February 06, 2019

The Rise of Branded Yachts

As more and more hospitality companies set sail (pun intended) with branded yachts and boats, a question arises: How do you keep the brand going strong once the guest has left the experience of the property?

For Ritz-Carlton, which will debut three branded yachts starting in February 2020, the foray marks the first time a luxury hotel brand will venture into the cruising sector. According to Marriott International Global Real Estate Officer Tim Grisius, Marriott has been looking for opportunities for Ritz-Carlton in the luxury boating and yachting sector for close to 10 years.

ÒMost of the opportunities presented to us prior to this one were larger ships. And we always questioned whether we could make it unique and also provide the ultra-luxury experience on a large vessel,Ó Grisius says.

Enter this opportunity: Owned by private-equity firm Oaktree Capital Management and built in collaboration with Tillberg Design of Sweden, the 620-foot ÒyachtsÓ hold up to 298 passengers in 149 cabins. Itineraries include the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Canada and the U.S. eastern seaboard.

ÒIf you add one more layer to that, these people will be arriving on land in one location where hopefully we have a Ritz-Carlton hotel,Ó says Grisius.

Filling a gap

ÒIn a sense, theyÕre filling a gap that the ultra-luxury lines have given up,Ó says Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and an expert on the cruise ship industry.

ÒItÕs not so much that theyÕre creating a new niche as moving into a niche thatÕs been abdicated,Ó he adds. ÒThe larger (cruise) companies have all moved to economies of scale where bigger is better, and theyÕre less oriented to quality than they are to quantity.Ó

The vessels will have five food and beverage outlets with a Ritz-Carlton-run spa, three pools and a lounge/wine bar; service will be all-inclusive. While pricing depends on itinerary and season, a seven-day Mediterranean cruise during off-season will start at US$5,600 per person.

Some differences from the property level include the staff-to-guest ratio Ð almost one-to-one Ð and 24-hour food service. ÒWeÕre trying to provide this experience as being almost like your private yacht and that you can experience things at very different times,Ó says Grisius.

Most of Thailand-based Minor HotelsÕ luxury branded boats do evening and overnight trips on the Mekong and Chao Phraya rivers. The Manohra Dream holds up to four passengers and offers a two-night, three-day cruise that makes stops along the Chao Phraya at temples and islands that otherwise would be hard to access. Passengers can take onboard cooking and cocktail-making classes. MinorÕs branded boats are restored 100-year-old wood and thatch rice barges. In June, Minor added Gypsy, a 134-foot, two-cabin vessel.

ÒTourism and hospitality across all segments is becoming progressively more immersive,Ó says Luxury Branding founder and consultant Piers Schmidt. ÒGuests want to experience where they are and to discover real people and places in the process.Ó

Rates for Gypsy start from US$5,450 for a three-night, four-day cruise from Luang Prabang, Laos, to Chiang Saen, Thailand; and US$6,950 for a two-night, three-day cruise from Chiang Saen to Luang Prabang.

Marion Walsh Hedouin, MinorÕs vice president of public relations and communications, says the company has only seen interest in river cruising increase, so much so that they will add a more modern boat, an Anantara product, in late 2019.

Specialized staffing

Singapore-based Como Hotels and Resorts, owned by billionaires Ong Beng Seng and Christina Ong, has the Cameron, a 68-foot yacht introduced in 2016 to offer an overnight trip between its Maldives resorts, Cocoa Island and Maalifushi.

Initially, according to Chris Orlikowski, ComoÕs group director of PR and communications, the company wasnÕt sure whether the yacht would be a fixed offering, due to a mixture of both demand and cost.

A full day on the Cameron costs US$5,200. ÒAnd, then, there was also the issue of being able to offer a consistent Como experience on the yacht,Ó says Orlikowski.

Here, too, F&B played a role Ñ catching a fish and having it freshly prepared on board, for one Ñ but so too did service. According to Pietro Addis, general manager at Como Maalifushi, it was discovered early on that it was necessary to have a captain who knew the area and was willing to stop in off-beat locations.

Additional staff training was also critical. Originally, when the ship was only going out half days or full days, the property would typically send a waiter with the crew.

ÒWhat weÕre now doing is training the crew because they need to be full butlers so they will be doing a few months in housekeeping, a few months in F&B, a few months in front office because they need to be able to do everything for the guest,Ó Addis says.

Ultimately, according to Schmidt, critical to the branded boat is not simply to replicate your land offering on water.

ÒThereÕs a romance and special quality to voyages by sea, and the legacy brands can seize on this characteristic to re-infect some of the romance thatÕs sadly been lost in many of their chains as scale and the pursuit of global domination, consistency and efficiency have begun to conflict with the thrill of original discovery,Ó he says.

Copyright 2019 Marketing & Technology Group. All rights reserved. From http://www.hotelsmag.com. By Chloe Riley.

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