CHEVY CHASE, MD—There’s a void The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC is looking to fill—and that’s in the luxury yachting space. While this may seem like a new venture for the luxury hospitality brand, it’s been in discussions for more than a decade.
“As a brand, The Ritz-Carlton has been considering entering the cruise industry for more than 10 years now,” explained Hervé Humler, president and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. “Recently, we saw a real void in the luxury cruise market given that there are only four small luxury ships that remain in operation and these ships are more than 20 years old. Additionally, in the past year alone, approximately 405,000 Ritz-Carlton guests told us they had taken a cruise, and the number of cruise passengers globally has grown by 8.5% annually since 1981 on average. We saw a real opportunity within the luxury cruise market to appeal to not only our current customer base, but also to other luxury cruise takers, with The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.”
The Ritz-Carlton created The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection in collaboration with maritime experts Douglas Prothero and Lars Clasen, both of whom have extensive experience in the yachting business and the cruise business. Both are also veterans of maritime finance, shipbuilding, cruise ownership and operations in charter, mainstream and adventure sectors. “We are thrilled to have such a robust leadership team in place, and now we are working with a wide range of other leading industry experts to ensure a truly curated guest experience,” Humler told Hotel Business.
Managing the funds for this venture at sea is Oaktree Capital Management, an alternative investment management firm based in Los Angeles. “Oaktree has considerable experience and expertise with investment in the maritime and hospitality sectors and is a leader among global investment managers specializing in alternative investments,” Humler explained. “We are delighted to have them onboard with us on this venture. In conjunction with Doug and Lars, they are truly integral to the development of this project and the construction of the yachts.”
The Ritz-Carlton will provide luxury hospitality service under a long-term operating agreement. The first of three cruising yachts in this series is scheduled to take to sea in Q4 2019. The hospitality brand is attempting to fill a void in the luxury cruise market.
“Given the void in the luxury cruise market and the opportunity to appeal to Ritz-Carlton and other cruise clientele, we feel we are uniquely positioned to stand out in the ultra-luxury cruise space with top-of-the-line service, intimate and modern ship design, and unique yacht-style itineraries,” Humler said. “We also expect this different style of cruising to appeal to new audiences who might not ordinarily consider taking a cruise.”
Voyages will range from seven to 10 days. The first ship will cruise a wide variety of destinations depending on the season—including the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Other locations will include Italy’s Capri and Portofino, St. Barts and Cartagena, Colombia. Both overnight and daytime ports of call will be available.
“While [the itineraries]are still being determined, we plan to offer one-of-a-kind curated destination experiences through collaborations with local chefs, musicians and artists at each destination, which will allow guests to experience the locations in unique ways, both onboard and ashore,” Humler pointed out. “We are also thrilled to partner with Jean Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society to develop signature programming for the yachts, which will provide another unique feature within our itineraries that will further connect our guests to their surroundings. The size of the vessels will also allow us to visit areas and ports that larger ships cannot.”
Designed in partnership with marine architecture and interior design firm Tillberg Design of Sweden, the small-capacity vessel will measure more than 207 yards. It’ll have 149 suites—each with its own private balcony. The yacht will accommodate up to 298 passengers in total and have two duplex penthouses (each more than 1,485 sq. ft.).
“Tillberg Design of Sweden was a natural design partner for the venture, given its status as a leading global cruise ship design firm,” Humler said. “We are privileged to have Fredrik Johansson and his team involved in the project and the design of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. In terms of design, the layout and design of the first two yachts will be the same, with the third vessel following a similar design, but with some planned modifications to reflect additional cruising grounds in the Pacific Rim.”
In order to conceptualize a design for the yacht collection, Tillberg took inspiration from world-famous yachts (including Azzam, Eclipse and Nauta). Another goal for the design firm was to create a visual link with some of The Ritz-Carlton properties, especially those with a crisp and contemporary interior design vibe. “We have fused the spacious, almost-residential feel of those with marine and innovative design qualities of some of the most stylish yacht interiors of the world to create a product that will very much look like a private yacht on the horizon,” Humler said. “Additionally, all suites on board will have a far greater ceiling height than a cruise ship suite, resulting in the most spacious suites on a ship. This will set The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection apart from its luxury competitors. This design, coupled with other innovative attributes, will also help appeal to guests seeking private charter and/or complete buyouts.”
The first yacht will have five dining venues, including an à la carte restaurant by chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg in Germany. Other dining options will include an Asian fusion restaurant; a main restaurant serving international cuisine; a poolside grill; and a lounge area with international offerings. The second yacht will have similar offerings; the venues for the third yacht are still in development. Each yacht will also have a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa and a marina-style platform with a range of aquatic amenities and experiences.
“What is particularly exciting about this new venture is that 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.,” he said. “Additionally, with the yachts, we are also opening up a whole new world of opportunities for The Ritz-Carlton—such as pre-and post-voyage opportunities to link the sea with shore-side properties and offer guests a new and complete brand experience.”
As with any new venture, there are risks—unforeseen challenges, especially with regard to standard maritime regulations and hurdles. “Given the extensive knowledge of our expert leadership team, we were confident in our ability to overcome such challenges,” Humler explained. “Additionally, given that The Ritz-Carlton has had a successful track record of brand extensions—including The Ritz-Carlton Residences, The Ritz-Carlton Destination Clubs and Ritz-Carlton Reserve, we saw this as a brand extension with meaningful potential and a market in which we could have significant impact.”
Reservations for The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will open in May 2018. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s focus will continue to be on its yacht collection in the near or immediate future. “While we currently plan to start with three ships and evaluate from there, we do feel that this design and product concept can sustain a larger fleet, and so plans for additional vessels may be a possibility in the future,” Humler said. HB