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Win in Your Marketplace By Making Strategic Decisions


I like to learn from others’ mistakes so I don’t have to make them myself. Even better is to learn from a fellow CEO’s success, especially when the story of success looked like a failure at first glance.

Cindy D’Aoust, president of American Queen Voyages, has an interesting situation playing out right now on the Great Lakes, an example of strategic decision making that we all can learn from.

Ocean cruising has become so popular that some cruise lines have expanded into the Great Lakes market too. One company, American Queen Voyages, which began cruising the Great Lakes in 2021, says they will pull the plug after the 2023 season. Despite high guest satisfaction scores, the company isn’t able to hit the right profit numbers and will put its two Great Lakes vessels, the Navigator and Voyager, up for sale in the offseason.

What I find interesting is the decision making process D’Aoust used to choose vacating the Great Lakes when she discovered it was too costly to continue operations.

“Guest satisfaction was very high, but ultimately the cost to lay the vessels up for a six month sailing season outweighed the benefits of a very short seasonal routine,” she said. Well-known competitor, Viking Cruise Line, will be able to fill the void since they won’t have to lay up. Their ships are suited to reposition to warmer climates for the six months when it’s too cold to sail the Great Lakes. They continue to gain revenue from their ships year round. Being smaller than Viking, American Queen found it a tough year to come into the market lacking the deep branding Viking enjoyed.

Do Homework Before Deciding

D’Aoust has been on the job as president of the company for less than a year. She did her homework before making the strategic decision to pull out of the Great Lakes market. The pivot followed a six month listening tour D’Aoust took after becoming president. She spent her research time sailing on the ships and combing through feedback from guests and travel partners.

According to industry sources, D’Aoust characterizes the pivot as an evolution. While they call it quits in the Great Lakes market, they will refocus the brand more closely on its popular coastal cruising operations which include “experiential cruises.” It will continue to sail the expedition ship Ocean Victor in Alaska. On tap is a salmon festival sailing in the Pacific Northwest that combines fishing excursions with guests helping to prepare fresh caught salmon on board.

So what can we learn from D’Aoust’s process?

1. Think strategically. That means decide what you shouldn’t be doing as much as what you should. What market niche(s) should you own and which should you bail from?

2. Study the data. D’Aoust spent six months combing through information that was available to her—comments from guests, travel agents, and industry experts. Plus she spent time sailing on the ships themselves. There’s no substitute for first hand, unfiltered knowledge.

3. Make the tough decision. No second-guessing. When you’ve done your homework, it’s time to act on it. Be logical by studying the numbers and not “hoping for a miracle” to change the situation. Bite the bullet and decide.

4. Face the music. Once the decision is made, the consequences have to be faced. Buyers for the ships have to be located. Customers’ deposits have to be refunded. Stakeholders have to be appeased or enlightened as to why the decision makes sense.

5. Move on. Once the decision is made and the corrective actions are put in place, it’s time to go to Plan B. It’s important to know what market segment you should be serving and dig in. In D’Aoust’s case, she had the west coast sailings to focus on and stabilize.

These five points will work anytime you are facing a tough decision to change what isn’t working and try something else that has a better chance of success. I hope you can put these ideas to use running your business. We have lots more Fresh Ideas like this in our blog archive.

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Alan Bagg, President, Corporate Images

Alan’s business solutions focus has consistently earned his clients increased sales, profit growth, and a stronger brand. Reach him at 262-633-7772 or email him at