The power of partnership in the cruise industry

Olaf Groeger of COLUMBIA Cruise Services tells Jon Ingleton about the value of collaboration and how it can help new cruise brands enter the market

The power of partnership in the cruise industry
“If you want a happy and profitable ship, you need a happy crew,” says Groeger

For COLUMBIA Cruise Services, the Covid-19 pandemic created an opportunity to reassess and regroup, enabling it to march out of the situation stronger than when it went in.  

Columbia Shipmanagement formed several new companies, including COLUMBIA blue, the firm’s leisure services platform; COLUMBIA signature, its hotel business; and COLUMBIA pure, its health and hygiene services branch. In addition, COLUMBIA Cruise Services also partnered with interior design firm Tillberg Design of Sweden (TDoS). According to Olaf Groeger, managing director of COLUMBIA Cruise Services, the two firms have worked together to provide a host of services to customers, particularly those launching new cruise brands. 

“The motivation is all about helping others to succeed – TDoS can help us, we can help them, and ultimately, we can both help our customers,” he says. “If the owners of a new cruise brand want to ensure it is successful, they need input from the operations side before they start building the vessel.  

“While TDoS can create onboard spaces that look stunning, we can provide input from the ship management and technical side of things. We decided to work together to offer clients a more holistic approach.” 

Now that cruising is returning to normality, many external businesses are looking to capitalise on the revived interest in the industry. These businesses may have little or no experience in shipping, cruising or cruise ship design, but partnering with experts like COLUMBIA Cruise Services and TDoS can provide insight to help them successfully design their ships and onboard experiences. Among other things, COLUMBIA can help new cruise brands understand how best to manage the daily operations of a vessel.  

“Once the customer has a design idea, it is our job to help it deliver its brand promise,” he says. “The most important part of this is finding the right crew. We calculate the number of crew needed for a specific vessel and help the brand recruit the best possible personnel.”  

To attract and retain the best talent, brands need to focus on creating a good living and working environment. “If you want a happy and profitable ship, you need a happy crew,” says Groeger. “They need recreational spaces and an outside area, but you also want to provide privacy for them and the passengers.  

“The best pastry chefs, cooks and stewards will only seek your employment if you create a lifestyle and workplace that excites them. Our client wouldn’t necessarily be aware of the importance of these crew spaces, so this is where we come in.”  

The ship itself is also key to providing a top-tier cruise experience. “The parameters are set by the hardware of the ship,” says Groeger. “You have to assess what kind of passenger experience you can deliver based on what you have, what you build, or what you buy. The second-hand market is also an important part of our business.” 

COLUMBIA can provide pre-purchase evaluations to help its customers make the best investments possible. “Our pre-project inspection reports can guide our clients,” says Groeger. “In fact, they often ask us to look at multiple vessels before helping them to make a decision.”   

Groeger also recommends that new market entrants carefully consider sustainability. “Today, everything is focused on sustainability and reducing energy consumption,” he says. “But new brands must also think about how to prepare their vessels for the future – there is nothing worse than building something quickly and rendering it useless within a few years.”  

Ultimately though, Groeger highlights partnership as the most important factor for new cruise brands. “It’s hard to achieve success alone,” he says. “While we are a service provider, we are first and foremost a partner. We want to help our clients realise their visions, acting as the technical and operational arms of their brand.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.   

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
02 November 2022