Fitting out the dream onboard passenger ships

There are fortunes – and reputations – to be made in supplying the ship environments that raise the bar for the guest experience on newbuilds and refits. Michele Witthaus hears from companies working on some of passenger shipping’s most exciting projects

Fitting out the dream onboard passenger ships

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read the full article, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats

When considering what might make them stand out for cruise or ferry operators when work is being commissioned, suppliers of services can do worse than showing they’ve done their research.

That’s the view of Andy Yuill, joint managing director at SMC Design, which is currently involved in projects for Star Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line (Escape and Bliss) and is lead architect on Viking Star. “It’s our understanding of each individual client that makes us stand out from all the rest. We do extensive investigations when it comes to approaching the client, understanding the brand personality.” Offering a complete service is another plus. “Our unique selling point is our ability to handle all types of design elements in a project, from interior design and project management through to graphics, signage and artwork. We’ve also recently become involved in doing the sourcing, purchasing and logistics of all of the elements required within the vessel.”

Getting the top jobs is all about reputation, says Andrew Richards, CEO of Trimline, whose recent projects include interior refurbishment of Thomson Cruises’ Thomson Dream and Thomson Celebration. “It’s about showing what you have done and what your strengths are. It’s our 50th birthday this year – we’ve been going a long time and there have been huge changes in the cruise and ferry markets in that time. We started from small beginnings on the upholstery side and are now turnkey fit-out contractors.”

Another company celebrating half a century in business is Dutch flooring manufacturer Bolidt, whose work on Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas includes tough and colourful flooring in the Seaplex multipurpose sports facility. Director of the company’s Maritime division, Jacco van Overbeek, says: “Our greatest strength is that we offer a complete end-to-end service to our clients, with no subcontractors. This gives the advantage of oversight across the entire outfitting process; development and production through to supply, installation and maintenance or renewal.”

For hotels expert Richmond, it was the company’s reputation in a different field that secured its first cruise outfitting job. Having been invited to revamp a Princess Cruises spa after a senior company executive experienced one of Richmond’s hotel spas, the company then designed new spas for Royal Princess and Regal Princess – but the biggest surprise was when P&O Cruises asked them to take on a whole ship (its newbuild Britannia). “We didn’t go looking for ships; they went looking for us in a strange way,” says director, Terry McGillicuddy. “For us it’s been a huge education; I don’t think we really knew how ships were built and how complex they are.”

It’s no longer enough for suppliers to compete on factors like price, product quality, compliance with IMO regulations, fast delivery and good service, says Karine Bouttier, product manager at Gerflor. “The complexity of the sales process in the cruise and ferry sectors has increased in the past years,” she says. “It’s important to develop customer intimacy and long-term relationships between the buyer and the supplier in today’s competitive industrial environment. The business continuously moves faster and customers expect from their suppliers the ability to answer quickly, and the capacity to innovate and anticipate market trends with new products and designs.”

Rens Schouwenaars, CEO of marine furniture and panel manufacturer Roemeg, also highlights innovation as key: “As a manufacturer, our goal is to deliver solutions with both functional and durable qualities. We are continually looking for new products and have recently increased our product range with two new core materials. As modern techniques create new options, so do we.”

Having a clear plan and sharing it with the client can make all the difference, according to Fredrik Johansson, partner and art director at Tillberg Design of Sweden, whose current projects include Regent Seven Seas Explorer, Mein Schiff 4 and P&O Australia’s Aria and Eden. “I firmly believe in writing a script before shooting the movie. If you start with developing a strong vision together with the owner, and then bring together interior architects, branding people, operations, naval architects and, in the end, the yard, you will end up with a result that widely exceeds everyone’s expectations. It will not just be another interior onboard another cruise ship, but a total and immersive experience that your passengers will remember. They will come back onboard and bring their friends too, and your ship will market itself – and stay interesting much longer.”

Richards says his company is pioneering a ‘Trimline way’ of doing things. “We try to take a different approach in terms of training, the quality of staff we recruit, and the different skills we have. We have a fundamentally very open relationship with clients and repeat business is a huge part of what we do. The relationship between designer, contractor and customer is very important.”

Yuill says: “Clear communication is probably the most important thing in our industry – that everybody is aware of what is going on. We are finding that from the client side, there are more and more specialised requirements for food offerings or onboard experiences. Actually understanding these in detail helps us design from the beginning with an understanding of what deliverables need to be incorporated in the design.”

For Van Overbeek, “Collaboration and close working partnerships are key to the design and realisation of products that deliver according to the clients’ particular needs. We put the client at the centre of our business operations and bring together all the stakeholders involved in the project to ensure its success and efficiency. Bolidt is active all around the world so has the capability to service its clients at their convenience.”

Advanced troubleshooting skills are always useful, says Bouttier. “Our business partners expect that we will act as problem solvers at each stage of a project. We have to listen carefully to our clients’ expectations, to inform them about the best solutions, but also to identify and eliminate potential risks. Respect for extreme deadlines, such as deliveries on time and within budget, is a major requirement to successfully and durably work in this market. The success of one partner makes the success of the other.”

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Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
20 April 2015

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