Brand crossover is rare in the cruise industry. So the introduction this year and next of two well-known names to cruise, Ritz-Carlton and Virgin, has generated lots of industry buzz.
For the former, its entree has been rocky, and not only because it was scheduled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's first ship, the Evrima, was scheduled to set sail in January. Due to issues that led to major delays at the Hijos de J. Barreras shipyard in Vigo, Spain, its debut was at first pushed to June. Ritz-Carlton took ownership of the yard, and due to additional pandemic-related delays, the ship is now rescheduled to launch in April.
The line's unique positioning offers travel advisors the ability to tap into some coveted travel niches: Ritz-Carlton fans, first-time cruisers and a younger demographic.
CEO Douglas Prothero said that about 50% of its bookings come from people who have not cruised before. Many of them are Ritz-Carlton fans, with 40% of bookings from former hotel guests.
That presents an opportunity for travel agents to expand their customer base of cruisers and convert noncruisers who might be more comfortable trying one associated with a familiar hotel brand.
"They trust that they know when it's the Ritz-Carlton, it takes away a lot of questions for them about what this is going to be like," he said.
A rendering of the pool deck.
And according to Prothero, Ritz-Carlton fans will find the experience onboard is the same as ashore. "A Ritz-Carlton guest will feel they've arrived at a Ritz-Carlton," he said.
That's because the ship's crew, or the "ladies and gentlemen" of Ritz-Carlton, as the brand has always called its staff, will be of the same caliber.
"It's the exact same profile of person, exact same recruitment strategy for personalities and commitment to a 'service heart,' as a general manager once said to me," Prothero said. "And the same philosophy and principles around training."
If the yacht collection becomes part of Bonvoy, parent company Marriott's loyalty platform, an idea Prothero said is being explored, it could potentially attract a range of its hotel brand fans.
The line also said its average age is "significantly lower than the typical 45-to-55 range that you see in other luxury lines" but did not specify what the exact range is.
The Living Room will function as a library and espresso bar by day and a cocktail lounge with live music by night.
Travel advisors play a key role
The travel advisor channel has been important for Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Prothero said, adding that its ship was actually designed with input from luxury travel advisors.
"Before we even started, we did a number of focus groups and got really into the details," he said. "We had a group of top luxury travel advisors that are well known who assisted us right down to suite design."
Their input made a difference.
"Some of the fundamentals of this yacht are from that input," Prothero said, such as the decision to interconnect suites not with a door but with a panel (the whole wall moves, he said). "You could probably pick out six key features of the ship that are from those sessions."
The View Suite, which has floor-to-ceiling glass throughout.
According to Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, most people booked in 2020 pushed their reservations to 2021. And with new bookings rolling in, and June being its strongest month in a year, the line pushed out its 2022 schedule earlier than planned. "We needed the inventory," Prothero said.
As to the experience, Prothero said that as a yachting lifestyle product, it offers "slow cruising, and lots of overnights in ports or at anchor." The mandate given to the ship designers from day one was "to build a crossover between cruise and superyachting," he said.
Shore experiences will tie back to the product, Prothero said, with a focus on taking people "into the destination as opposed to just to the destination."
"We always try to work with local providers as opposed to taking a port agent for an entire region," he said. "It helps us design programming that goes deeper into the destination experience."
Currently, the Evrima is scheduled to operate itineraries in Europe, Canada and New England and the Caribbean. Its maiden, nine-day voyage departs Lisbon on April 22 and ends in Mallorca on May 1.
Prothero said that the size and space per passenger of the ship will make it easier to implement any protocols related to the pandemic.
The Evrima Room, the main restaurant on the ship.
"It's a lot of ship for less than 300 guests," he said. "We didn't ever want people to be in lines when they arrive. If you think about the kinds of things you might want to be avoiding now, we already have those things baked into the design."
And, he said, the brand will learn from the world's largest hotel company.
"We have the benefit of our colleagues on the Marriott Global Cleaning Council who've gotten up to speed very quickly and brought in experts from across the globe to come up with best practices," Prothero said.
The line will also learn from cruise companies that are likely to begin sailing before April.
"We have the benefit of watching what is happening to learn from others," he said. "We want to be best in class on this."