by Douglas Prothero
CEO, The Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection
Having weathered well through some economic volatility and showcased good growth during 2017, the luxury vacation market continues to thrive. Worth well over US $1bn, it has successfully distinguished what a discerning traveler needs while continuing to evolve to meet an ever-growing set of expectations.
And the luxury cruise industry has proved itself to be no exception.
From forward-thinking partnerships with innovative lifestyle brands, to developing unique, carefully curated itineraries, cruise lines continue to advance their luxury product offerings to not only satisfy today’s cruisers, but also engage a new market of potential guests.
The start of The Ritz-Carlton story at sea
As the first luxury hotel company to bring their unmatched experience to sea through The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, we now find ourselves in a unique position, expanding into new and exciting territory. The launch of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is also in tandem with cruise industry growth - the demand for cruising has increased over 20% in the last five years, and Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) estimates that 27.2 million people will cruise globally throughout 2018.
It won’t come as a surprise that there are synergies between cruising and guests of The Ritz-Carlton. In 2016, over 400,000 Ritz-Carlton guests reported taking a cruise, indicating that there is a huge opportunity for our concept to appeal to The Ritz-Carlton customer base. And in fact, after opening The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection itineraries for reservations, we’ve seen that this experience is appealing to not only existing guests of The Ritz-Carlton, but also current luxury cruise customers and new-to-cruising guests – those who would not consider a mainstream cruise but would entertain an experience offered by a brand synonymous with a land-based luxury experience. We therefore expect to have a positive impact on market growth.
Filling a gap in the market
It goes without saying that luxury cruisers expect a more intimate atmosphere on board than that of a larger ship which has to manage the needs of many guests. However, several luxury lines now seek to increase the capacity of their ships while maintaining an intimate ambience, and consequently, there have been few new small-capacity ships entering operation in the luxury cruise market. There has also been a drive to expand into the expedition cruising market by servicing the polar regions, and while this clearly appeals to an existing demographic, I do believe there is an underserved market seeking a different type of cruising experience.
With The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, we looked to fill this void, but we also understood that we had to bring something new to the table. This created a vision of bridging the gap between a yacht and cruise ship experience by offering an aesthetic that was both modern and intimate and creating unique yacht-style experiences both on board and ashore.
With 190-meter yachts that will carry just 298 guests, we have committed to this distinctive offering and are now entirely focused on the guest experience. Each facet of the onboard experience is designed to combine the lifestyle of the luxury resorts of The Ritz-Carlton with the casual freedom of a yachting vacation, and both the size and guest capacity of the yachts make this a reality.
The size and design of The Ritz-Carlton yachts places us in a new space between ultra-luxury ships and super-yachts. We are essentially recreating the yacht experience in a cruise world – the yacht has become a destination. For example, an open-air marina platform offers direct access to the open sea. Public spaces have an open, residential feel. Culinary venues are intimate, and in-suite dining is offered 24 hours a day. As is essential on any yacht, suites maximize the use of space while presenting a comfortable, welcoming, casually elegant setting. Everything about the onboard experience of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection reflects the legendary service, impeccable design, and special experiences of The Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts ashore.
The importance of the experience ashore
I’m a firm believer that the experience ashore is just as important as the experience on board, so we spent a long period of time consulting with local guides to find unique, individual experiences designed to meet the demands of today’s luxury traveler.
We know guests will want to take advantage of being closer to the destinations that our itineraries feature, so this consultation period really was crucial. The result was the creation of “The Shore Collection,” which offers a flexible range of options to suit each guest.
Each guest seeks a different experience when ashore, so we broke down our offering into five distinct categories – Stirring the Senses, Active Explorations, Epicurean Experiences, Iconic Sites, and Cultural Connections. Guests can even use our Concierge Ashore to curate their own unique experience. It really complements the ethos of a personalized sailing, and because we cater to a smaller capacity and a demographic that we know so well, we can be sure that there is a program suitable for everyone.
There are challenges ahead for cruise – but there’s plenty to be excited about
One of the biggest challenges to growth is public perception. People who have never cruised before aren’t sure what to expect, and there are some myths out there about cruising that may deter potential new cruisers. Of course, mainstream cruising does appeal to many, but some will be seeking something more upscale.
With a brand such as The Ritz-Carlton, which is already synonymous with land-based luxury, I believe that guests will identify easily with the ethos and experience offered at sea. They know what to expect before they even step on board, so there’s no nervous anticipation – and the notion that we can bring people into cruising who would have never considered it before is very exciting.
On the whole, there’s plenty to be excited about. I’m particularly interested in the number of untapped opportunities to elevate guest experience. Guests want more than material luxuries – they’re asking for transformational, personally fulfilling experiences. I am excited to see the market deliver that.