Over the years we’ve seen a shift from selling superyachts to selling the ultimate experience. This shines a light on luxury hospitality, but the interior department of many superyachts remains relatively unstructured and disconnected from other functions onboard.
In order to deliver on the seven star service expected, there is growing support for a more systematic and cohesive approach and the economic arguments are compelling.
Earlier this year, Peter Vogel established the Luxury Hospitality Group with precisely this aim in mind. We met up during METSTRADE in Amsterdam to discuss the case for moving luxury hospitality centre stage.
OO: What's the current state of play in terms of the management of the interior department in the superyacht industry?
Peter Vogel: If you look at superyachts, everything on the nautical side is regulated. But the core of the yacht is the interior crew, who entertain the owner or the charter guests, and nothing is regulated.
If you take a superyacht worth €300 million, €100-150 million is the cost of the ship and the rest is the interior, so in many cases the value of the interior exceeds the value of the ship, which is extraordinary. Young people are managing the highest value part of the yacht without any formal training!
We believe interior crew have the right to be educated and trained, they have the right to a career and career support, and a positive work environment. We call it luxury hospitality lifecycle management, which means management of all aspects of the interior and hospitality operation onboard.
OO: And you want to take this further by fostering better teamwork across departments?
Peter: Yes. Historically deck and engineering were two different tribes, fighting each other. Things have improved over the years, but I still sense a little bit of the same on superyachts, which is killing teamwork.
It also creates a lot of work, so it’s a waste of money and energy, it’s not efficient. People walk away because they don’t like working in that atmosphere, so there’s a lot we can do to improve the crew’s professional and private situations onboard.
If you can support crew in having great teams, and having fun in what they do, retention rates go up, the costs of ownership go down and you enhance the reputation of the yacht. You also enhance the charter value of the yacht and the residual value of the yacht. There’s only a win-win situation in economic terms, and that is our goal.
OO: How do you get the buy-in from other departments?
Peter: I think the common denominator is luxury hospitality, and everybody on the boat is involved in hospitality, from the deckhand to the captain to the engineer. We are all involved in that, so that’s why we feel that our approach needs to be all encompassing with more cohesion between departments.
On the great yachts, and there are quite a few of them out there, we’ve worked with them, these walls don’t exist. There is respect for each other’s knowledge, expertise and experience in the industry, or transitional experience. It’s about respect and, because of that, the experiences onboard become more valuable for the owners, it’s more fun, smooth, seamless, and that’s the whole aim of this approach.
OO: This is really good news for the interior department then. We already have GUEST (Guidelines for Unified Excellence in Service Training), but are you planning to introduce certification for your own training?
Peter: Yes we are. GUEST has been instrumental as an industry standard qualification for individual steward/esses and our interior courses are all GUEST accredited. Our leadership and management courses are accredited by GUEST as well as the Institute of Leadership & Management [ILM], providing professional certification recognized outside the yachting industry.
Luxury Hospitality Lifecycle Management goes beyond this, putting in place systems to enhance management of the interior as a whole, and fostering a more cohesive approach to hospitality across all departments.
In practice there are four steps:
Quality Assurance Management - gap analyses, assessments, SOPs, manuals.
Team Composition - profiling, sourcing and team development.
Learning & Development - hospitality and leadership training for the interior and hospitality programs for other departments.
Retention Services - performance management, refresher courses.
Peter: That’s why we ask captains to attend parts of our service methods training, because they need to know about interior management and we believe this creates a better team where everybody works together.
OO: So it’s an investment in the team and the yacht as a whole?
Peter: The way I look at it is this: The captain is usually very good at managing the deck and engineering side because they have affinity with them. But the interior is more mysterious, so we’re creating a structure to give them the power to manage it, and it doesn’t matter who is managing that department, they will be able to manage the leader, which can only be done if we give them the tools. So it’s not to step on anyone’s toes, it’s to assist the industry, to assist the captain, the management company and the interior manager/chief steward/ess to get the best out of their people.
OO: And also presumably to raise standards across the board. Someone said to me after the Chefs Competition at the MYBA Charter Show in Genoa this year, that there was a huge difference in the standard of service between the top and bottom. None were bad, but some were so much better.
Peter: It’s interesting that you say that, because we did the PYA Table Setting Competition at the Monaco Yacht Show again this year, I’ve been involved in judging for many of those, and it has always been the technical issues that were a problem. A year ago, of the seven entries, for five of them I couldn’t even look at the table because the technical side was wrong, and from a professional point of view that’s where it starts. I know some people think that as long as the table looks pretty it’s ok, but that’s not true.
This year we had six entries and, technically, all six were correct. Most of them had had some form of training, but the improvement in one year, and to see that people are taking this more seriously, was very refreshing.
OO: Do you see a situation where teams will move, as opposed to individuals moving?
Peter: That’s a good question; I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that easy for a team to move, but it’s an interesting option.
What’s happening is there are captains that are good and have a good reputation, and they bring people with them. We’re currently building a system where it will be difficult to move the whole crew from one boat to another, and people will not want to move, because it creates a good environment, a healthy environment, with a career path and career progression - all these things will be in place.
OO: In practical terms, will you be using your facility in Rotterdam as well as onboard training?
Peter: Yes, it requires both as luxury lifecycle management involves several steps. Initially we perform a gap analysis to assess the current hospitality situation onboard, and provide a report highlighting opportunities to improve.
We then assess and profile the crew to build balanced and efficient teams based on the strengths of the individuals, and this is supported by our online performance management tools.
The third step involves training the crew in all aspects of hospitality. We do this onboard or onsite during build, refit or operation stages, depending on the client’s needs. Going forward, we also support clients with crew retention and refresher training at our academy or onboard their yacht.
OO: How do your plans sit in relation to PYA (The Professional Yachting Association) and MYBA (The Worldwide Yachting Association)?
Peter: They sit very well together. GUEST is still an integral part of what we offer as it lays the foundation for our product. We’re also speaking to SYBAss (The Superyacht Builders Association) as luxury hospitality lifecycle management is something they are keen to support.
MYBA is also interested in our lifecycle management approach. It’s about using the economic arguments. From MYBA’s perspective, lifecycle management enhances the charter value of the yacht.
For SYBAss it’s also about enhancing the residual value of the yacht, which shipbuilders would very much like to see. For example, if you ask one of the shipbuilders what they really sell, most of them will tell you that they sell yachts, but some might say they sell the experience, meaning that there should be a life after launch.
If you look at life after launch it’s about services, high level services, and they don’t know how to do that because they are manufacturers. Managing a shipyard and managing service are totally different things. We do the latter, it’s all about giving guests the ultimate experience, so it’s the same argument from both sides, and you have to blend it into one value chain.
OO: Commercially it’s very smart as it enhances the relationship between the client and the yard.
Peter: Yes, without having to go outside the bubble and find a new client, you’re nurturing that client and there’s a higher chance that he or she will go on to build another boat. It’s customer service, and yesterday at GSF they compared it with the automotive world. If you buy a luxury car, you’re connected with that brand for the rest of your life. You don’t go from Mercedes to BMW, you just don’t.
OO: When you come across an initiative like this, the industry-wide drive to raise standards seems to be coming together across the board.
Peter: Yes it is. And sometimes you have to have a little luck in life! We’re seeing a growing appetite in the industry to professionalize, or to raise the bar higher, from all parties concerned, not only the captains, but also shipyards and charterer brokerage, so the timing is spot on and that’s the luck we have now. Hopefully we will be able to accelerate this trend and support it.
We’ve planted a lot of seeds. We ask captains and crew, ‘what is your bottleneck, where’s your heart ache, what keeps you awake at night’, and we include their feedback in our luxury hospitality lifecycle management.
We also operate in other sectors like luxury cruising, boutique hotels and resorts and luxury domestic estates, which is why we set up the group, but it’s clear that every other industry is looking at yachting as the pinnacle. And yet somehow, on the inside of our little bubbl, we all know it’s not. There are some exceptions, there are some boats out there which are managed amazingly, but often without a structured system to guarantee that you keep the residual value up, based on these other arguments that we’ve talked about. So we have a duty as an industry to catch up, and become the service industry that everyone looks up to and calls seven star.