EX­EC­U­TIVE SPOT­LIGHT

From Botswana’s beasts to Cam­bo­dian school chil­dren, AmaWater­ways’ co­founder and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Kristin Karst lets pas­sion be her guide.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What’s Inside... - By Bob Cooper

With river cruis­ing in her veins, AmaWater­ways’ co­founder and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Kristin Karst lets pas­sion be her guide. Bob Cooper

Kristin Karst spent her honey­moon in 2011 on a lux­ury river­boat cruise through Botswana’s Chobe Na­tional Park, which sounds won­drous un­til you find out that she spends nearly ev­ery wak­ing year-round hour plan­ning, pro­mot­ing, and tak­ing river cruises world­wide as ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and co-owner of AmaWater­ways. But it was won­drous, she in­sists, be­cause she’s as much in love with river cruis­ing as she is with hus­band Rudi Schreiner, who co­founded the line with her in 2002.

On the last night of the cruise, the cou­ple dined with a co-owner of the Zam­bezi Queen, which kicked off a con­ver­sa­tion that even­tu­ally led to AmaWater­ways leas­ing the small ship for its first African cruises. “We watched the sun­set, saw all these an­i­mals com­ing down to the river, and knew we wanted to take it on,” she re­calls, “so we started work­ing out the deal that night.

“We watched the sun­set, saw all these an­i­mals com­ing down to the river, and knew we wanted to take it on.”

It was not the first time the cou­ple have paired work and plea­sure. They do so con­stantly, dat­ing back to when they were col­leagues with a ri­val river­cruise line in 1999. To­day, Karst over­sees sales, mar­ket­ing, and busi­ness devel­op­ment for AmaWater­ways, which hosts 28 itineraries on 15 ships on 12 rivers in 18 coun­tries. Schreiner is the com­pany pres­i­dent, or as Karst puts it, “He builds the ships and I fill them.”

Women are un­der­rep­re­sented at the ex­ec­u­tive level in the travel in­dus­try — es­pe­cially cruise travel — so Karst stands out. But it’s never been a prob­lem, she says, be­cause she’s earned the re­spect of in­dus­try peers. “It’s ac­tu­ally an ad­van­tage, be­cause as a woman I’m per­haps a bit more de­tai­lo­ri­ented and sen­si­tive to the cus­tomer’s needs.” She notes that women are usu­ally the pri­mary travel de­ci­sion-mak­ers, which adds value to her in­put.

Bikes and Choco­late Cruises

Ideas that Karst has im­ple­mented can be seen from bow to stern: a color scheme and art­work that she calls “warm and cozy;” free WiFi and “in­fo­tain­ment” flat-screens in cab­ins; open seat­ing for meals (“as a con­ver­sa­tion-starter”); meals pre­pared from fresh in­gre­di­ents pur­chased at river­side mar­kets; and com­pli­men­tary wine, postcards, and stamps.

Karst may be proud­est of putting bikes on most AmaWater­ways ships, which guests ride on guided tours or pedal to the next town, where they then re-board the ship. Along with on­board spas, fit­ness cen­ters, and walk­ing groups, the bikes are part of her push to keep cruise pas­sen­gers ac­tive, which she be­lieves is key to a re­ward­ing cruise ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The av­er­age age of our pas­sen­gers has dropped from over 70 to un­der 60 as we’ve tried to make river cruis­ing

Most pas­sen­gers on AmaWater­ways’ “Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia and the Riches of the Mekong” cruise now visit the vil­lage school dur­ing their time in Cam­bo­dia.

more ac­tive,” she says. “I’m think­ing of adding yoga classes next.” Yoga, swim­ming, ten­nis, and ski­ing are all cur­rently en­joyed by Karst, who was a com­pet­i­tive gym­nast and moun­tain climber when she was younger.

Through the Iron Cur­tain

Grow­ing up in Dres­den when East Ger­mans were not al­lowed to travel west didn’t stop Karst from ven­tur­ing where she could go. “I think those lim­its fu­eled my de­sire to travel,” she says. “My mom was a for­eign lan­guage teacher [Karst now speaks five lan­guages] who took me ev­ery sum­mer to Rus­sia, where she worked on a river cruise on the Volga. I loved ev­ery mo­ment.” Day cruises up the Elbe from Dres­den to the Elbe Sand­stone Moun­tains in a pad­dle steamer on fam­ily hik­ing trips also gave her an early taste of river cruis­ing.

For­tu­itously, the Ber­lin Wall fell and the Iron Cur­tain parted in 1989, the same year that Karst grad­u­ated with an MBA in the Eco­nomics of Tourism from the Univer­sity of Dres­den. She im­me­di­ately be­gan tour­ing West­ern Europe’s great cities and rivers. “Sud­denly the whole world was open to me, so I headed off to a dif­fer­ent Euro­pean cap­i­tal ev­ery week­end,” she says.

When Karst cruises now, it’s still fun even though it’s work. “I cruise five or six times a year on our own ships — meet­ing with man­agers and crew and spend­ing ev­ery meal with pas­sen­gers.” It was on a trip in 2010, af­ter AmaWater­ways launched its Mekong River cruise, that Karst chat­ted with the founders of a vil­lage or­phan­age, who pro­posed that the line build a des­per­ately needed school in the nearby vil­lage of Ban­teay Srei.

Back to School

“Classes were held un­der raised houses, with boards serv­ing as both seats and desks, and no walls to keep the kids warm and dry,” she says. “We knew that some­thing had to be done.” Six months later the ODA Free Vil­lage English School opened, with English now taught to about 100 kids daily. That im­proves the odds they will even­tu­ally go to a univer­sity or be­come English-speak­ing guides for Angkor Wat tourists.

“All chil­dren are wel­come and they bring younger sib­lings, so we’ve added a kinder­garten,” says Karst. “The teach­ers have the chil­dren singing, danc­ing, learn­ing English, and learn­ing about the world, which will hope­fully give them a bet­ter life. Dur­ing the mon­soon, they walk up to five miles through the heavy rain to the school. They are so ea­ger!”

Most pas­sen­gers on AmaWater­ways’ “Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia and the Riches of the Mekong” cruise now visit the vil­lage school dur­ing their time in Cam­bo­dia. Pas­sen­gers are en­cour­aged to do­nate school sup­plies and sto­ry­books and many are also in­spired to make tax-de­ductible dona­tions af­ter re­turn­ing home.

“I would like to build sim­i­lar schools else­where in the world be­cause there is so much need,” says Karst. Even more than the rest of her work, she says she finds a spe­cial joy in pro­mot­ing the school and or­phan­age.

“As they say: ‘ Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.’”

AMACELL0 IN PAS­SAU, GER­MANY

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