Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's ship, the Evrima, the first vessel to bear the hotel brand's name, is scheduled to set sail on April 22 from Lisbon. Issues at the Spanish shipyard delayed its intended debut on Feb. 5, 2020, but the yard is now in the hands of the ship's owner. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with CEO Douglas Prothero about what makes the product attractive to the new-to-cruise market.
Q: How is the Evrima coming along, and is it on track now?
A: We had to establish a new track. It's on the new track and making great progress. We put new management in the yard, all from cruise, and we have a really top-talent team there. And we're really happy about that and look forward to a timely completion, well in time for late-April cruising.
Q: What makes this product different from what's already out there?
A: The brand is the most obvious difference. The Ritz-Carlton brand is a legacy luxury brand that brings instant recognition and I'd say awareness, and also what comes with that is a trust by the customer of what it's going to be. It's also inspired by a superyacht. The designers had that mandate from the beginning: to build a crossover between cruise and superyachting. And the space per passenger and intimacy. There are only 298 guests on a 625-foot ship. When it comes to the cruising itself, we put an emphasis on a yachting lifestyle product: slow cruising, lots of overnights in ports or at anchor. And shorter voyages on average. We skew slightly younger, so the voyages tend to be designed to be roughly a week. That opens us to a broader market. But we don't double back week to week, so you also can easily go 14 to 16 days.
Q: You've previously said that this end of the luxury cruise market has been vacated. Why do you think that?
A: We focus on ultraluxury. That was a market that used to be in the 100- to 300-passenger range. Now it's more centered on the 500- to 1,000-passenger range. So the more intimate end of the business was left for us to come along and fulfill. There are still a few players in there. But we really think it's a great niche for us. It's already proven to be very popular with the loyal Ritz-Carlton guests. People are gravitating toward that and the Ritz-Carlton service combined with luxurious design.
Q: What percentage of bookings are Ritz-Carlton guests, and will you be part of Bonvoy?
A: Somewhere around 40% have been Ritz-Carlton customers. That's been a key part and continues to be. As the ship starts to make its way around and the Ritz-Carlton flag appears in places where it never flies, those folks who are loyal to Ritz-Carlton will learn about it more and more, and we'll continue to see that number grow. We are not in Bonvoy now, but we are exploring ways to integrate that. It's a work in progress.
Q: Why do you think Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection attracts so many first-time cruisers?
A: It's the brand and the word I used before: trust. I was in a loyalty workshop two years ago in Geneva with top buyers in Europe. One thing that came out of that session that stuck with me is that people trust this 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. When you impose that on a super-yacht design, it looks and feels very different than what's in the luxury cruise market. That's what's doing it. That's what we're hearing. Something north of 50% are new to cruise. We are speaking to the travel advisors and saying, "You've got people in your database you're not selling cruise to today who might want to buy this, because we see them buying it." It's also an attractive thing to be able to sell for agents who are selling luxury cruise now but not this. They now have something new to offer. Bookings are strong. June was our strongest month in a year. People have been anticipating this ship and are concerned they may not get a booking.
Update: This report was updated to clarify that the ship's debut was delayed from February 2020, not February 2021. It is now scheduled for its debut in April of next year.