Adapting rapidly to remain resilient in the cruise industry

Patrick McNulty explains how Bourne Group has adapted to overcome the challenges of the pandemic

Adapting rapidly to remain resilient in the cruise industry
“Our priority has been to continually learn and adapt to ensure we can anticipate and meet clients’ needs,” says Patrick McNulty of Bourne Group

By Rebecca Gibson |

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, US-based company Bourne Group has been fighting to overcome a myriad of challenges to provide its cruise clients with the signage they need to safely resume operations and welcome guests back onboard their ships.  

“Our priority has been to continually learn and adapt to ensure we can anticipate and meet clients’ needs, so we can deliver the best possible products and services every time,” says Patrick McNulty, owner and principal at Bourne Group. “However, it’s been challenging as everything is changing on an almost daily basis. We might start working on signage with specific health and safety messaging on Monday but by Friday the guidance has evolved, so everything must be redesigned, re-approved and re-sourced. It decreases our productivity, adds delays and increases costs.”

Moving goods and people around the world is now more complex and expensive too.  

“Supply chains have been severely impacted by global shortages of goods and delivery drivers, which means longer lead times and much higher shipping costs,” explains McNulty. “In addition, we’re grappling with strict restrictions and regulations on travel, visas, testing, quarantine and vaccinations, all of which vary depending on the country and make it hard to get our technicians to where they need to be for installations. Technicians are away weeks at a time, which is detrimental to their personal lives and means we have fewer staff available for other projects.” 

Bourne Group has adapted quickly to circumvent these challenges. “We’ve devised several innovation solutions,” says McNulty. “For instance, when restrictions prevented us from sending Poland-based technicians directly to the USA, we quarantined them in Mexico for two weeks first. In other cases, we’ve been able to quarantine technicians on vessels in between projects.” 

One of McNulty’s top priorities is to find ways to serve the cruise industry on a regional basis. “Pre-pandemic, we had an interconnected global economy, but we’re now operating in a disconnected regional economy,” he says. “Transporting goods and people between different continents will remain tricky for the foreseeable future, so we want dedicated teams in key cruise markets, such as Asia, Europe and the USA. This will enable us to avoid the travel restrictions and visa issues associated with sending US-based technicians to Europe, for example.” 

McNulty is acutely aware of the toll the pandemic has taken on his employees and has been striving to keep them connected and motivated. “The way we live and work has completely changed and this has been tough for our employees,” he says. “However, we’re training and upskilling them for the ‘new normal’ and doing what we can to reclaim the office culture to ensure they feel valued, supported and connected in just the same way as in the past. We’re immensely grateful for their sacrifices and want them to achieve a good work/life balance, so we’re giving them time, space and flexibility when they need it.”  

In addition, Bourne Group has invested in a new office and production facility. “Our current headquarters was built in 1939 and isn’t particularly well-suited for housing our design, sales, manufacturing and installation teams and operations,” says McNulty. “In December, we’ll move into a purpose-built production facility with energy-efficient systems and an open-plan office space that will facilitate better communication and collaboration. It will reinvigorate our employees and revitalise the business by making it easier to work productively.”   

Now that countries are reopening borders and permitting cruise calls, Bourne Group has already embarked on projects with multiple cruise brands, including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Ponant, Princess Cruises and Seabourn. “Business has been very busy since cruise ships started to resume service and many operators are reactivating paused projects,” says McNulty. “Not only are we refreshing existing signage that has deteriorated with lack of maintenance, but we’re also producing new Covid-related signage and our standard safety signage too.”  

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, McNulty forecasts an upcoming “explosion” of business. 

“People are eager to explore and cruises offer unique travel experiences, so as more ships return to service every week, I’m increasingly bullish on the future of the cruise industry,” he says. “Pre-pandemic, 90 per cent of our business was cruise-related, so the global shutdown was extremely challenging and we had to reduce our workforce, but our remaining employees have worked relentlessly to continue delivering projects that exceed client expectations. We’ve successfully reinvented our business and diversified our client base, which has left us better-positioned to support cruise operators with their signage needs.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry ReviewAll information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.   

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