In the highly competitive world of luxury cruising, anything less than deferential service is unacceptable. Mark Conroy, president and CEO of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, explains why.
Guest comment cards are important. Over the years, these forms that many customers happily fill out have allowed the careful monitoring of guests’ interests, preferences and expectations, and how they rate every aspect of the experience they have had. This interactive process or dialogue with guests keeps efforts to deliver consistently impeccable service grounded in reality. This is a core value of the Radisson Seven Seas brand and an expression of its relationship with its customers.
The proof of excellence is in the voting – with readers of magazines such as Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure aimed at Radisson’s target audience repeatedly voting the company the World’s Best Small Cruise Line, honours Radisson also won in 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2003. Most recently, the cruise line made it into the exclusive company of the Robb Report’s Best of the Best for 2004.
Like other intensely service-driven companies, Radisson has transformed the business mantra from ‘the customer is always right’ into ‘listening to the customer is always right’. In the realm of relationship marketing, guests are anything but abstractions: they are vital beings with real – not conjectured – outlooks on the world. But outlooks and perceptions alone are not what drive service; aspirations, attitudes and expectations drive service for the personal explorers of self and world who have supplanted the less ambitious vacationers of yesteryear.
Driving the cruise industry forward is the need to respond to smarter, more informed, more successful and ultimately more interesting customers. They are likely to be lifelong learners, typically pursuing ongoing education and development. Radisson has addressed this by expanding specially themed voyages with numerous high-end food and wine cruises and learning vacations featuring hands-on experiences with master chefs in cooking workshops-at-sea. This has spurred a continual raising of standards and broadening of the service concept – so that it now embraces programming aimed at enhancing and enriching every aspect of the shipboard and destination experience.
STRATEGIC ALLIANCES, BRAND PARTNERSHIPS
Ultimately, service is about more than the ‘can do’ spirit of a ship’s service staff more even than the anticipatory sense of what guests need before they even ask for it. It is also about satisfying aspirations, as well as the expectations for personal growth and discovery today’s upscale travellers bring to their journeys – this is reflected in their resolve to bring home more than physical souvenirs. With the tagline of ‘luxury goes exploring’, Radisson aims to keep the life-enriching qualities of guests’ experiences uppermost.
Fulfilling the objective of enhancing every cruise has led to partnerships with prominent land-based organisations whose interests – and customers – converge with Radisson’s. In key areas of shipboard service, the company has turned to renowned institutions whose reputations represent brand equity, innovation and compatibility.
CARITA GOES TO SEA
In hiring two-star Michelin chef Jean-Pierre Vigato (owner of the exclusive Apicius restaurant in Paris) to create the 320-guest Paul Gauguin’s outstanding culinary product in Tahiti, where it sails year-round, Radisson embarked upon the successful strategy of using acclaimed land-based chefs and culinary authorities to forge shipboard dining experiences equal to those of the best shoreside restaurants.
In Tahiti, the expertise of another renowned, land-based practitioner to the shipboard amenities package was successfully applied, enlisting the famous Carita of Paris to provide its exclusive style of spa services for guests in Polynesia – and a viable ocean-going spa alternative in an industry long dominated by only a handful of operators. (In recognition of the total cruise experience offered to guests in Tahiti, the Paul Gauguin was named the number-one cruise ship in the world in 2003 by Condé Nast Traveler.)
Building on the six-year success with Carita in Polynesia, Radisson signed an exclusive agreement with the legendary company to operate Carita spas throughout the fleet, making Radisson Seven Seas the only cruise line to feature the famously high-end Carita spa, giving guests access to one of the most exclusive land-based spa operations in the world, known for its unrivalled approach to spa and beauty services tailored to the uniquely individual needs of each guest. If choice is the ultimate luxury, Radisson took the cue from customers who said they would welcome a departure from the prevailing approach to shipboard spa services.
Designed as the perfect complement to cruising and a luxurious refuge from everyday stresses, the Carita Spas combine the art of gentle pampering with renewal and rejuvenation. Under the supervision of trained staff, guests enjoy an extensive range of physical regimens, including health and revitalisation therapies. With the flair that makes Carita the favoured retreat of celebrities, massage (anti-stress or therapeutic), thalassotherapy, reflexology, aromatherapy, stone therapy, body wraps, facials, steam room and beauty treatments are also available. Fleetwide, the Carita Spas include beauty salons with teams of hairdressers from renowned Parisian salons. Cutting, colouring and styling is offered, and guests may also indulge in manicures and pedicures.
Carita brings more than a celebrated name aboard – the doors are open for guests to experience skin care therapies and other treatments they will not find at any other ocean-going spa. And judging from the guest comment cards, that is just what they were seeking in the twin arts of relaxation and rejuvenation.
SAILING WITH LE CORDON BLEU
Some brands have built-in synergies that have been put into play in the onboard service arena. In 2001, with the debut of the world’s first all-balcony suite ship, the acclaimed 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner, Radisson introduced guests to the 110-seat Signatures, the first permanent restaurant-at-sea to be directed by the chefs of Le Cordon Bleu. In 2003, with the launch of its sister ship, the all-balcony suite Seven Seas Voyager, the Signatures restaurant experience was reprised.
It is easy to see why the cruise industry’s first reservations-only dinner restaurant to be staffed night in, night out by chefs donning the white toque and coveted blue riband of Le Cordon Bleu has fared so well. Essential to this programme is listening to guests. Although the predominant cooking style here is classically French, the menu reflects a wider world of culinary delights. The fixed menu is enhanced every night with a changing roster of dishes influenced by global cooking styles, including regional, nouvelle and fusion fare.
The pairing of France’s most celebrated culinary school with the ultra-luxurious, French-built Mariner and Voyager ships gave Radisson the culinary depth and flexibility to showcase Le Cordon Bleu’s artistry in Signatures every night: there has also been the opportunity to fulfill the learning vacation trend, augmenting the Signatures programme with special Classe Culinaire des Croísières workshops on select voyages aimed at food lovers who appreciate fine cuisine and wish to duplicate it in their kitchens at home.
The evolution of the fine dining concept evident in Signatures has taken shape in other shipboard restaurants. Latitudes is the most intimate. On the Mariner, the fixed menu is a striking compilation of tastes drawn from world cuisine, with dishes served on sample platters. On Voyager, Latitudes boasts one of the first open galleys at sea, making dining a theatrical experience. With the restaurant’s IndoChinese theme, the chefs play on flavours of the Far East, with culinary selections paired with music and wine for an unforgettable dining experience.
SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICE
Radisson has devoted considerable resources to shipboard dining and guest enrichment programmes. Now, with the advent of longer voyages (for example, Grand Pacific Voyages and World Cruises), these efforts have been intensified. The outcome is the Spotlight series of carefully themed cruises featuring demonstrations by notable chefs, restaurateurs and vintners who join distinguished lecturers, adding enlightening commentary to the line-up of shipboard activities.
For guests, the ultimate travelling luxury is in-depth exploration from a private suite with impeccable service rendered. Aboard the small luxury ships of Radisson Seven Seas, no service is too small to make a lasting memory. If guests remember the service, they are likely to come back.