Giving cruise guests what they want, when they want it

Delivering shore excursions to the luxury traveller requires flexibility, detailed planning and attention to detail. Susan Parker speaks with the CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Giving cruise guests what they want, when they want it
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s first vessel will boast luxury interiors, such as the View Suite

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

There is one word that comes to Douglas Prothero’s mind when it comes to the brand value of The Ritz-Carlton and that is trust. “I spend a lot of time with luxury buyers and that’s the word that comes up time and time again,” he says. “People trust that the brand is going to deliver a certain standard of service and quality.”  

From the beginning, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection had a pretty good sense that the design of its first cruise yacht would be compelling for its guests and Prothero is clearly delighted that it’s turning out to be “beyond our wildest expectations”.

Itineraries and shore excursions are a vital ingredient to the brand’s offering. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is in the happy position of having feet on the ground in many of the places it will be visiting. “Marriott has luxury property in many of our port calls, meaning we already have a concierge team who knows the region,” says Prothero. 

While having a Ritz-Carlton property in a port of call is not the primary itinerary driver, it does have distinct advantages. “We build a great itinerary first but it helps when we have a hotel in a port of call because we already know how our guests want to experience the destination – a lot of people on our cruises will be the same kind of travellers as those staying in Marriott Luxury hotels,” explains Prothero. “For example, The Ritz-Carlton has a resort in Grand Cayman, so we’re developing a 10-day vacation experience, which encompasses five days at the resort and five days at sea. Similar possibilities are being considered in a couple of destinations in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.”

Elsewhere, the cruise line is teaming up with local destination partners who are connected to luxury travellers in a particular port of call. “If, for example, we wanted to visit Bequia, we would never choose a partner who covers all of the Caribbean,” comments Prothero. “We’d want to talk to somebody who lives (or lived) there, or someone who helps curate Bequia experiences for luxury travellers.” 

Working with local partners will also help The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection to provide experienced and affluent travellers with new and unique ways of enjoying well-known destinations that they may have visited before. 

“We have to offer extraordinary experiences, but they don’t have to cost a great deal of money because people are collecting memories, not things,” says Prothero. “From my days in adventure cruising I know that the challenge is finding people who have local knowledge. You have to figure out what the locals do with their leisure time and find the people who know unique ways of doing popular activities, or those who know of excursion possibilities that nobody else is offering.”

Making something iconic from something usual is part of the job. “For example, someone may want to go to a museum, but we need to make sure that we can give them a special experience at that property,” explains Prothero, adding that his team must also be prepared to accommodate off-the-chart requests from affluent passengers who expect the best. “We might get a passenger who says they want to ski on a glacier in the morning and then take a helicopter flight to a beach in the afternoon. That’s the type of customer we must accommodate. The great thing for us is that not only do we have cruise industry partners, but we also have such an extensive network of Marriott Luxury brands hotels, so we’re able to cover a lot of territory. That gives us a pretty big head start.” 

To ensure success and keep guests coming back, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection must deliver on its luxurious promises. “We monitor every process – from reservation to embarkation and beyond – very closely to ensure that people are being cared for in the way we want them to be,” says Prothero. “We even stage the arrival process – we’ve designed the security scanner to look like a wooden pillar to improve the aesthetic appeal of the yacht’s arrival area. Plus, our arrival desks are lower and more subtle, and the guests immediately pass straight into what we call the Living Room. The whole thing is designed to make it feel as though guests have arrived at a boutique hotel.” 

Arrivals will also be staggered to enhance the experience. “For example, all guests flying into St Lucia and Barbados will be on the same three planes, so we’re working to create onshore experiences that can be made available to guests so we can stagger their arrival to the yacht,” comments Prothero. “Even when circumstances force us to have 100 guests arriving at once, we’ll have a strategy to make sure that is swift and smooth.” 

This is where digital technology will help. “We’ll make sure guests can do as much of it as possible before they arrive, so they don’t need to stand in long lines,” Prothero explains. “All they will need to do is show their ID and go through a security check upon arrival. We’ll also provide a baggage handling service from when they leave home if they want.”

During port calls, guests will be able to use private cars that are tailored to their needs – whether they want a sprinter, an off-road vehicle for dirt roads or a luxury-branded car in London. “We want to deliver what they want, when they want it,” notes Prothero.  

To achieve this, the cruise line needs a large team of personnel proportional to the number of passengers. “It needs the right partnerships,” says Prothero. “Every country that we cruise to has a Marriott Luxury sales and marketing operations team, so there is already infrastructure in place. We have resources that we can draw from. We love what we are doing because we are bringing the brand to sea and we are showcasing the flag in places it’s never going to go otherwise.” 

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
Friday, April 26, 2019