"As the cruise market continues to grow, this is a great opportunity for us to offer a yachting experience in collaboration with The Ritz-Carlton," says Douglas Prothero, CEO and founding partner of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. "The luxury cruise segment is underserved, and we believe there is a place for The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. We have a smaller target group, intimate sized yachts, and a unique design." Prothero reports that response to the design has been positive: "The size and design of the yacht places us in a new space between ultra-luxury ships and superyachts. We place great importance on design and aesthetics, using the elegant designs of various world-famous superyachts as inspiration."
He relates that while the concept has been in development over the past six years, The Ritz-Carlton has considered entering the cruise business for more than 20 years. "When we started up The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection project, we addressed all of the things people love about the cruise experience and combined them with the things that we know work well on shore. Then we added some wish list items from our experts."
Designing a new niche for luxury cruises
With the yacht measuring 190 meters and accommodating no more than 298 guests, design is a critical factor in the appeal of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, Prothero says. "The design is carefully considered. For example, an open-air marina platform offers direct access to the sea and watersports. Public spaces have an open, residential feel. One of our absolute requirements was for all suites to have private terraces. When we wanted to build terraces for our suites on deck four, we were restricted by class rules, so we transformed these suites into two-story lofts with the terraces on deck five."
What about looking to other industries for fresh ideas? "We are bringing our unique knowledge of the guest experience from the luxury hotel business. This applies to everything from materials to lighting to amenities. No one has a greater understanding of the guest experience than our hotel designers, and this expertise is not available to all cruise operators. Another unique feature is that we have only one designer throughout the entire yacht. This lends continuity and flow to the overall experience."
DNV GL is one of the partners helping The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection to make their innovative design a reality. "We have been very happy with the cooperation with DNV GL on this unique project. We feel that the DNV GL team shares our excitement. I think they know this is something special," Prothero says about the collaboration.
Following its hull launch, the first yacht of the series is now ready for outfitting. It will take to sea for the first time in February 2020. Two sister ships are to launch in 2021, and more will follow.
Extraordinary dining at sea
A unique highlight, the first yacht will feature a specialty dining concept on board designed by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany. "From the time we approached Chef Sven with the idea, he has embraced the challenge. Now we are working to make sure we can deliver the same three-star experience at sea."
Prothero notes that there will be five dining venues onboard, an impressive number for a yacht of this size. "That allows us to have dining options for everyone, and of course there will be 24-hour en suite service."
"Our focus is on innovation, but the guest experience depends on our crew members. With nearly one crew member for every guest, the ladies and gentlemen of our staff can ensure that the needs of our guests are met with genuine care." Prothero assures. Prothero notes that crew members have in fact been granted the best location on the yacht. "We have a crew lounge on deck 11, which is the highest deck with the best views. It's our way of letting our crew members know they are appreciated and they are an important part of this experience."
With booked-up yards and bulging orderbooks, there is much talk of looming overcapacity in cruise. Does Prothero see this as a problem for The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection? "I do not see that as a problem for us. Cruise is a small business in the global leisure market, and the potential for growth is still very strong." He observes that most people now at least know someone who has taken a cruise, meaning that awareness of the cruise experience is at an all-time high.
"Our research told us that we would be recruiting primarily from existing luxury cruise customers, but we are seeing that this experience appeals to a substantial number of 'new-to-cruise' guests, many of whom have been loyal guests of The Ritz-Carlton. We are also seeing that we are selling about 10 years under the average cruise age."
Prothero emphasizes the need to differentiate between the luxury and expedition cruising markets. While expedition cruising appeals to an existing demographic, Prothero believes that luxury remains the real growth segment. He expects continued innovation in luxury, and that more players will follow, but believes that as the general cruise market grows, so will the luxury segment.
Ritz-Carlton is a brand name that raises certain expectations. With one designer in charge of every aspect of the new superyacht, and relying on its expertise from the luxury hotel business, the company makes sure these ships will please their target audience.
Poised for growth
How does Douglas Prothero see The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection business in 10 years? "Right now, we are focused on creating the best possible guest experience when the first yacht makes its inaugural sailing in February 2020. The second and third yachts will be launched commencing in 2021, and we expect the yacht fleet to continue to grow."
Cruise in China will continue to grow, Prothero believes, but The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection has no specific plans for China. Their third yacht will be based in the Pacific, but in general they will be looking to cover more of the globe as the fleet grows. That being said, he recognizes the significance of Asia as the fastest-growing market for The Ritz-Carlton brand.
"Overall I believe strongly that we can't overestimate the importance of the new-to-cruise customer. These are people in the luxury segment who travel frequently, who are existing guests of The Ritz-Carlton, yet they have never taken a cruise. The idea that we can bring people into cruising who would have never considered it before is very exciting."
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection concept is new, Prothero explains, but still easy to grasp. "When we were making the rounds to investors, we relied on three slides: one with ships depicting the present luxury cruise offering, one with an artistic rendering of our yacht, and one with The Ritz-Carlton logo. That was all they needed to understand what we wanted to do. I believe this is proof that we have a product with clear differentiation as we enter a healthy market."