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The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is making waves today as it unveils its newest brand extension. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is the name of the luxury hotel operator’s first foray into the cruise industry. The first of three Ritz-Carlton cruising yachts is scheduled to take to the seas in 2019, with two others coming on board in 2021 and 2022.
The concept of a Ritz-Carlton at sea is anchored in the belief that “yachts open up a whole new world of opportunities with limited constraints for growth,” according to Herve Humler, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. “Cruise ships are essentially floating, re-deployable resorts and there are not the typical constraints on growth that exist with hotel development – such as limited site options, existing competitor locations, market saturation, etc.”
Seven-to-10-day European and Caribbean itineraries are currently developed for the first ship, a vessel that can accommodate 298 guests in 149 suites (each with a private balcony). The yacht will have several food and beverage outlets, including a restaurant by Sven Elverfeld of the three Michelin-starred Aqua at The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg, Germany. A Ritz-Carlton spa will be another featured amenity. The trips themselves will be designed to focus on destination immersion through collaborations with local chefs, musicians, and artists both on the ship and ashore.
According to Humler, “The Ritz-Carlton has been considering entering the cruise industry for many years. We know that our guests like to cruise – in fact, in the past year more than 400 thousand Ritz-Carlton guests have taken a cruise, so we already have an existing customer base. Also, at this time in the marketplace, there are only a couple of small luxury ships in operation, all of which are 20+ years old. So we felt now was a better time than ever to enter the luxury cruise and yachting market.”
Humler goes on to say that while the company “saw a void in the luxury cruise market that we felt we were uniquely positioned to fill, it came down to finding the right partners to bring this project to life, people who really understand luxury cruising.”
Four years ago, Ritz-Carlton found those partners. One is Douglas Prothero, a multi-hyphenate marine industry professional who has served as a financier and consultant for banks and ship owners on maritime transactions. The other is international business economist and veteran cruise developer and executive Lars Clasen. Now serving as managing directors of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, the pair head a team of cruise and maritime veterans with vast industry experience.
It was crucial to have this team aboard, according to Prothero, due to the complex nature of the cruise industry. “It’s a tricky business for anyone to get into,” says Prothero, noting that 80 percent of the business is owned by three companies. “The barriers to entry are quite high. It’s a very tough regulatory environment and financing can be challenging.”
While Prothero and Clausen were working on the development side, Ritz-Carlton was doing “extensive research with consumers and closely consulted with our (luxury) travel agent partners who provided their input and feedback at every step of the way,” according to Humler. Due to the product that has been developed, Humler says “We are hoping to attract not only existing cruise customers, but also those new to cruising – guests who would not consider a mainstream cruise, but would entertain a highly-curated yacht style experience with The Ritz-Carlton. We anticipate interest from the U.S. and European markets right away, and will also be focused on attracting guests from growing luxury markets such as China.”
Humler isn’t concerned about other high-end ships sailing the high seas. “While most competitors in the luxury space have increased the number of rooms on their ships, we will be one of the smallest, ultra-luxury cruise ships in the market,” he says. “The size of our ships means we will be able to dock or anchor at smaller ports such as Portofino, Capri, Mykonos, and St. Barths, which are not accessible to larger cruise ships.” That, plus the promise of The Ritz-Carlton lifestyle aboard, may provide compelling reasons for loyal travelers from other luxury lines to jump ship.