Making passengers personally invested in onboard interiors

Rebecca Gibson asks executives from Holland America Group and BC Ferries what role emotion plays in interior design

Making passengers personally invested in onboard interiors
Seabourn Ovation's spa is decorated with natural woods and neutral colours to encourage guests to relax

This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Designed by Adam D. Tihany to help visitors relax and rejuvenate in tranquil and luxurious surroundings, the spa on Seabourn Ovation is popular with many Seabourn guests. It’s also a favourite of My Nguyen, director of Interior Design and Operations at Holland America Group, which operates the Seabourn and Holland America Line cruise brands. 

“The décor is serene and the overall environment exudes pure luxury,” she explains. “Relaxing in a deluxe spa on a high-end cruise line is my definition of a captivating experience.”

Like many designers, Nguyen believes that the most powerful and memorable interiors are those that evoke emotion in those who use them. However, developing the designs that will engage everyone can be challenging. 

“The best way to connect design with emotion on a ship is to create an inviting and comfortable space that draws the guests in – if they enjoy their environment, they will stay and make emotional memories,” says Nguyen. “The way interior designers construct environments sets the tone for the guests’ overall experience. The average person might not be able to pinpoint why they like being in that space, but they know it just ‘feels’ right. That is the definition of a successful inviting space.”

When it comes to creating spaces that will generate emotional responses from guests, Nguyen focuses on satisfying the five senses. “All the different design elements combine together to create a particular mood and atmosphere, which provokes an emotional response,” she says. “From the colour palette to the lighting, scent, art, music and even the tactile qualities of the materials you use – every little detail makes the environment a place to remember.”  

Imbuing spaces with emotion is also a key tenet of Canadian ferry operator BC Ferries’ interior design philosophy.

“When the design process starts from a people-first standpoint, you get spaces that consider all of the things that make a passenger experience something special,” says Jeff Davidson, director of Retail Services at BC Ferries. “This becomes the philosophy for everything from intuitive space planning, to comfort, aesthetics and the kinds of amenities and services that are developed. Naturally, other factors such as crew levels, cost and maintainability are also considered to ensure our designs are both emotionally engaging and suitable for the type of service that we provide.”  

Nature also provides the perfect source of inspiration for BC Ferries’ interior designs. “We understand that there’s a very real relationship between people and place, and that our passengers are more engaged with honest and authentic experiences,” says Davidson. “Hence, we aim to enhance the relationship between people, place and ship. We’re blessed to operate in British Columbia, which has some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, so we have a head start.”

While nature and the five senses provide ideal starting points for interior designs, they do not guarantee that a space will be a hit with passengers. To ensure the interiors they create are both aesthetically appealing and fit for purpose, designers need to speak with those who will be using the spaces. 

“We consider many factors, including guest comments, feedback from crew, Net Promoter Scores and the results of ship surveys that are performed at least once a year by our interior managers,” says Ngyuen. “In addition, a group of leaders from different departments (Guest Experience, Interior, Revenue, Technical, Nautical and Human Resources) visit each ship in the fleet. First, we meet with the senior staff to get first-hand feedback, then tour the vessel as a group to evaluate each space from different perspectives. All of this information is combined to help us when we’re planning future renovations or newbuilds.”

BC Ferries employs a similar strategy. “We’re always mindful of the fact that our passengers’ overall experience on our ferries is dictated by many elements, such as how traffic flows through spaces, whether they’re able to easily navigate the vessel, and even the types of seating, experiences and services on offer,” comments Davidson. “That’s why our design solutions are based on research and we continually review how they’re performing by speaking with passengers directly, reading customer feedback submitted via our website and carrying out regular Customer Satisfaction surveys.”

Knowledge gathered from customers and crew is used as a basis to ensure that future designs are relevant and thoughtful, adds Davidson. A good example of this can be seen on BC Ferries’ new vessel, which is currently being developed with interior designers, SmartDesign Group of Vancouver.

“We’re completely rethinking how the ferry relates to passengers, taking the best aspects of previous designs and mixing them with new ideas and philosophies,” says Davidson. “We’ll incorporate learnings from previous projects along with our guests’ feedback and new developments in technology. For instance, we’ll build on the success of our fashion apparel store Passages and our new Arbutus Coffee Bar, which offers a ‘West Coast coffee experience’. The new design will feature a more contemporary furniture and colour palette reflective of the coast and we’ll enable guests to preorder and prepay for food services.”  

When they step into any space onboard a cruise ship or passenger ferry, guests can guarantee that everything has been carefully planned to ensure their satisfaction, says Nguyen. “Emotion is a very personal thing, but the happy environments we create are always intentional. We design them to be captivating for everyone.”

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Tuesday, June 25, 2019