Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2023

144 FEATURE From the moment a guest steps onto a ship for the first time to the moment they disembark, they are looking for a quality onboard experience. However, the lines between what have been considered as luxury and standard services have become increasingly blurred, with all guests seeking unique, personalised experiences, high-quality products and, ultimately, more value for their money no matter the ship, itinerary or brand. “In recent years we’ve found that guests have much higher expectations in terms of service delivery, which stems from the pent-up demand for the very best in hospitality that built over the course of the pandemic,” says Bernhard Stacher, vice president of global hotel operations at MSC Cruises. “The shortage of qualified and experienced staff worldwide was a valid excuse a year ago, but now guests are less forgiving and want us to exceed in every area for the duration of their holiday at sea.” Guests are expecting a high-quality and memorable service onboard ferries too, regardless of the duration of their journey. “In general people are more conscious about sustainable travel options and experiences,” says Kristiina Uppala, head of customer service and onboard concept development at Finnlines, who prioritises quality control to ensure that guests have the same experience every time. “Extensive standard procedures are a must, and this includes all the suppliers and third parties. Various quality control methods support our daily routines and operations.” When guests are only onboard for a short amount of time, they focus on key elements like the dining experience. “Passengers are now more aware of the different aspects of dining onboard the ships, including the origin of the food, how well we can accommodate dietary requirements and dining as an experience,” says Uppala. “The traditional buffet still appeals to families, but it has lost its glamour.” Finnlines approaches this by presenting guests with a variety of choice across its ships, including traditional buffets, à la carte restaurants, ‘grab and go’ spots and restaurants that offer separate areas for families and pets. The interior design of a vessel also plays an important role in delivering high-quality guest experiences, according to Stacher. “The ability to serve our guests efficiently is always built into the initial design of a vessel and never an afterthought,” he says. “The hotel operations team spends considerable time not only developing the look and feel of our newest spaces but also how the operation can run effectively.” A key interior design priority for Finnlines is to choose the right materials (and suppliers) to ensure the longevity of the surfaces onboard the ship as well as the comfort of the guests. “Material choices are key and in a hotel environment, maintaining the areas is one of the biggest challenges,” says Uppala. Enhancing guest expectations Amber Hickman asks executives from MSC Cruises and Finnlines to discuss changes in hotel operations delivery and how they strive to meet guest expectations “ The ability to serve our guests efficiently is always built into the initial design of a vessel and never an afterthought” Bernhard Stacher MSC Cruises