Hotel companies stretch out to the sea

Hospitality companies are taking to the seas as several groups queue up to launch their luxury yachts in the coming years. Aiming to extend their bespoke, luxury offerings while on board a yacht, leading companies like Four Seasons, Aman, and Ritz-Carlton have launched or will soon launch yachts.

While it is common for smaller hotel companies to offer yacht excursions, hospitality companies are now exploring this new category and sailing intimate, luxurious vessels which promise the same standard of hospitality as on their hotels. For hospitality companies, the vessels are like an extension of the hotel brand at sea and have the opportunity to offer more than just the traditional hotel.

In October, Evrima, the first of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s three custom-made yachts set sail with a voyage from Spain’s Barcelona to Nice in France. Custom-built from the ground up in collaboration with Oaktree Capital Management, the yacht measuring 190 meters has 149 suites and can accommodate up to 298 passengers. In addition to the suites, the vessel also features two-story loft suites, offering duplex accommodation. All the rooms include a private terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows.

“The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection was created to introduce an entirely new experience to the luxury cruising category. With a brand such as The Ritz-Carlton, which is already synonymous with land-based luxury, guests can identify easily with the experience that is offered at sea. They know what to expect before they even step on board,” says Douglas Prothero, CEO, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.

Halting at several ports, most voyages range from seven to 10 nights, with no two journeys alike. This allows guests to combine itineraries without repeating a destination. Depending on the season, Evrima travels through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Evrima, the first of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s three custom-made yachts

Earlier this year, Four Seasons launched Four Seasons Yachts. Created in partnership with luxury entrepreneurs Nadim Ashi and Philip Levine as well as shipbuilding group Fincantieri; the group’s first vessel is expected to sail by 2025. Announced last July, the order includes the option for two additional vessels and amounts to €1.2 billion (US$1.24 billion).

The inaugural yacht will be 207 meters long and 27 meters wide with 14 decks. Costing US$4.2 million per suite to build, the vessel will offer 95 rooms with a network of joining suite combinations creating adaptable, villa-like residences. The biggest residence — the Funnel Suite — will be spread over four levels offering over 892 square meters of combined indoor/outdoor space, along with a private wading pool and private spa. Tillberg Design of Sweden is the lead architect of the yacht and is responsible for the yacht’s exterior, while London-based Martin Brudnizki Design Studio will work on the guest areas. The design partners will be working along with the creative direction of Prosper Assouline.

Earlier this year, Four Seasons launched Four Seasons Yachts.

Guests on board will also be able to access a full-service spa, salon and wellness programs. The canoe-shaped aft will feature a pool deck and will also transform into an outdoor movie theatre or space for private events.

Customized offerings

“There’s a reason why we call it a yacht, we’re not interested in the cruise line industry. What we wanted to recreate was the sense of luxury space, space on water is luxury, and a level of customized offerings. You’re not forced into choosing an experience three months, six months, or a year in advance, which is the case in the traditional cruise industry. The idea is to really create a sense of privacy on water, and to take guests to some of the most amazing destinations around the world, in the hands of Four Seasons,” explains Christian Clerc, president, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

Although the company is yet to draw up a price point, the voyages are expected to last for seven days.

With Mark Henry Cruise Holdings owning the vessels and leading maritime operations, the yachts are not a franchise agreement unlike the vessels launched by the other brands, stresses Clerc. Four Seasons will be in charge of guest experience, staff experience and shore experience.

Late last year, Aman announced Project Sama which was developed through a joint venture between Aman and Cruise Saudi, of which Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is a shareholder. Set to sail in 2025, the 183-meter vessel will explore Saudi Arabia by sea and house only 50 luxury suites each with a private balcony. Designed in partnership with SINOT Yacht Architecture & Design, Aman will direct the development process of the project — from design to operations and management.

Aman’s Project Sama, set to sail in 2025

As part of its luxury offerings, Aman’s yacht will include an informal all-day restaurant, international dining venues, a club and lounge, two helipads, a beach club, and a spa.

“Project Sama marks a continuation of Aman’s growth, as we reframe luxury hospitality by creating an entirely new concept in on the water exploration, creating a setting akin to that of a private super yacht, imbued with the design ethos and personalized service that Aman is renowned for. Long-term, I see this as an exciting opportunity for the brand to diversify its offering for our clients, delivering the hallmarks of the Aman experience in new formats,” says Vlad Doronin, Chairman and CEO, Aman Group.

Healthy demand

The trend of these yachts has caught on, with a healthy demand for voyages, say companies. While Four Seasons’ Clerc feels the demand will be fueled by people chartering private yachts in summers, The Ritz-Carlton noticed early on the popularity of their Mediterranean voyages, which were selling out first. This led them to extend the Mediterranean season and offer more voyages in the region for subsequent itinerary launches.

“There’s limited space for the 2022 season, and our 2023 season is booking quite well, nearing 60% capacity for the year. Our 2023 summer Mediterranean voyages are proving to be quite popular, with limited space available on a number of itineraries. The year 2024 is also pacing well and exceeding expectations. Additionally, the size of Evrima makes it an ideal setting for full-yacht charter clients, which we are currently quoting for 2024 and beyond. We also decided to reduce the number of port calls per sailing and increase the number of overnight stays, further enhancing the guest experience in each destination,” says Prothero.

The Ritz-Carlton plans to expand the fleet with two new-build superyachts, Ilma and Luminara, expected to set said in 2024 and 2025 respectively. Although the profile of each yacht will look similar, Ilma and Luminara will be slightly bigger in size and will consist of 228 suites, each with its own private terrace.

The two new-built yachts will also include five restaurants, six bars, a wine vault, and an expanded marina with a new mezzanine feature and a spa. Both the vessels will be built in collaboration with the shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, France, adds Prothero.

Regardless of the pandemic, Four Seasons saw the yachts as an important opportunity and initiated the plans before the pandemic struck. The company intends to add more than three vessels.

“How many, I don’t know, but certainly in the near future, seven to 10 ships would not be unusual for us. This might take us to 2027 but we want to pace ourselves and make sure the vessels are great. These are profitable ventures and will be priced as one of the top experiences in the world,” Clerc adds.