During the 33 years that Richard Fain served at helm of the Royal Caribbean Group both the brand and the global cruise industry changed almost beyond recognition. Under his leadership, the group introduced some of the most famous and innovative classes of cruise ships ever built – including Royal Caribbean International’s Sovereign, Quantum and Oasis classes, as well as Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice and Edge-series ships. It also introduced pioneering new onboard experiences, such as the cruise industry’s first-ever rock climbing wall, ice-skating rink, surfing simulators, Aqua Theaters for diving shows, and much more. Together, these innovations ushered in a new era of cruising.
Certainly, Fain is close to the top of the list of people who have had the largest impact on the modern cruise sector. Consequently, when he retired at the start of January 2022, Royal Caribbean Group knew that he would leave big boots to fill, particularly in an industry still recovering from an unexpected and prolonged shutdown due to the ongoing pandemic. However, Jason Liberty, the group’s new president and CEO, is quickly proving that he is more than qualified for the role.
Liberty joined Royal Caribbean Group in 2005 and served in financial, strategic and operational roles before becoming chief financial officer in 2013. He spent the past 10 years working alongside Fain, before making the step up. “I think the transition and adaptation to the new position has gone very well – my predecessor Richard and our board did an outstanding job with preparing me for the role,” he says. “I am also blessed to have the best team helping me deliver the best vacation experiences in the world through our leading brands and fleet.”
Now, Liberty leads the company’s three global cruise brands – Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises (which the group acquired in July 2020, before selling Azamara Cruises), and TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, of which it is a 50 per cent owner as part of a joint venture. In addition, Liberty is responsible for spearheading the group’s strategy, technology, supply chain, port operations and legal functions. He has had to hit the ground running in the first few months of his new role.
“The impact of the pandemic has certainly been the biggest challenge that has ever faced our company and industry,” he says. “Whether having to navigate through almost two years of no revenue or ramping up the operations of our entire fleet in less than year, the resiliency of our business, the work ethic and innovative nature of our team, and the incredible support of our partners has shone through this incredible black swan event.”
Today, all 63 ships in the fleet are back on the water and most countries have reopened to cruise in a “meaningful way”, prompting guests to return to Royal Caribbean ships, says Liberty.
“Our fleet is fully back at sea, our business has normalised and we continue to see strong demand for cruising with key secular trends, such as consumers spending on experiences rather than things, accelerating,” he says. “Cruise offers a strong value proposition, and as consumers look to get out and experience the world once again, cruising is an attractive option.
“Our mission in the short and long term is simple – we look to wake up every day and deliver the best vacation experiences on Earth responsibly. Our priorities are to ensure we live up to our mission by having the best brands, ships, destinations, and people.”
This year, Royal Caribbean Group will host the official naming ceremonies for Celebrity Cruises’ latest Edge-class ship Celebrity Beyond and Royal Caribbean International’s biggest Oasis-class vessel to date, Wonder of the Seas. It will also open new port facilities including a terminal in Galveston, Texas. In 2023, it will welcome Silversea Cruises’ Silver Nova and Royal Caribbean International’s Icon of the Seas to the fleet – its first LNG ships.
“Our future is full of promise and innovation,” says Liberty. “This, combined with our amazing people and the communities we partner with around the world, fuels my excitement for each day. We’re also doubling down on efforts to significantly reduce our carbon footprint and improve its impact on the communities that support our BlueGreen Promise.”
In May, Royal Caribbean confirmed that its Icon-class vessels would be bigger than those in its Oasis class, thereby making Icon of the Seas the largest passenger ship in the world when it arrives in 2023. Two additional Icon-class ships will join the fleet by 2030.
Features on Icon of the Seas are yet to be revealed, but the brand has confirmed that it will offer the “latest innovations and signature features that Royal Caribbean’s teams have imagined and reimagined in bold, new ways”, as well as technologies that will enable a shift towards cleaner energy. The brand’s CEO Michael Bayley also set chins wagging when he posted a Facebook video of a large pearl-like sphere that is 46 feet tall and 50 feet in diameter being lifted onto the vessel at the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland in May, writing: “Exciting construction update on Icon of the Seas! A top-secret piece of the revolutionary ship is on the move in Turku, Finland.”
Liberty notes that the Royal Caribbean Group’s portfolio offers “something for every type of guest and at every budget”. This includes everything from ultra-luxury and expedition cruising with Silversea to multigenerational, “something-for-everyone” cruising on Royal Caribbean International ships, and the “modern luxury” product on Celebrity Cruises.
“Over the coming years, we hope to evolve the brands and other areas of our business by continuing to be a leader in innovation and technology,” he says. “We want to bring the best vacations possible to all our guests.
“Royal Caribbean Group has many exciting projects on the horizon that will help us continue to deliver great vacations responsibly to our guests. We are also committed to working with our destinations around the world to offer our guests exclusive experiences, including new offerings at Perfect Day at CocoCay, our private island experience for our Royal Caribbean International brand.
“I look forward to bringing new ships online, delivering superior returns, and enhancing our portfolio to deliver on this mission every day. I’m excited about it all.”
This article was first published in the 2022 Autumn/Winter issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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