Opening a new cruise ship? The traps and problems and what hotel operation can do
There are more ships coming!
Until 2023 there are worldwide 34 new river cruise ships on order and an amazing 92 Ocean vessels of all sizes - from 100 pax to 5000 pax under construction. (Cruise Industry News , October 18th 2019)
Observing the rapid expansion of the cruise industry and opening some of this ships myself I am always amazed how many mistakes are being repeated and how much it costs. The delay of a cruise ship opening effects all involved. Owners, guests, business partners, shipyard, crew, reservation, Marketing & PR, lawyers, insurances, suppliers and administration. The delay of The first ship for Ritz Carlton Yacht collection cost already $55 Million more then budgeted (Orlando weekly , October 2019) and has a negative effect on all parties involved. There are reasons for the problems – some can be foreseen – some not - you just have to deal with all of them.
Taking a ship from the shipyard, setting it up, getting the team right, and the operation running is
not that simple. There are a lot of factors and parties involved which some of them you can control some are out of your control. At the end it is our job to get the floating hotel operating smoothly. Never mind who does what wrong and when. There is no manual for this. It takes common sense, hard work, experience, expertise, intuition and a lot of management - and human skills. Add a good sense of humor to it and it can be done.
The problems and what to do from the hotel side of operation
In charge of hotel operation you need a plan. A time plan and many small plans. Will they change? Yes – all the time! Without a plan you are lost. With an ever changing plan you can succeed. It’s a process which requires you and your team to adapt. All the time – non stop! So develop a plan – and don’t follow it to the point! At the end you will deliver the result. Only than you know how you did it. Will the next ship opening require the same changes? Of course not. There will be many totally different changes. That’s why there is no manual.
Once the shipyard can not deliver on time there is little the hotel operation can do but the owners have to act as early as possible. With so many new ships being build there are shipyards which never build cruise ships but want their share of the pie. There is no problem financing or operating a new ship but to find a place on a shipyard to build it. Have an expert on side to inspect and give the first warning when it looks like a delay. A delay might be covered by insurances and penalties but the loss of reputation in the eyes of your guest, your business partners is hard to cover.
We all remember that in 2016, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries ended its nascent participation in the cruise segment after losing $2.3 billion on two ships for AIDA. ( The Maritime Executive, October 2019) . The biggest loss ever from a company who wanted a share of the pie and paid big time.
And yes the shipyard workers will still be there when you set up your hotel operation. You might get your restaurant ready and they might still take the ceiling out again. That’s life. You might test the kitchen equipment and have no power at all. That’s okay – happens. Ships opened on time are always opened last minute (and the things guest don’t notice a few minutes later)
Interior designers work will finish last and so the hotel operation team will always meet them and other contractors who just can’t finish. While you work hard in all areas to set your ship up they need space to play with a curtain, move the same flower vase 10 times until it ends up in front of an emergency exit and can think for hours about the mirrors at the buffet ( while you would like to clean them). It is easy to get mad at them but you shouldn’t. It’s their job and while many things are not my taste – they make ships look great. Think of them as guest – you need them too. Many of them have no clue about hotel operation and while the mechanic is with his head in the oven – cables hanging out – might innocently ask you if you are cooking already. You want to scream but looking at the mechanic a calm “I hope not” will be better. Patience is needed!
Some owners get involved and some not. If they are involved there is always a smell of panic in the air because the big bosses are here. They have every right to get involved and the one in charge of hotel operation shouldn’t get the owners of the ship but get the smell of panic out of the air. It’s just a matter of communication and owners input can be helpful. They have a longer deeper insight. Get all information from all sides and then use them or – ignore them! You are in charge to get the result done – the ship open. They will trust you only than and so will your team.
Crew and management are a big challenge
With the tremendous increase in cruise ships on oceans and rivers it gets harder and harder to find crew and management. On top of it the conditions for crew but also for management are by far worse than 20 years ago. Salaries and benefits have not increased or even cut, working hours are the same long or longer, living conditions are hard and even food for crew has been saved on. One company stated lately that they will now only hire well educated and trained staff. Raises the question: What did they hire before? And: Where to get them? The hotel industry is relying more and more on third parties to provide staff – out sourcing - and is not educating and training anymore. With cruise ships it also becomes a concern in regards to safety.
It’s Hotel operation that makes a hotel run – no excuses!
I could write on but books have been written about it and concerns are raised. In a fast growing industry like the cruise industry today the problems are naturally growing too. But are we doing enough to keep up with changes? To protect our environment? To protect our staff? We should never stop asking questions.
Opening a cruise ship for the hotel operation will leave you facing multiple problems, issues and situations where experience counts the most. I am surprised sometimes who the companies are trusting with such a task and not surprised when it doesn’t work. They must be just short staffed or pay the price later for hiring cheap. For a hotel operation opening a new ship you need to know hotels – obviously – but knowledge of technic, nautical, machines adds to your expertise. Most important you have to manage the human that are entrusted to you. Your staff but also good – productive communications between all parties are your responsibility. It requires integrity, respect, tolerance – all of which is not valued very much today. Ignore them all and protect those values – that way the ulcer and the burn outs will never be yours.. We have to educate and coach young people to grow into this positions. It takes time and patience. Like a new cruise ship. Lets stay calm and enjoy.
Author: Stephan Busch, Academic Director at the State University for the Humanities Moscow RGGU, Faculty of Tourism & Hospitality earned his Master Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University, USA. He has a diverse experience in launching operations, business development and service training- for hotel and cruise companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and Russia and opened multiple cruise ships on three continents.