Remaining competitive in a fast-growing industry

Rebecca Gibson invites cruise line executives to share their key priorities and provide insights into what makes their ships and brands so successful

Remaining competitive in a fast-growing industry
AmaWaterways' guests can opt to sail along a stretch of the Danube, or race their ship on the line's bicycles
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Tell us how you keep your fleet fresh.
Mike Rodwell, managing director at Fred. Olsen Cruise Line: We’re proud of our classic, intimate ships and our award-winning customer service and onboard experience. However, we must continually invest in our fleet to give our loyal and future guests the best possible holiday experience. We’ve recently improved areas onboard all four ships, creating new ‘chill out’ areas, refurbishing cabins and bathrooms, and adding the popular Bookmark Café and The Grill, a new high-end seafood and steak restaurant. Our two smallest ships, Black Watch and Boudicca, have been fitted with 40% more Terrace Balcony cabins and we hope to further increase balcony accommodation in future. We’ve also repainted the ships’ hulls grey with a red stripe in a nod to Fred. Olsen’s cruising heritage. In addition, we’re upgrading the wifi service across the fleet.

Richard Meadows, president of Seabourn Cruise Line: As a leader in the ultra-luxury cruise market, it is important for us to continually provide various new amenities and services to invigorate our product and enhance the guest experience. We keep a close eye on consumer trends and will feature new offerings to meet market needs. We explore many areas where we can invest in our product, from onboard amenities to shore excursions. For example, we have added Penthouse Spa Suites to all three ships to cater for the many guests who had expressed a desire to incorporate a more complete spa vacation experience into their cruises. We’re also launching Seabourn Encore, this December.

Rudi Schreiner, president and co-owner of AmaWaterways: We keep our river cruise ships for around ten seasons before replacing them with newbuilds, but as we only sail on Europe’s rivers for up to ten months per year, this gives us ample time to ensure older vessels look fresh for each new season. We take an inventory of what needs to be upgraded or replaced and although the work varies across the fleet, it tends to be minor enhancements such as reupholstering furniture, replacing carpets or redecorating interiors. Our infotainment system is upgraded every three years. We also tend to build a couple of additional vessels every year – in 2016 we’ll launch AmaStella and AmaViola and we’ve also got ships under construction for 2017.

Jean-Emmanuel Sauvée, CEO and co-founder Ponant: In addition to Le Ponant, our three-mast flagship, we have four modern cruise yachts fitted with advanced onboard technology. Le Boréal, L’Austral, Le Soléal and Le Lyrial debuted in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015 respectively. The first three of these elegant yachts have 132 suites and cabins, offering passengers the comfort and services of a five-star hotel, while on the most recent, Le Lyrial, the design for the top deck was altered to create more spacious suites so she has 122 cabins and suites. In compliance with International Association of Classification Societies guidance, each vessel is drydocked every two years. As all our vessels are very new, we have no refurbishments planned for the near future.

What’s top of your list when it comes to enhancing the guest experience?
Rodwell: In line with Fred. Olsen’s ‘Bringing the world closer to you’ aim, we work with our destination partners worldwide to create more than 100 new itineraries each season, providing guests with more regional departures that take them closer to destinations. A growing number of our itineraries take guests along rivers, narrow sea passages and waterways, such as the Strait of Magellan in Chile and Norway’s Nærøyfjord. We also aim to give guests once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to attend events like Brazil’s Rio Carnival and the Monaco Grand Prix. We have up to 60% repeat guests on many cruises and we attract a lot of first-time guests. For example, 80% of the passengers on our new shorter five-night Norwegian fjords voyages have never cruised with us before. Meanwhile, guest feedback helps us to enhance the onboard experience by introducing benefits such as an all-inclusive drinks package.

Meadows: Last year, Seabourn was honoured to partner with world-renowned American chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, who will take our onboard culinary offerings to an even higher level. It’s also important to expand onshore experiences and our new Ventures by Seabourn programme is a great example of this. Launched from our ships’ foldout watersports marinas and guided by knowledgeable expedition teams of scientists, scholars and naturalists, these Zodiac and kayak excursions provide an informative way for guests to explore spectacular destinations up close at sea level. In 2014, we partnered with UNESCO to give our guests behind-the-scenes information about current and future UNESCO World Heritage sites and projects. We’ve created special World Heritage Discovery Tours at several ports worldwide, while experts sail on our ships as a part of our Seabourn Conversations enrichment and entertainment programme.

Schreiner: River cruising guests are now younger and more active so we offer several excursions options in each destination. For example, we have slow, regular and active walking tours, as well as shorter options for late risers. We also work with Backroads to organise bicycle tours and this year, Adventures by Disney will provide onboard enrichment activities on seven cruises. As 90% of our passengers come from North America and Canada, health and wellness have also become important so we’re creating more varied menus with healthier options, such as cleansing waters, 100% fruit smoothies, fresh fish sourced from local ponds and vegan dishes. Over the past two years, we’ve also fitted a second, 30-seat restaurant in the aft of our vessels, which features a Chef’s Table area. Plus, we’ve added twin balconies to 12 ships since 2010 and our 2016 newbuilds will feature our first adjoining cabins.

Sauvée: Recently we’ve partnered with several classic French brands to offer their products on our ships including champagne from Veuve Clicquot, macarons from Paris-based Ladurée and beauty essentials from Sothys and L’Occitane. Gourmet cuisine is also of prime importance onboard a French ship so we’ve just embarked on a long-term partnership with Ducasse Conseil, the Alain Ducasse Entreprise expert consulting team. The team will create new culinary concepts and train our chefs to ensure consistently high levels of service across our ten restaurants. Meanwhile, we carefully select our destination partners for shore excursions to ensure that they offer the same high standards of care as us. Ponant’s own team of naturalists, polar experts and excursion guides are all established names in their respective fields and many guests will pick their next cruise based on the onboard expert team.

What are your priorities when it comes to improving efficiency and environmental compliance?
Rodwell: Fred. Olsen operates within a strict environmental framework and we’re committed to meeting and, where possible, exceeding regulatory requirements on marine and air pollution. We regularly monitor the management systems onboard all four ships and review the environmental policies in our Safety and Quality Manual to ensure they meet current and projected environmental requirements regarding recycling and waste management. All Fred. Olsen vessels have implemented Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plans in line with the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 63/23 Annex 9.

Meadows: Seabourn is committed to sustainable tourism and our ships are fitted with various systems to minimise our impact on the environment. Responsible energy management is an important component of our sustainability strategy because it’s one of the most powerful levers we have to reduce our environmental footprint. We work to conserve fuel in many ways, including carefully planning our itineraries to optimise travel distance and ship speed, and monitoring daily activities to ensure that all onboard equipment is switched off when it’s not in use. We’ve also installed LED lighting onboard Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest. Similarly Seabourn Encore will feature LED lighting, a high-end dimmer system, more efficient air conditioning units, and onboard water conservation technologies.

Schreiner: AmaWaterways aims to reduce our environmental footprint as much as possible, so our ships have LED lighting, insulated windows, an efficient rain fog airconditioning system, new Caterpillar engines that are 35% more efficient than six years ago and technology so we can make 65% of our own potable water. They are also equipped with wastewater and sewerage treatment solutions so we can meet emissions requirements, which are particularly strict on the Danube and Rhine. Guests are also conscious about their environmental impact so it’s important for us to source food sustainably and support local suppliers along our routes.

Sauvée: As a signatory of the Blue Charter of French Shipowners, Ponant is committed to preserving the environment and operational safety. We carefully choose itineraries and raise awareness about respect for local population and nature among our crew and guests. Each of our new-generation yachts is fitted with a navigational positioning system that eliminates the need to drop anchor to protect the seabed, as well as an optical and submarine detection system to prevent collisions with cetaceans. To reduce smoke, air and water emissions, the vessels are powered by an economical electric propulsion system with diesel engines fuelled by lighter marine diesel oil, special hull coatings and waste treatment systems. We also have low-energy light bulbs onboard. These innovations have earned Ponant the international Cleanship label.

How are you finding new ways to manage running costs and drive revenue opportunities?
Rodwell: At Fred. Olsen, we’re not just operating four ships worldwide, but we’re also managing a huge hotel operation. Our head office in the UK manages almost every aspect of our cruise operation, including everything from fuel costs and ship repairs, to catering, itinerary planning, guest safety, weather conditions, bed linen and furniture. Following considerable research into what our guests want from their cruise, we now spend more time in port and we’ve introduced ‘City Break’ cruises where our ships overnight in a popular city, such as Hamburg, Germany. We’ve also reduced our speed between ports by a few knots. Not only has this reduced our fuel costs and consumption, but it has also enabled us to give guests more time to enjoy the onboard experience, thereby boosting revenue opportunities.

Meadows: Like any business, Seabourn always looks for ways to maximise revenue and manage costs without compromising the onboard product and guest satisfaction. We’re an all-inclusive company and do not charge for food, beverages or entertainment. However, there are a number of ways for us to generate onboard revenue, such as offering a wide selection of interesting shore excursions, spa treatments and hotel and tour packages that are available pre- and post-cruise. In addition, being a part of the Carnival Corporation & plc family, we have discovered opportunities to synergise and leverage efficiencies from shared resources.

Schreiner: I truly believe that if AmaWaterways continues to provide a top-notch customer experience, we’ll drive revenue growth and secure our competitive future. Many of our customers are from North America and Canada and because they are already spending so much money to fly to Europe to embark on their cruises, they don’t mind paying slightly more for high-end luxury onboard their ships. Ultimately, customers are driven by the quality of the product not the price.

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Wednesday, April 13, 2016