Having taken his first job on a cruise ship after graduating from Dorset Institute of Higher Education with an HND in Tourism, Michael Bayley has gone to become President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, the largest global cruise line.

Speaking from the company’s Miami headquarters, just weeks after Royal Caribbean launched the world’s biggest cruise ship ‘Icon of the Seas’, Michael reflects that his career was set at an early stage. He said: “My first cruise experience was checking in guests on a trip around the Caribbean in the early 1980s. Here I was, this kid from Cardiff, sailing through clear blue waters on this beautiful ship and enjoying every moment. I recall flying back to England for my first break from the job, and landing in London on a cold grey day, surrounded by people also dressed in grey. I looked down at my white trousers and pink shirt, looking as if I’d just stepped off the ship, and remember thinking that I wouldn’t ever be coming home for good!”

Michael has spent much of his 40-year career with Royal Caribbean (minus a stint as Vice President of Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas), taking on roles in guest satisfaction, fleet and hotel operations, onboard revenue and crew leadership. He said: “I have always loved what I do, and as the industry and company have grown, I have made the most of the opportunities. I have developed as a leader and had to navigate some challenges along the way, but my passion remains to support our crew and deliver the best possible guest experience.”

While Michael acknowledges that the cruise industry has been affected by every possible geo-political event over the years, the Covid pandemic had an unprecedented impact. He said: “It was devastating and humbling. Suddenly, we had crews stuck at sea because governments closed their ports and wouldn’t let anybody in. It made you realise the importance of building relationships to open doors. When you are up against it, you don’t want to be reaching out for the first time and asking for support.”

Happily, the industry has bounced back post-Covid and seems to be attracting a more diverse audience. And although Icon of the Seas was seven years in the planning, Michael feels it’s a different ship because of the past few years. He said: “We wanted to go out with something optimistic, unapologetically bright and colourful, and people are loving it. While technology is changing so much around us, at the heart of every memorable holiday is that opportunity to connect with your loved ones through shared experiences. That’s what we are offering through Icon and our other cruises.”

Looking back on his time in Bournemouth, Michael has fond memories of living in student accommodation in Boscombe, drinking in the Seagull pub and playing (and winning) a lot of badminton matches. He also valued the opportunities to study with those from different countries. He said: “The student body was multicultural, and I loved that. It helped me to learn early on how to work alongside people from different cultures, get the best out of one another, and to respect differences, which is so important in the tourism industry.”

His parting advice to today’s graduates is to “find a job you love, and which gives you energy, and go and be tenacious and great at it!”