Floating Mega-Resort Readies for Launch
A new 2,704-room resort opens next week, and it’s not in Las Vegas. In fact, it’s not on land at all; it’s Allure of the Seas, which along with one-year-old sister ship Oasis of the Seas, are the two largest cruise vessels afloat.
And while cruising has a special élan with many travelers, a cruise ship is really a mixed-use resort at sea. The Allure, for example, will have the widest variety of recreation, dining and entertainment options of any cruise ship in history. The 16-deck, 220,000-ton ship has seven themed areas, including Central Park, Young Zone and Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center. Cruisers will have 24 dining options (including the first shipboard Starbucks) and a variety of entertainment choices, including a production of the Broadway musical Chicago and ice and water shows produced by DreamWorks Animation.
The ship’s 2,704 staterooms include 2,210 oceanview units, 28 loft suites, 14 Aqua Theater suites and a presidential suite that sleeps 14. Of course, there are more differences than similarities between managing a resort and operating a cruise ship. To learn about the challenges to be a hotelier at sea, we recently chatted with Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of hotel operations for Royal Caribbean International, operator of both Allure and Oasis.
How similar are the staterooms on Allure of the Seas to a hotel room in terms of amenities, facilities, etc.?
Other than the fact there is a much better view on the ship, the staterooms are essentially hotel rooms. They have flat-screen TVs, minibars, hairdryers and all the other creature comforts. And, just as the hotel industry has done, a lot of the focus is on bedding. We’re starting to sell our Royal beds because we’ve had so many requests from our guests who love our bedding. Even that’s on par to the best hotels in the world.
How does the company keep up with consumer expectations when it comes to cruising?
The voice of the customer is central to everything we do so we have a number of approaches. After every sailing, guests complete a comment card and we have the guest satisfaction ratings for that ship before it actually turns around and sails later that night. If the guest said he had a burned-out light bulb, or he really like his cruise director, the ship gets those verbatim comments, as well as a score.
We also have a brand quality team that travels around our fleet and reviews how the ship is performing against our standards. We also have a mystery-shopping program. We can send somebody onboard who’s either an experienced cruiser or a first-time cruiser, or a non-English speaker to see how we’re doing against different customer segments.
Where do you get your employees and what kind of training programs do you employ?
What’s most important to our guests is the personalized service they get from the crew. When we recruit, we look for crew members who have the fire in their belly to deliver great guest satisfaction and to deliver the wow factor. That’s really central to our interview process. The majority of our crew members come from the Philippines, with others from the Caribbean and India. On the Allure, we have 2,700 crew members and they come from 65 different nationalities.
Before a crew member joins a ship, we’re able to use online training to tour the ship and understand the ship and be acclimated before they step on board. Each of our ships has a training and development manager and an HR office. There’s also a lot of regulatory training they need to do, things like fire fighting and life savings.
The hallmark of our brand training is Gold Anchor, which is an acronym for how we expect our crew members to engage with our guests: Greet and smile, Own the problem, Look the part and Deliver the wow. No matter where they work, employees have gold standards on how to do their jobs.
What are the biggest challenges in running a hotel operation at sea versus on land?
Actually, in some ways it’s a benefit. Unlike a hotel, we can move the ship if we encounter bad weather. Provisioning is a lot more complex, however, because we need to provision for a week or sometimes 10 days or even two weeks. If you run out of something at a land-based resort, you can call someone to deliver it. With ships, we must be very methodical about what we need to deliver the guest experience.
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