best hotel amenity: The kimono at Hotel Okura in Tokyo.
Favorite childhood travel memory: Alexandria to Egypt. Bus trip.
Everywhere I go, I check out the markets. I love learning about local cuisine.
When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by jogging in the morning. It is a great way to see the real life of cities, particularly when you are traveling on business and don’t have any other free time in the day.
I always bring home recipes.
If I never return to a place of ignorance, it'll be too soon because the world’s variety is a source of inspiration, vitality, stimulation, and refuge.
I travel because traveling uniquely opens your mind and you discover easily that whatever color or culture, the world is all one.