This November, a remarkable new cruise ship completed its maiden voyage from Southampton, across the Atlantic to Bayonne.
Dubbed ‘the world’s first smartship’, the liner’s operator – Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCC) – has stated that the ‘Quantum of the Seas’ is set to change the way you go on holiday. According to their CEO Richard Fain:
‘Quantum of the Seas isn’t just changing cruising, it’s changing how today’s traveller vacations. It’s not just how you travel, it’s the experience from start to finish. With Quantum we are empowering our guests to customize every aspect of their journey, providing them with an unprecedented level of freedom and flexibility.’
Clearly a big billing, and RCC will be hoping that their new ship can live up to the hype. It certainly has a few features that set it apart from other cruisers: the bar is serviced by robots, entertainment includes a skydiving simulator and 300ft-high views around the ship from the ‘North Star’, there are 18 restaurants across its 18 decks. For the first time ever on a cruise ship guests will have bumper cars, roller skating and a food truck at their disposal.
The Quantum marks a clear departure from the standard view of cruise ships as catering for mainly retirees; but if RCC wants the Quantum of the Seas to change the way we travel it could have a few problems to overcome yet.
The ship may cater to a wider audience, but it’s still most definitely aimed at the affluent end of the traveller market. Prices for an eight night cruise start at $1,050 and reportedly go as high as $11,500.
Unsurprisingly, it represents a significant investment for RCC: each berth cost them around $210,000 to build, which gives it a total cost somewhere near the $1 billion mark. But it won’t stop there. The Quantum of the Seas is the first of three new ‘Quantum Class’ liners, to be followed by the ‘Anthem of the Seas’ next year and then finally the ‘Ovation of the Seas’ in 2016.
Clearly, RCC has placed a lot of faith in ‘Quantum’ as the future of travel. For that faith to pay off, it will have to successfully attract a new breed of travellers to cruise ships: RCC’s older customers are unlikely to be impressed by the inclusion of online technology, robotics, heights and extreme sports, or the removal of staff.
The company has stated that it intends to capture a more global audience with its new line of ships, particularly the growing Chinese market. Tapping into China’s rise to global prominence and wealth has been a successful strategy for many companies, like high-end fashion and metals mining. Many of those companies are now facing trouble, though, as Chinese growth begins to slow dramatically.
Some analysts are predicting that Chinese GDP growth will decrease to just 2% a year from now on, some way off the 12% growth seen back in 2010. It has been enough to convince some major brands that their presence in China is now more of a weakness than a strength. RCC must not come to have the same regrets after their own multi-billion dollar investment.
As the world comes out of austerity and recession, the travel industry as a whole will probably get more competitive. Investors clearly have faith in the company’s ability to change travel: the Royal Caribbean Cruise’s shares have grown around 25% in value over the last month. Only time will tell whether the Quantum will change the way you holiday in years to come.
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