Cruise Critic caught up with RCCL chief Richard Fain in the Philippines, where the company has launched a $5 million ocean conservation program in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and will open a new crew recruitment office in Manila this May. Here’s what he had to say about new and ongoing developments.
Why did you choose the Philippines for the new office?
A: We have 60 nationalities onboard our ships and Filipinos represent the largest single nation group. There are 11,000 Filipino crew members across our brands, representing 16 percent of at-sea employees. The nation has a very strong seafaring heritage, so people are attracted to careers in the maritime industry, and in addition to having English as the official language, Filipinos always convey a sense of happiness, which is infectious.
What is the purpose of the new office?
A: We aim to simplify the recruitment and hiring process and we have a target of increasing the number of Filipino crew members to 30,000 over the next five years. If the model based on the new manning office is as successful as we think it will be, our thought is to expand it in other countries.
Ovation of the Seas, launching in April, is the first ship in the RCCL fleet aimed at the Asian market, so will the majority of crew be Chinese?
A: In conjunction with the Tianjin Maritime College we also have a large training facility in China. Ovation will have a larger proportion of Chinese crew, but the rest will be made up of the same spread of nationalities you find on our other ships. There will be no requirements for other nationalities to speak Mandarin, but if they want to learn that’s terrific. In fact, we already have a number of Filipino crew members who do speak Mandarin. The most important thing with the crew on Ovation is that they understand cultural differences. For example, guests in China want their water warm, whereas in Europe they want one teeny ice cube and in the U.S. they want obscene amounts of ice.
Are you concerned about the recent slowdown in the Chinese economy?
A: We are always looking at the economies in the places we operate, but Asia is the largest growing cruise market, and we predict the market for Ovation is out there.
With a total of 43 ships across the RCCL brands, the company has an enormous amount coming up over the coming months and years, with two vessels on firm order (dubbed Project EDGE) and an additional six vessels under construction contract. Harmony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship launching in May, has 2,394 crew members alone. Is it difficult to fill your ships with the best people?
A: We are very fortunate as getting enough of the right people is not an issue for us. Our objective is to be the employer of choice and we provide training that gives everyone the opportunity to enhance their careers. As a result, recruitment is a self-generating process. For example, in the Philippines our employees spread the word themselves by going home and talking about us to their family, friends and people in the street.
Is there anything you can share about Project EDGE? (The code name for the two 2,900-passenger vessels for Celebrity Cruises being built at STX France and debuting in 2018 and 2020)
A: I have just been to the shipyard in St. Nazaire and what I can say right now is that I think this is going to be a big surprise to everyone. The vessels will be just as extraordinary in their own way as the Oasis, Quantum, Solstice and, going back in my career in the industry, the Sovereign-class ships were at the time when they were first launched.
Harmony of the Seas will boast world firsts including the Broadway production of Grease and Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea. What are your standout features?
A: It is going to offer a whole lot of terrific ‘wows’, but what I am most excited about is the crew. The key part of our business and what drives its success is the crew, and for me this is the most outstanding feature.
In recent weeks several cruise lines have pulled out of Turkey. Are there any plans for RCCL to cancel ports of call?
A: The safety of our guests and crew members is paramount. We are always monitoring the geo-political situations in the different countries we visit and act accordingly.
Do you see situations such as this having any long-term impact on the future of cruising?
A: No. We visit 400 ports around the world and cruising continues to see great growth as well as offering great value vacations.