In My World

In My World introduces a number of key players in the cruise industry and welcomes their views, knowledge and experience of current challenges and developments within the sector. In addition, they offer an insight into some of the exciting topics that will be discussed at Seatrade Europe 2019.”

Thomas Mielke

We recently spoke to Thomas Mielke, Managing Director of AETHOS Consulting Group, who is moderating the "Sustainability with a Twist – How to Future-Proof the Cruise Sector from a Recruitment, Talent Pipeline and Business Leadership Perspective" conference session at this year's Seatrade Europe! Here's what he had to say!

What progress do you think the industry has made on sustainability in terms of recruitment and leadership development over the last 5 years?

"People are the product if the hospitality industry" – this most certainly holds true for the cruise sector. Without the continuity of the talent bench-strength cruise companies would be unable to execute on their ambitious growth plans. As the fight for talent has continued and intensified throughout the last few years, cruise companies have started to embrace an approach which can be coined as "future-casting" – in other words, rather than focusing on proven track record and/or domain knowledge, they have moved away from assessing task competencies. This shift in their recruitment efforts has enabled them to identify people with potential who are adaptable, inquisitive and knowledge-thirsty and who perform well in high-pressure work environments such as the cruise industry.

Yet, adapting one’s recruitment profile is only part of the equation. Cruise companies have equally focused on improving their in-house talent management and succession planning efforts – in other words, instead of relying too heavily on fresh recruits, they have gotten better at identifying whom they already have on their payroll and what their specific development capabilities are. However, there is still a long-way to go for cruise companies to fully deploy the full potential of their in-house talent – too many organizations are unaware of who is ready for the next step up and/or who could be cross-promoted into a different division. To some extent, the problem in leadership development is intensified as international mobility, somewhat counterintuitively, remains relatively low within the industry. At the same time, career movements from ship-based positions to land-side continue to be the exception to the rule. Partially, this is because they attract different characters and personalities based on the very nature of the different jobs and functions. However, it also ties back to a more ‘systemic’ issue that speaks to business and human resources strategies which are not fully aligned with one another. This is by no means deliberate – often times, it is merely the result of leadership being pulled into different directions, forced to take quick ad-hoc decisions and/or an overstretched human resources department which has put in place the right strategies and tactics, but which is ultimately forced to ‘put out fires’ elsewhere or divert its attention. Leadership development is thus much more opportunistic and organic as opposed to structured and planned.

In summary, awareness has risen for the ‘problem areas’ and actions have been taken to rectify those. The shift to assessing contextual performance as opposed to domain knowledge has been the first step. Improving and investing in internal talent management and succession programs – targeted and fine-tuned for three rather distinct cultures (ship-side, land-side [non-corporate] and land-side [corporate]) – the second. Future obstacles to overcome continue to be topics centered around international mobility, cross-promotions and the fostering of a company culture which better aligns business strategies with a firm’s HR programs.

What is the biggest challenge for businesses in the cruise industry when it comes to sourcing and recruiting? How do you feel this will impact the future of the industry?

CLIA predicts, based on its membership data, that as of this summer there will be almost 275 cruise ships in operation – providing more than 1.1 million staff with employment opportunities across the globe. And the order books of the shipyards are full for years to come… In other word, the pressure keeps on rising for corporate human resources departments to develop, sustain and safeguard a steady talent pool of future industry leaders. The challenge that industry leaders are faces with is thus both an internal and self-imposed one as well as an external and enforced upon ‘issue’ by the various industry stakeholders.

Companies have set themselves high growth targets to capture untapped business opportunities, new target markets and customer segments as well as underdeveloped destinations. Shareholders consequently seek ever hired returns. All this means that leadership teams are putting themselves under enormous pressure to deliver on those targets – and this necessitates securing a very large number of staff to be able to deliver on those business strategies. Whilst for many corporate land-side positions cruise companies are quite open and happy to recruit from other industry sectors – in particular in branding, marketing, sales and, for example, finance – securing ship-side talent is arguable the much more difficult task. Virgin Voyages, for example, recently announced that is launching a six months recruitment road show across 18 countries to find crew members. In which other industry do business executives have to greenlight such initiatives just to secure their employee base? In line with that, it is worthwhile to reflect that, in consequence, many of the new recruits are coming from culturally very diverse backgrounds. Ensuring that such a multi-cultural workforce is aligned, and is buying into a common vision, is not an easy task. Some might argue that it also brings on board challenges as it relates to managing one of the most important topics the industry is facing – that of ‘sustainability’. In a lot of the regions from which the cruise industry is recruiting from, sustainability has not necessarily risen to the top of the agenda when it comes to discussing the workplace and/or the business environment. A lot of the times, other more basic needs and requirements have to be met first. The cruise industry is thus in a unique position to promote and educate staff from all over the world on sustainability – but conveying the importance of the message whilst monetary, health or other more ‘basic’ concerns are front-of-mind is not an easy feat. Ultimately, for many employees, however much they care about sustainability, pragmatism will trump principles when faced with actual career decisions.

Arguably, there are also external forces which the industry is grappling with – one of them is tied to said topic of sustainability. Increasingly, customers, the general public and employees alike are putting more emphasis and the issue and there are studies, for example, on the positive correlation between a firm’s Corporate Social Performance (CSP) and its reputation and attractiveness as an employer. Cruise companies need to deliver on those high expectations. A lot of progress has been made – from fuel efficiencies to waste reduction and sustainable food sourcing to more inclusive excursions which positively impact host communities. However, the sector is – partially based on the aggressive growth targets – impatient and best practices can easily, however unintentional, fall to the wayside. It is thus a mammoth task for leaders and the HR teams to instill and engrain the importance of those sustainable best practices in its workforce. This might mean aligning reward and bonus programs to specific targets and/or a general performance program which is properly aligned with an organizations sustainability strategy and tactics. This might also mean that promoting sustainable credential whilst offering shore-excursions which include, for example, heli-skiing, might not be sending a consistent message.

Any further comments?

When talking about leadership challenges it is also worthwhile to reflect upon the general state of the industry and the 'hot topics'. Experts currently talk, for example, a lot about the concept of VUCA; in other words those situations and/or business environments where (1) volatility, (2) uncertainty, (3) complexity and/or (4) ambiguity might complicate management and/or the decision making process.

The hospitality, travel and tourism sector can certainly be described as a fast-paced business environment and one where decisions taken might have immediate and/or significant impacts. It is no doubt a high-risk environment – consequently, one of the biggest challenges cruise companies are faced with is securing employees and leaders with the right skill set, character traits and grit to survive in such an environment. Going forward, cruise executives and the human resources department alike are thus likely to apply the VUCA framework to probe their teams, staff members and employees on those scenarios with a view to assess, or foster, behaviors and skills which help to efficiently and effectively operate within such a business context.

David Vass

David Vass, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Cruise Business & Operations for Abercrombie & Kent Destination Management, recently shared his excitement in participating on the Shore Experience panel at Seatrade Europe!

Having watched this segment of the cruise community grow over the last 20 years, it is obvious that many of the existing templates we tour operators use to create product for the cruise lines, are outdated and broken and need to be revisited.  With the amount of expedition and small boutique product on one side, and the building of the massive passenger ships on the other, the land programs market from the tour operator point-of-view has really split into two separate arenas of possibility.  We are now expected to create programs for 30 pax on Pier A and 3000 guests on Pier B, on the same day.

Of course there are important new components to all tours that the collective shorex consciousness wasn’t as focused on 10 years ago as now, specifically sustainability and authenticity.  While trying to create a deliverable that ticks the boxes of these two goals while also creating product in such a way that it can generate revenue for both small and large vessels, an entire new approach to the creation of shore excursions is what I plan to discuss in Hamburg.  This combo contraction / expansion of ship sizing has also added to the ranks of the shoreside shore excursion executives on land, many of whom are decision makers with limited time or no time onboard the vessels but with the latest degrees in travel management.  I plan to aim a little of my time at cruise executives that have a tendency to have knee-jerk reactions to feedback from a few passengers or onboard staff that don’t always get it quite right, but given how instantly an email can be sent (unlike the days of telex where we all paid by the word), I’m reminded of a quote my mom was found of using: ‘a lie goes halfway around the world before the truth can even get its shoes on!’ 

I’ve long been an advocate of working as partners, we the tour operators and the cruise executives – it always works best when we shoot on collective cylinders, and towards that end, I hope to announce a new non-profit organization that I am working on heading up after my retirement to advocate for teamwork when it comes to land programs, fair margins, and better forums for internal communications.  How successful it will be remains unknown, but is has been a goal of mine for some years and given the expansion of the cruise market, this seems like the right time.  Also I’d like to do it while I still have some hair left, ha

David McCarthy

Give us a short introduction of yourself

"Hi everybody, my name’s David McCarthy. I’m the Director of Marine Projects and Communications at AD Associates, a London based design agency, and I’m very happy to be here at Seatrade Cruise Global Miami.

Can you share with us, what is the cruise design trend that you have seen?

Absolutely, I think the emerging trends, certainly in recent years, has been that design has become much more accessible. Rather than the cookie-cutter example of cruise line design perhaps that’s gone before for many, many, years, design has become much more popular culture, has become much more accessible, we perhaps consider design ourselves in our own homes much more consciously, and I think also social media has a part to play; the Instagram moment. And so design has had to step up, and I think cruise brands have realised they are not just competing with one another, they are also competing with land based installations as well, and therefore the design has really got to evolve, and it’s got to follow.

Following up the previous question, what have you noticed that’s changed?

I think apart from that design has become much more considered I think technology has certainly come into play, to individualise some of the experiences. What I might mean by that is as an example, a guest state room, being able to control lighting, temperature settings etc. particular mood settings perhaps, and I think that if a space can be individualised to your requirements then I think that’s something that’s emerging and certainly that I think will extend into the future.

Anything new that’s on the horizon?

It’s hard to predict, if I had a crystal ball I think I’d be extremely successful (laughs). But um, I think on the horizon one could be considering biophilic design, in that it’s bringing wellbeing and nature into design. The use of planting for instance, and sustainable products. Again, I think the use of technology in various forms will certainly be introduced into design. But I think the future really is with the diversification of all of the different brands, and the different offerings that they have. Design will suit different ships positioned in different markets for different demographics, and I think we’ll have to design accordingly to meet the needs of their guests.

Can you give us an example of how interior design successfully impacts the guest experience on board?

One example that I can probably think of is lighting, the very successful use of lighting. Many spaces on board a ship brands would like to re-purpose to ensure they get that longevity out of the space during the course of the day and in the evening. If you’re using lighting in a very clever way you can create a different atmosphere and so brands might look to, during the course of the day, use a space as casual dining, and then perhaps as a more formal dining setting over the evening. So again, you’re looking for lighting to create that wonderful ambience, so that you can repurpose the space, so that’s very efficient, and also could lead to incremental revenue space being created.

Sustainability is a very big concern for the entire cruise community at the moment, so can you give an example of how cruise interior design helps to achieve sustainability.

Sure, you’re right, yes. Sustainability is, and will remain, extremely topical, and very important obviously to the community and to consider the environment of course, and many brands are doing their bit to get rid of single use plastics and so forth. But as designers we certainly would be discerning and concerned about where products are coming from, the sort of materials that are being used, and if we can introduce highly sustainable products into our designs then absolutely, we will be doing that. I think the brands themselves, and shipyards, and sub-contractors, can all play a part in promoting that particular sector, and ensuring the offerings in terms of materials can perhaps widen from what’s available today, so that we can absolutely play our part.

Greg Walton

Can we start with a little introduction, your name, where you from and what you do?

My name is Greg Walton, I am the CEO and founding partner of Studio Dado, which is a design firm that specialises in hospitality design and cruise ship design, based here in Miami.

And in your opinion, what’s the current cruise interior design trend?

For me that’s a very hard question as there are multiple trends happening at the same time, and I think there are multiple trends happening in the industry overall. We are seeing a lot of diversification in the industry, it’s interesting. It used to be sort of a “one size fits all”, cruise ships they are really just sort of grabbing market. Now we are seeing cruise lines coming into play that are specialising in a certain segment of the market, with that comes different design trends as oppose to larger ships, so we are seeing the emergence of the expedition cruising, more entries to the market the luxury to premium plus classification. I think that all brining different kind of trends. I think the one common trend that we are seeing a lot is sort of I would call guests customisation of their experience, and the ability to tailor their vacation experience onboard a ship to their desires, their wants and their needs and that sort of happening across all the sector within the cruise industry. Whether the guest is actually choosing a particular type of cruise to tailor to their wants and desires, or within a cruise carving out their experiences from dining experiences, to shorex to onboard experiences, even we are seeing bar from the hospitality industry, the ability to customise your accommodation or stateroom experience.

From a design perspective, has anything changed or is there anything exciting that’s on the horizon that you are particularly looking forward to?

I think one of the biggest factors we have to think about working on new designs, is how people use, and interface and interact with the space, and technology is the big factor in that. The way people will turn on the light to raise the temperature in the room to anything is all changing. We see the advent of home, automation and smart home, it used to be something limited for the elite few, but now with the advent of Amazon Alexa and Google Home, these devices are starting to allow everyone to create a smart home environment, and in control to everything in their homes to whatever degrees they want to control it. And that’s just becoming an even more common place. As we see younger demographic moving to cruising and starting to go onboard ships for a vacation experience, we are already seeing it in the land-based hospitality that this is just the way you control your environment now, so we are gonna have to consider that - it’s not what it was before. And then your handheld device, your smartphone, gives you ability to customise your vacation experience, decides where you want to dine, where you want to go, what kind of shore excursion. So we are seeing technology is the biggest factor on how people use and interact a space and determine their vacation wants and needs.

Can you provide an example of how interior design in your experience has successfully enhanced guest experience onboard?

In my experience I think the thing is enhanced the most, from a design point of view, is we do a lot of works in accommodations and staterooms, from luxury vessels to large commodity vessels. I think the biggest thing we are seeing is creating a stateroom to be a home away from home, a place to nest, you know people don’t always want to be out of their stateroom, they want to come back, and relax and chill a little bit. And given like what I mentioned before, the ability to somewhat customise that environment. So a lot of the new staterooms that we’ve worked on, for Princess to Carnival to NCL, we are folding that kind of thought into our design process.

And how do you design for the future?

Oh that’s the biggest open-ended question that could be asked…nobody really sort of know. I think touching back on the technology that’s gonna be a big determination, and who knows in 5 years what’s smartphone gonna be? None of us really know that yet. How are we really gonna communicate. I mean thinking about the past 10 years, how much of that technology ALONG has advanced not to mention all the other technologies that we are faced with and every day. How much consumer demand will change the way we design? We’ve seen the consumer demands more healthy food, organic food is really started to change the food industry, we’ve seen consumers become more proactive and concerned about their environment, we’ve seen the demand of single-use plastic that’s no longer used. So there is gonna be a lot of customer driven things that we haven’t encountered yet and I think we have to wake up and pay attention to, and incorporate it to the whole design experience.

Per Lindqvist

Give us a short introduction of yourself

Okay, I’m Per, there’s only one of me, but my full name is Per Lindqvist, I work for Tillberg Design Inc, here in Miami, and it’s a branch from our main office which is in Sweden, we also have offices in Poland and in Singapore. About 120 employees sort of spread out all over the world. And of course our main industry is cruise interior design.

In your opinion what’s the current cruise interior design trends?

Yeah exactly, emphasis on trends. There’s a lot of diversity out there right now, which is good, I mean it keeps us on our toes but also gives us a little bit of a challenge to pursue what the client wants, but also there’s an increasing demand for what the guests want as well, which the owners have to comply by.

You’re working with a lot of companies and they have different needs, how do you actually go out there and do the design that fits into the brand, is there any trick?

I think our strength there is, because we do work with different brands, different companies, our strength is to talk, but mainly listen to the client. Listen to what they want. And then in the conversation actually deliver what they really desire.

So from a design perspective is there anything you noticed that has changed, or is there anything new on the horizon?

Here I have to think. Things that have changed is destinations, size of vessels – both bigger and smaller. Everybody’s noticing now there is a trend in expeditions, smaller cruise ships, more destinations, longer cruises. Also to take care of the growing clientele that wants to go cruising.

You’ve worked on a lot of projects; can you give us one or two examples of how interior design can have a positive impact on the guest experience on board.

Of course there’s a lot to pick up on from that question. We get a lot of positive feedback on what we do. I Think our core thinking is to deliver the full package including detail and the ambiance and the atmosphere of the space, and that combined will give the guests a pleasurable and positive experience.

So, the million-dollar question. How do you design for the future?

(laughs) That’s a good question of course, do you have a million dollars?
I think what we have to do, like I mentioned earlier, we just have to put our ear to the ground. Just listen to what’s coming. We’re ready for anything, we have a lot of sketches, designs, in our back pocket in our studios, that we just are eager to deliver to the clients. So we’re well aware of what’s going on, of what’s going to happen, and I think we’re very well prepared for the future.

Trevor Young

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi, my name is Trevor Young, I work for MSC as the VP of newbuilding and refurbishment.

So, obviously MSC has a lot of projects going on. Can you tell us about any exciting projects that you’re currently working on?

Well, in the new building pipeline we’re working on four different classes of vessels, so we have our Meraviglia class which is the Meraviglia and Belissima, we have our Seaside class you’ve seen Seaside and Seaview, and then we have Seashore and Seascape coming up. We have our world class which is our 200,000 plus tonne vessel being built in France, which there’ll be four of those. And we’ve just signed for four luxury vessels which are around 67,000 gross tonnes, smaller, luxury vessels, and also an island in the Bahamas that we’re working on as well.

Wow, so keeping you very busy.

Yeah, so I have about 15 new buildings and then also helping with an island as well.

We wanted to talk a bit more about interior design, so in your opinion what’s the current cruise interior design trend?

It’s changed over the times, the cruise industry is very small and insular and as you’ve seen there’s quite a few new players now coming into the market with Virgin and Ritz-Carlton and so on, and the interesting thing with them and other companies like ours and others, they’re starting to bring in new architects and interior designers that are more land based, not so much just cruised based. Now this is helping a lot because it’s stimulating the whole industry and it’s making new environments for the guests to enjoy.

So, apart from that is there anything that you think has changed substantially in the last 5 years time, or is there anything new on the horizon?

There’s a lot of new, everybody’s looking at the new and how to make it improve and so on. I think that technology is a huge potential for the future, it will help us a lot with different things that we’re doing. Also I think lighting, which I always say is a third of the design is the lighting. There’s a huge amount of improvements that are coming forward that we’re seeing from the different companies like here at Seatrade that we’re seeing, which is really exciting.

Can you give us from your own experience an example or two of how the interior design can have a positive impact on the guest experience on board?

What we’re doing at MSC now is we’re looking at a totally inclusive package. So if we have a restaurant or a bar or something, we come up with a theme, then we find the best interior design company that we think can work on that, but we ask them to work on it holistically, so we ask them to help us with the branding, with the signage, with the interior design, with the artwork, with the props, with the planting, with the lighting and partner with other companies that we have and other specialists for light and sound and so on. But it’s to make a totally immersive experience. So when you go there, you go to an English pub, it’s designed by an English designer and you feel like you’re in a little pub in England. That’s what we’re trying to do with many of our areas.

So, the million-dollar question, how do you design for the future?

The future is bright as you see, we have as I said like 15 new builds up until 27 so far, watch this space, it’ll grow I’m sure. Interior design wise I think you’ll see a lot more work with technology. You’ll be looking at all the senses more, so there might be something to do with lighting with sight, with smell, with touch. And things that will change, so maybe the walls change, maybe the light features go up and down, we all have DMX controllers on our light and we can change the colour and the mood of the areas, but you’ll see areas more transitioning into different things. The ships today, the public rooms, a lot of them must be multi-functional. You might have some specific rooms that are specifically designed for a specific purpose, but other rooms have to be multi-functional. You have to be careful that multi-functional doesn’t become multi-useless which is always a problem, so at MSC what we’re doing is we’re focussing on two or three functions that a room might need to do, and looking at that very specifically and making sure that it can do all those three functions right. If we can’t then we will take a function out, and we will reduce it to two, because, as I said, sometimes multi-function is multi-useless and then you have nothing. But the designs are becoming very specific and very tailored to what you need.

Tal Danai

Firstly, could you just give us an introduction of who you are, where you work, and what you do?

Sure, I’m Tal Dunai, I’m the founder and CEO of ArtLink. We work out of Tel Aviv and London, and doing ships and hotels around the world – obviously the art part of ships and hotels around the world.

In your opinion what’s the current cruise interior trend at the moment?

Personal, I think really that’s what it is, it’s personal. It’s trying to be more and more focused and direct towards as many as possible flavours, tastes, cultures, and so on, of the cruises. Which is a very interesting way of developing design, because on one hand you have to create this huge space that will entertain so many people, on the other hand you really want to cater to the personal tastes of many of them, and I think this is, what I feel at least, being a very important trend today.

From a design perspective has anything in particular changed over the last 5 years?

There have been a number of different changes I would say. One of them is the personalisation I was talking about, that you can see everywhere, trying to be more and more exact for smaller and smaller fractions of groups, or people. And then there’s going away, slightly, from what was known as the cruise ship or cruise look, into more land-based inspiration. There are more and more designers, land-based designers, that are entering the cruise ship industry and bringing with them fresh looks and different ideas and you can see how the brands are trying to incorporate as many of those in and I think that’s a very exciting development.

Could you give us an example of how interior design has successfully enhanced the guest experience on board?

I think it always does, doesn’t it? You know, it’s very different walking into an orange room, or a green room, or a light blue room, if you take it to the most simplified version. So, walking into an environment that is rightly lit, or rightly lit for your culture, for your taste, that sounds right, that has the right distances between elements, that you get out of your bed and you know how you walk around, that even those very, very simple elements, before we go into the more sophisticated changes that the industry is going through, even those elements make a complete difference with the way you engage or you interact with your space on a ship. And I think there is much more of it that is happening today that is geared to make a guest not just comfortable but engaged with their environment. It used to be comfortable, now it’s engaged. It’s a whole different look that designers employ now.

How do you go about designing for the future?

Well, um, who knows, right? But, I think that every designer who’s involved, or any creative, it’s not just the designers but any creative entity, any creative person who’s involved in developing a ship, obviously having to think three years forward, and then five years forward, and then thirty years forward, because the ship is going to be there for that pretty much, has to incorporate some exercise of future thinking.

When you look into the future, the many different aspects of the future that you can be looking at, technology being the most natural, everybody is looking at technology, so contemporary design will take into account how you can incorporate whatever future developments in technology will come out, that’s one aspect. Another look into the future is how do we travel, because we used to travel ten years ago, I’m not even talking about fifty years ago but ten years ago, we travelled differently than we travel today. The decision making of travelling has also lowered in age, you know, if most decision making would be made in the thirties and forties it’s now made in the twenties, and twenties have enough means to actually go and execute on the decision. So how do you plan an environment that will be enticing enough for these younger and younger generation decision makers to engage with your product. And on and on looking at the future is not just saying okay it’s going to be bright, or it’s going to be dark, or it’s going to be much more technology, or much less technology. It’s also the way that all of us will chose the experience of travel over any other experience. It is now said that we shop less and we travel more, right, that we are after experiences more than we are after goods. Is that true or not, I’m not sure, but it is absolutely true to an extent. Now is this going to increase, or decrease, is this going to be replaced with something else? Are we going to look for other things?

The essence of a traveller is not going to change. You know, for thousands of years we laugh from the same things, we cry from the same things, we love the same way, we hate the same way, that’s never changing. It’s how we envelope it, it’s how we colour it, it’s what space do we give to it, it’s how do we engage with it when we travel that changes. And I think that’s probably the most fascinating aspect of trying to look into the future and anticipate new design.

You mentioned the return of investment, do you want to extend the context?

With pleasure. So, return of investment on art for example, art and design. There’s fascinating information that’s been coming out in recent two, three, years, as part of social network data, the mass data that’s coming out, that allows us now to analyse, and actually put on Excel, the return on investment that placing art the right way in the right location will return. Something that was never available before. We always talked about art being important for, you know, the overall look, the overall feel, that a certain level of guest will expect to have art in their environment, but that’s soft. Today I can tell you that if you invest a dollar in a specific way, buying art and placing it in a specific way, how much money you can get back in paying clients in a year. And that’s all based on how will your guests engage with their visuals. You know, what will they snap as a shot, what will they place on social media, how many people will see it, how many people will react on it. What will they do when they react on it, and how much money they’re willing to spend when they react on what they like. And that’s a very interesting way of gauging very soft elements of design, arts, crafts, etc, that were never available to us and are now available. So it’s another interesting way of looking at how do you design an art, an environment. That’s in a nutshell.