Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano on Tuesday toured the Evirma, the first sailing vessel in The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Capuano said in an interview that yacht-style cruises on the 623-foot Evrima — which hosts fewer than 300 people at a time — represent an important pillar of growth for the world’s largest hotel operator by pulling the levers of loyalty and luxury.
More than 70 percent of the bookings since the first October sailing has come from members of Marriott’s Bonvoy loyalty program, and the company sees the yachts as a way to fill in the matrix of interest in its program members.
“Luxury is a big part of the appeal of the Bonvoy program and a big driver of engagement with Bonvoy,” Capuano said.
Fares on the Evrima start at a minimum of $5,000 per person for a week and can rise beyond $25,000 per person.
About 70 percent of Evirma passengers have never been on the cruise before. So the offering is a way to leverage the Ritz Carlton brand name for additional spending from an existing customer base.
“It is core to our strategy to continue to look for ways to connect ourselves with our loyal customers throughout their travel journeys, whether you and I were talking about Marriott Homes and Villas or the launch of a mid-scale like City Express or the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection — they are all touchpoints that allow us to meet the needs of our consumers without ever looking outside the ecosystem,” Capuano said.
Yacht-style itineraries enable a more leisurely pace with more overnights in port than the typical large luxury cruise offers, plus the ability to access and explore smaller ports, such as Saint-Tropez, Ibiza, and St. Barts.
But playing in the luxury space has its perils. The more complex the product and the more high-touch the service, the more room there is for cost overruns. Spanish media have reported on financial filings from a shipyard claiming that the Evirma was budgeted at $300 million but cost twice as much.
Capuano said that the last few years brought a laundry list of “unusual challenges to owner economics,” with a mix of problems affecting supply chains. However, he said his company has long experience in executing luxury products well.
Marriott is the first of its hotel and resort peer companies to test the waters on yacht-style cruising, but three other companies in recent months — Four Seasons, Aman, and Orient Express — announced plans to offer luxurious yacht-style cruise lines.
More broadly, luxury is a key segment in Capuano’s vision for company growth.
“I continue to drive focus within the organization on luxury,” Capuano said. “Luxury represents about 10 percent of our global room inventory but about 20 percent of revenues through related fees. So from a purely economic perspective, the luxury portfolio and footprint are critically important.”
Marriott runs nearly 500 luxury hotels and resorts, with plans to open about 35 more luxury hotels this year out of a pipeline of roughly 200 properties.
“You can continue to see us make investments movements of dedicated capital to ensure that we maintain our significant lead in the luxury tier,” Capuano said. “We have a singularly unique portfolio in that we have a really compelling blend of classic luxury brands like Ritz Carlton and Saint Regis and emerging lifestyle luxury brands like Edition and W Hotels.”