Delving into refit design

Christian Compton explains Carnival's design process
Delving into refit design

By Rebecca Gibson |

Carnival Corporation & plc senior director of corporate refit Christian Compton explains how the company chooses design partners, innovates products and processes, and the Fun Ship 2.0 programme

Overseeing and understanding what each of Carnival Corporation & plc’s ten brands want to achieve is the remit of Christian Compton. He and his team determine the focus of vessels’ refit, conversion and transfer projects. They also run daily checks on the work being undertaken on each upcoming drydock, to ensure brand consistency.

Each brand is responsible for its product offering and the presentation of concepts varies. “One might say ‘we need specialty dining – we’ve already done the research and it must be a steakhouse’, so you check to see where that can fit in,” Compton says. “Or, it could say ‘our guest feedback is that we need specialty dining but we’ve no idea where to start’ – we run that gauntlet.”

However, merging ideas from an operational marketing department with a concept that needs to be completed on an existing ship can present a challenge. “People with experience solely of newbuilds may be used to designing a venue that a ship is basically built around,” Compton says. “They can move a pillar or the deck height to achieve what they want. But on existing ships, it’s a matter of which venue you are willing to sacrifice or change.”

During the past decade the department has evolved ways that allow it to be creative and utilise new spaces. When adding a superstructure or venue, current stability constraints – particularly a vessel’s weight and how much growth it permits – determine not only if an innovative new feature can be brought in, but how.

“If we can’t add square metres but have a lounge that is too big, we use some of that space,” explains Compton. “But before talking about fancy concepts and designs, we must determine the footprint so we know if we’re going to be able to work within the existing structure.”

Selecting the right project partners who appreciate these challenges is part of that, Compton believes. “I prefer to work with interior designers and architects who are not too constrained by the limitations of naval architecture,” he says. “We don’t want to stifle our design partners’ creativity by telling them they can’t do this or that, but we want them to understand the aspects to be considered such as escapes, ship weight, and existing pillars and structural lines, because these simply can’t be moved.

“As we develop experience with in-house and external architects and they grasp these challenges, we give them the flexibility to come up with as much creativity as they can, because that’s what we need to drive innovation.”

Other factors that come into play for Compton and his team when identifying designers, architects and suppliers for their refurbishment projects include more measurable parameters.

“We look at the overall size of the company and the size of the contract they can handle, because that reduces our risk,” he says. “Experience, quality and the history we have with them is also important, as is their diversification – that they are not too dependent on one brand, organisation or industry. We don’t want a supplier partner peaking during a one-year cycle with a big drydock contract, then with nothing for the next year they fall apart, just as we’re ready to commit to them with other jobs. Some smaller businesses get into peaks and troughs, which again elevates our risk of quality and delivery.

“I have constant dialogue with most vendors – they update me on what they’re working on and whether they wish to grow or downsize, which means that we understand the type of market or drydock we should focus their efforts on. We try to match the vendor to the contract to minimise our risk, while at the same time leveraging their best abilities as a vendor.”

Naturally, prior to pairing designers and architects with refit programmes, decisions need to be made about the creative briefs they will be fulfilling. “With the Fun Ship 2.0 programme, a lot of the concept, design and brand work was independent of the ship it would go on,” says Compton. “After researching what was a good market, Carnival came up with a number of venue ideas – for example, the RedFrog Rum Bar, BlueIguana Tequila Bar and BlueIguana Cantina restaurant – that could be implemented anywhere, including shoreside operations.

“They also needed to think about how to execute that across many ships. They didn’t look at a specific vessel and stipulate that ‘this is what we want to do here’, but developed unique concepts that were standardised across the brand. Not just one, but a rebranding of many of the venues and concepts that were immediately committed to across the whole fleet. That was powerful from a brand differentiation standpoint, from a marketing perspective and for proof of concept, because we had approved it before we got it onboard. I hadn’t seen that before – a concept is usually proved on a newbuild before being rolled back across the fleet, but it provides a faster and more efficient way of adapting vessels to changing customer and marketplace dynamics.”

Carnival Sunshine is one example, with a number of new concepts such as the Serenity Adult Retreat solarium. “There was a full version of Serenity on existing ships – a concept that came from Fantasy-class vessels, evolved into newbuilds and then further on Carnival Sunshine, where we added multiple levels and a waterfall, which was more interesting,” says Compton. “The direction we took with the Lido restaurants and the new Havana Cafe, we are also looking at for future ships.”

The corporation keeps a close eye on ensuring that its brands and ships fit with the direction in which it wants them to be heading. “I believe that we’re going to see new ideas emerging during the next 12 months, not only in terms of brand direction, but the marketplace,” Compton concludes. “Our increased focus and attention on Asia and China is leading to many new developments and concepts for ships entering the market. I can’t talk about these concepts yet, but they will be very interesting.”

This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.

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