Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Quantum of the Seas sets new standards and will soon be followed by sister ship Anthem of the Seas based out of Southampton. Royal Caribbean chairman and chief executive Richard Fain spoke to Lucy Huxley
Q. You’re hailing Quantum of the Seas as the most ‘tech-smart’ ship at sea. Why have you invested so heavily?
A. We’ve added some real ‘wows’ with this ship, but we also wanted to take the best advances in technology and use them to take the frustration out of a vacation.
It’s not so much about what we’ve added, such as the robots or the RoboScreens, but what we’ve taken out – like the zero lines [queues], the zero worry about luggage, the zero waste to local landfill, the zero hassle. What we’ve eliminated with this ship is as important as what we’ve added.
Q. Have you made these tech advances because you’ve exhausted other innovations?
A. No way. The one thing you can never begin to think with Royal Caribbean is that we’ve exhausted innovations. We’re never satisfied and always coming up with more ideas. Even with none of the technological innovation, Quantum would still be extraordinary, due to its design.
We’ve always been good at using ‘dead space’ – the Promenade on Freedom-class ships, Central Park on Oasis class, and on Quantum we’ve designed the air con differently, allowing us to have more balcony cabins and fewer inside. Even inside cabins have virtual balconies – an HDTV behind a false wall with patio doors looking ‘out to sea’. They are remarkably realistic and selling really well.”
Q. Will the technical advances help attract new-to-cruise customers?
A. We believe the technical advances on Quantum will attract the millennial generation [born between 1982 and the early 2000s]. This extra tech will boggle their minds.
There will be more bandwidth on this ship than on every other ship in the world combined. The orders of magnitude in improvement are a game-changer and will allow us to do things no one has done before, allowing us to make a cruise a much more personal experience, even on a big ship.
Other industries have homogenised their product. Cruise is still differentiated, appealing to different styles, and tech will refine that personal experience further.
Q. What else are you doing to grow the overall market?
A. The majority of people still resist [cruise] because they don’t know it. Part of the reason we add innovative features is to add excitement to the vacation experience, but also because they help overcome the stereotypes of cruising.
How long can people argue cruise is a sedentary vacation, with a surf machine, a zip wire, skydiving or bumper cars? Partnerships with celebrities and well-known brands also help – such as our partnership with DreamWorks.
Q. How else will the ship benefit from technological advancements?
A. We’ve done loads to make the crew’s job easier, whether it be getting rid of trash, bringing provisions to each galley, taking out the laundry – anything to make their jobs easier, because a happy crew means happy customers.
We’ve bought 40,000 tablets for the personal use of every crew member across the Royal Caribbean fleet. We’re proud of our low staff turnover, but we’re constantly striving to get it lower.
Q. Will sister ship Anthem of the Seas be exactly the same as Quantum?
A. Our mantra is continuous improvement and continuous learning. Every time we bring out a new class of ship we learn from it. This is about the time, looking at Quantum, we would normally say ‘We need to fix this or we could have done that’ and make changes to Anthem. But so far there has not a lot we’ve seen that we want to change.
Q. Anthem versus Britannia out of Southampton in spring 2015. Who will win the battle?
A. It’s a good sign that Southampton and the British market continue to grow. I’m a believer that if you provide the best product, people will gravitate towards it. We work hard to ensure Royal provides the best product in the market. It’s my objective to crush our competition in the ex-UK market with Anthem.
Having said that, any improvements are good for the whole industry. Oasis was wonderful for Royal, but the size of the ship and publicity around it improved overall demand and made other vacation companies up their game.
Q. How is the UK market performing?
A. We’re very happy with the way things are going in the UK. Volume has remained relatively stable, but demand has grown and that means prices have gone up.
The UK is well placed to see an even more improved market position going forward. Having a dedicated team for Royal in the UK has been quite successful [there was a single team for Royal, Celebrity and Azamara until this year].
Although there are some cost efficiencies to having one team, the three brands have very different styles and cultures and that needs to manifest itself from the second a customer even considers a cruise. Having dedicated teams allows us to be more focused on the right customers and give a better service.
Q. Will you consider bringing more ships to the UK?
A. Our intention is to continue to grow our presence in the UK. We’re cautious about announcing any future deployments until they are set in stone, but we could well bring more ships to the UK. Cruise lines go where they are wanted, so if the demand is there, we will.
Q. Have the ‘teething problems’ of having the UK call centre based in Guatemala been overcome?
A. It has worked quite well – not perfectly, but I can’t think of anything I’ve been involved in that hasn’t had teething problems.
One motivation for doing it was to save money. The other was to streamline a series of small call centres around the world that had small numbers of people who couldn’t accommodate spikes in traffic. When we moved everything to Guatemala, we had more volume than we anticipated and a higher proportion of newbies on the phones. But that is all behind us now.
Q. What are your plans for working with travel agents?
A. In the same way we wanted to make things easier for the crew, we want to do the same for agents. We’ve seen an explosion in demand from guests wanting to customise their vacations with dietary requirements, requests for special occasions, accessibility etc. All that fell to agents to input, so the launch of our [online] Cruise Planner will take all that admin off the agent.
It also means the guest can input the required security and immigration information, removing another chunk of work agents used to have to do – freeing time for them to sell more holidays to experienced guests or convincing those new to cruise to try it.
Q. What’s the future for Royal Caribbean?
A. We want to be the best cruise line in the world – not to be the biggest. Our hunger for innovation will continue. That is fundamental to our culture.
Most people in the world still have no idea what cruising has to offer, so we will continue to try to target people in strong markets like the US and UK, but also in emerging markets where the lack of knowledge on cruising is starker.
Q. And what is the future for you personally?
A. I learn new things every day and I’m a better leader this year than I was last. When I can’t say that any more, I will go. But I’m still loving it.
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