Reflect On The Issues Affecting Management Of Accommodation On Board

This topic focuses on the efficient management of onboard lodging, including cabins, common rooms, staff quarters, and deck areas. Administration, yield management, design considerations, routines and schedules, and environmental concerns are just a few of the factors that are examined when looking at this department. Operational managers in this division are concerned about the planning restrictions mentioned earlier, such as the requirement to utilise available space efficiently, the rising demand for improved passenger amenities, and the current trend to ensure that cruise ships sail at full capacity.

When it comes to space management, this department may run into issues with guests boarding with a lot of luggage, carrying the luggage from the ship to the cabin and back again, and keeping personal items inside the cabin. The cabin/stateroom accommodations provided on board and hotel accommodations off-board are compared by passengers. There is an expectation that the accommodations will match the aesthetic of the cruise, the brand’s image, the price paid, the promoted product offer, and comparable shore-based goods.

While passengers acknowledge the space constraint, as well as recognizing that the attractions on board mean that proportionately little time may be spent in the cabin /stateroom, the expectation regarding the accommodation can be high. The lack of alternative accommodation space presents problems for managers faced with critical events that may necessitate temporary or permanent reallocation
of accommodation.

Revenue or Yield Management

Revenue management (RM) is the practice of offering the correct type of inventory (cabins/staterooms) at the appropriate price to maximize revenue (Yeoman and Ingold, 1997). RM is a practice that is undertaken in a number of industries to ensure that time and selling strategy are managed effectively to generate the best “yield” (Donaghy et al., 1997).

Yield is a result of the number of cabins or staterooms sold at each price as well as the price the cruise line charges for differentiated service options (pricing) (seat inventory control). The RM policy and the company’s need to maximise profitability are both driven by the perishability of the inventory, whether that inventory consists of hotel rooms, airline seats, cruise ship cabins, or theatre tickets. The creation and application of policies relating to the determination and alignment of price, product, and buyer that will result in profitability are included in RM.

In this way RM uses predictions regarding inventory and market segments and optimum pricing to create an increase in net yield. Typically, RM is applied when service organizations have a fixed capacity (such as with a cruise ship or a fleet of ships) and when success or failure is dependent on how this capacity is used. These organizations frequently have high fixed costs that are covered when a certain level of sales is achieved. Making an additional sale on top of this break-even point has a marginal impact on costs compared to the impact on revenue.

Costs, Sales, and Markets

The cruise business is investment heavy in terms of the ship itself, the fixtures and fittings, the technical and operational aspects of maintaining the ship, the labor element involved, and the provision of services on board. Once in service, it is difficult to adjust the capacity of a cruise ship, so the critical factor is ensuring that the ship sails on full or as close to full capacity as possible. The costs of adding any extra passengers to reduce unused capacity is relatively, inexpensive, so cruise companies can view actual selling prices with an open mind. It benefits cruise companies to sell inventory as quickly as possible so that they can:

■ Gain early access to passengers’ money (deposits)
■ Be able to ascertain demand at an early stage so as to formulate a robust strategy for maximizing yield
■ Make decisions to decrease time uncertainty relating to demand

This means that cruise companies derive advantages from operating initiatives designed to attract early booking. Typical initiatives include time-constrained discounts, free upgrades for early booking; additional incentives for early booking (such as transport to port or onboard credit), and loyalty club membership with access to advance notice with a range of early booking benefits.

In order to make critical decisions about RM, the cruise company needs to be aware of:

■ Market segments and consumer buying behavior
■ Specific markets to be targeted for specific vacations
■ Historical demand and booking patterns
■ Pricing knowledge (competitors’ rates or rate ranges)

Overbooking on cruises is becoming a possibility more frequently. This happens as a result of cruise operators’ forecasts of what is likely to happen with cancellations and no-shows based on analysis of trading patterns. In order to make up for last-minute non-arrivals, overbooking is done. The overbooking policy is made to specify what can be done, including offering compensation, if a cruise is overbooked.

The cruise operator must also take the multiplier effect into account. The RM system must be concerned with a yield that takes into account the possibility of attracting income through sales on board since this effect suggests that revenue can be earned on board after the booking is made. The type of “bundle” being offered has a significant impact on this model. Increasing yield through the combination of volume sales of cruise holidays and revenue earned on board has been the current trend for boats over the past few years. This is done by lowering prices while maintaining or even increasing occupancy rates.

Sales figures represent the percentage of lower berths that are sold on board. Many operators offer fourberth cabins to single passengers willing to share or to family groups who are travelling together, which, in turn, can increase the occupancy percentage. This practice, in combination with the overbooking policy, means that ships can sail with a stated occupancy level that is greater than 100 percent.
Other features of RM worth considering:

■ A complex pricing structure that changes can alienate passengers and cause confusion.
■ Passengers in this position may seek alternatives.
■ The RM system relies on the yield manager knowing the true availability of inventory.
■ The distribution system must be reliable.
■ RM requires that the company can forecast accurately (forecasting includes knowledge of customers, booking patterns, no-shows and cancellations, supply factors, and market assessment).
■ RM is a strategic decision-making process that needs to take into account alternative scenarios.
■ RM is a team activity that use software to analyze complex data.

Administering Accommodation

For the reasons explained above, it is possible to achieve capacity for a vessel that exceeds 100 percent. The process of managing accommodation on board is greatly complicated by inflexibility to deal with accidents or problems on board. Most situations are dealt with at the purser’s desk or reception. To be able to deal with these problems, the ship’s manager/officer needs to be able to make a judgment about the nature of the case at hand and the options available for solving the problem and be able to make a choice from these options about the solution that would be most beneficial for both
the passenger and the cruise company.

In the first instance, the purser’s department requires accurate information about cabins and passengers. This database, supplied from the sales office ashore, is crucial because it provides intelligence relating to the passenger that may inform the manager further about the background for any potential problem. The database may also inform heads of department about any surplus inventory that can be used in the event that a change of cabin is unavoidable. Second, the purser’s office needs to be aware of the policy for dealing with problems so that he or she is appropriately empowered to make decisions and act accordingly. Third, the manager needs to be able to communicate with all parties to access more information when necessary and seek advice when appropriate. A constant channel of communication is maintained between the purser’s department and the accommodation manager to facilitate this type of problem solving. The updated information database is critical for administering the accommodation department, to generate accurate passenger accounts or folios, and to produce information about passengers on board for port authorities.

Aesthetics and Ergonomics

The design of cabin or stateroom spaces, public areas, and crew accommodation is undertaken with a view to ensuring that the resultant product:
■ Is suitable for the purpose for which it is designed
■ Is acceptable to the user in terms of appearance and functionality
■ Meets the needs of the user in terms of quality
■ Meets the health and safety requirements that are required on board
■ Is maintainable and serviceable
■ Is congruent with the brand and brand values

The furnishings, fittings, lighting, décor, and quality of air (air conditioning) are, in totality, the product with which passengers and crew interact. The caliber of the linen, the color and texture of the fabrics, the weave of the carpets, the sheen of the wood finish, and the size and feel of the bed are but a small sample of the variables that contribute to the overall design.

The word “aesthetics” refers to the concept of beauty or taste while “ergonomics” is the study of the relationship of people with their environment (Collins, 1987). In this context, it is reasonable to reflect on the balance that can be achieved when designing the interior of a cabin so that it possesses that essential attractiveness that the passenger may desire while remaining intelligently practical for, among other things, resting, sleeping, changing clothes, reading and relaxing (from the passenger’s perspective), and cleaning, tidying, and servicing (from the cabin steward’s perspective).

Many difficulties can arise from the ergonomic aspects of designing a product that fits all types of people irrespective of their dimensions. In much the same way that an airline is faced with problems if a passenger is too large for a standard seat, the cruise company may have problems if, for example, the passenger has difficulty getting around in a cabin with limited space. However, specially adapted cabins are available for passengers with certain special needs, and most cruise companies are careful to ensure that they welcome rather than discriminate against passengers who may have a special need.

Accommodation Systems

Housekeeping in any accommodation and facility-oriented business is, according to Ball, Jones, Kirk and Lockwood (2003b), fundamental to a successful operation. On a cruise ship, the cabin or stateroom is the most heavily used area and, as a result, the cabin is likely to be critically examined more frequently and in more detail than any other area on the ship. The personnel working in this area have a distinct advantage over those working in equivalent jobs in hotels, because they have a higher profile and greater opportunity to interact with the passenger. 

Work Schedules and Routines

The tasks involved in serving accommodation fall under different categories:
■ Routine daily tasks, which include vacuuming floors, cleaning bathrooms, making beds, tidying surfaces, and changing dirty towels.
■ Regular tasks, which include changing linen (sometimes twice per 10-day cruise) and cleaning walls (bulkheads), ceilings (deck heads), windows, and mirrors.
■ Periodic tasks, which include deep cleaning, and shampooing carpets and soft furnishings.

Established routines create a balanced workload that is fair and equitable to the personnel involved. Routines are also established to ensure that all regular and periodic tasks are done to the desired standard.

According to Adamo (1999), the maintenance procedures for accommodation can be identified
■ Non-Routine Maintenance (NRM), such as dealing with leaking taps and bulb blowouts.
■ Emergency Response Maintenance (ERM), such as responding to leaks and heating problems.
■ Cyclical Planned Maintenance (CPM), the cleaning or servicing items on a regular basis.
■ Preventive Planned Maintenance (PPM), which includes inspections and planning for maintenance.

Standard operational procedures (SOPs) are communicated from the cruise company head office to ships in order to establish the standardized model on board. SOPs can take the form of photographs of standard layouts, cabin configurations, and vanity tray setups, supported by text that describes details. The SOPs are prescriptive and communicated from managers to supervisors to staff.

Environmental Issues

Ecological concerns present a serious issue for facilities management. Adamo (1999) identifies the typical problems faced by companies aiming to meet an environmental agenda within a consumer-led society that appears to ignore the ecological impacts connected to the excesses of consumption. The hospitality industry is a volume user of water, energy, consumer goods in general, and scarce luxury items, and the cruise industry can be included in this statement. In addition, the cruise industry has to cope with managing waste products to meet merchant shipping regulations and providing a duty of care to the environment.

Most cruise brands employ an environment officer who reports directly to the ship’s master to address environmental matters. Davies and Cahill (2000) describe two drivers for environmental friendliness. Those referred to as “upstream” impacts relate to the influence that can be placed by cruise companies on their suppliers to make sure that supplies meet appropriate environmental criteria, while “downstream” impacts are more related to the education of customers and clients. The authors suggest both are within the remit of the cruise industry.

Case Study: Managing Accommodation on a Grand Class Ship

Noha Walker has worked in the cruise industry for 15 years. While he has been a XYZ Cruises employee for most of this time, in the past he has also worked for other cruise companies. As the accommodation manager, he reports to the staff first purser (Admin.) and then the passenger services director. His rank is equivalent to a senior assistant purser (two stripes), although this aspect is underplayed because Princess consciously chooses to emphasize the hotel or resort aspect of the vacation rather than the maritime element, with its almost pseudo military connotations. The vessel weighs in at 110,000 GRTs and carries 2,500 passengers when full. In order to maintain the high standards expected on board, Edward’s team is both diverse and large. The statistics are as follows:

Total employees: 190
Accommodation manager: 1
Supervisors: 9
Administration assistant: 1
Deck supervisors: 3
Stateroom stewards: 74
Inside public area supervisor: 1
Outside public area supervisor: 1
Inside public area accommodation attendants (ACATs): 40
Outside public area accommodation attendants (ACATs): 11
Utility cleaners: 25
Bell box supervisor: 1
Bell box staff: 9
Laundry supervisor: 3
Laundry staff: 26
Number of cabins serviced by stateroom stewards: 19 to 20
Nationalities accommodation personnel: approximately 50% Filipino, 25% Eastern European
(Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and Romania), 25% Thai, and a few Portuguese and Mexican.
Duration of contracts: Accommodation manager, 7 months; Filipino, 9 months; Thai, 10 months; Mexican, 6 months; and Portuguese, 8 months.
Number of bell boxes (room service): 1
Number of pantries: 32

The department operates around a set of routines and procedures that are to be completed to standards as are laid out by the head office:
■ Stateroom stewards servicing cabins, suites, and minisuites look after 19 to 20 staterooms each, which might be a mix of suites and cabins. Although suites take longer to service than cabins, the allocation is rotated to make sure that the balance of work is fair.
■ ACATs ensure that public rooms and toilets are serviced. In addition to routine tasks, they undertake scheduled deep cleaning and shampooing of furniture, carpets, and drapes in public areas. They also deal with accidents that result in soiled carpets or soft furnishings.
■ ACATs (pool boys) service passenger areas out on decks, looking after open deck furniture and any cleaning duties that are required.
■ Utility cleaners service crew areas such as alleyways, bulkheads, crew mess and officers’ mess, and they act as officers’ stewards.
■ Bell box room service teams work from the bell box and deck pantries to deliver room service to cabins, suites, and minisuites.

The job of managing accommodation is demanding, but because of the good working relationships both onboard and ashore problems are few and far between. On each cruise there are meetings to examine performance and to consider emerging issues. The brand head office in Santa Clarita keeps in regular and close contact with managers on board to advise about changes or updates to policy and procedures. Systems are in place for a range of eventualities. For passengers with special requests, lists are generated to ensure that the request is distributed to the correct department and personnel for appropriate action. For cruises where passenger profiles are different from the norm, patterns are identified to anticipate needs such as a greater demand for cribs and high chairs. A reporting mechanism is in place to ensure that defects are identified, reported, and appropriately dealt with. Quality control is practiced by all personnel and, the accommodation manager undertakes regular checks that involve random sampling.

Increasingly, passengers report allergies or special needs, and related plans are put in place to meet passenger requirements. Smoking nor non-smoking cabins on board are not specifically designated, so a passenger stating an allergy to cigarette smoke would be allocated a cabin that had been deep cleaned to remove potential problems. For most general deck areas and public rooms, passengers on the port side (left) may smoke, while the starboard side (right) is nonsmoking. Smoking is not allowed in certain lounges and outside decks where there is a potential hazard.

The accommodation manager is responsible for all aspects of managing the department. The department relies on good quality supervisors who have operational experience and strong interpersonal skills. As Edward states, when commenting upon the management skills of his supervisors, “you don’t want supervisors who scream and bawl!” In a growing fleet, getting the right supervisors and managers in place can be a challenge, although experience has shown that the ‘Star Princess’, as one of many new large ships joining the Princess brand in a relatively short time, has reached the required operational standard in a very short time.

The impetus on the head office to source and then schedule key staff is crucial in achieving this aim. Much of the time, training on board is continuous with, personnel learning on the job and being coached by more experienced personnel. Promotion tends to be from within, thus continually building a model of competence based on shared knowledge. Interesting problems do emerge from time to time, like the very tall passenger who did not fit into his standard 6-foot, 6-inch bed. In this situation, a bed extender was built on short notice by the joiner. Normally the ship would get advance warning about this and similar problems. There are cabins on board that comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), with doors that allow easy access for a wheelchair and ramps to get onto the balcony.

Norwalk-like virus (NLV) has been around for a long time and the company has produced an indepth handbook of guidelines that are regularly updated. Thus, if any suspected incident is reported, it is dealt with as a matter of routine. For example, if the doctor advises that a junior assistant purser has symptoms (not full-blown), the accommodation manager would contact the crew supervisor, who has a trained “hit squad” of 16 people on 24-hour availability to sanitize that person’s cabin. The procedure involves isolating the person with the reported problem so as to contain any potential risk.

Fleet cabins, which are crew cabins that are allocated for training purposes, are used to cope with the problem to ensure that the ill person is not in contact with others. On arrival and departure days the accommodation department manages baggage on board. Around 135 baggage cages are filled with the departing passengers’ luggage and taken ashore. Conversely, the joining passengers’ luggage is boarded using a similar system. ACATs, utility cleaners, and bell box staff handle the baggage, collecting, distributing, and offloading as required. Stateroom stewards are not involved in this process. A turnaround in Venice or Barcelona is easier to manage because the ship has a three-day layover.

The Caribbean, with a one-day turnaround, is more difficult, especially on two-week cruises when passengers take more luggage. In Edward’s opinion, the US Port Health inspection is not really a problem because onboard standards are very high. The biggest area for this inspection is the galley, but for his department Port Health officers look at pantries, onboard cleaning routines for dishwashers, and the logs and records related to these areas. They will check that hot tubs are sanitized once every seven days, that potable water is monitored and in perfect condition, and that swimming pools are thoroughly tested. Swimming pools and hot tubs are tested by a pool boy every four hours to take readings, copies of which are taken to the engine control room. The pool boy highlights any discrepancies but engineers will deal with the problem. General housekeeping does not hold dangerous chemicals.

The ship’s environmental officer, who reports directly to the captain, monitors all potential risk areas from an environmental safety or compliance point of view. Noha is very aware that soft skills are vital when managing accommodation services. Being able to construct and motivate a team, treating people with respect, and understanding cultural differences are each important elements in the complex task of managing a working community at sea. For example, Noha notes that some nationalities seem more aggressive; they are not necessarily aggressive but they come across as such because of how they do things.

People who work on a cruise ship need to get along with both crew and passengers. He says it can be a long time for some to be away from home, and over the years the routines have changed. For example, on the ‘Island Princess’, stateroom stewards used to service 11 cabins with room service—now they service 20 cabins with balconies. Noha also suggests that over the years he has been at sea, passengers have become more demanding, influenced partly by demographic changes and depending on the time of year and the cruising season. Also, as cruise companies have merged, cost control and budgets have been managed more effectively.

XYZ Cruises operates a passenger service credo called CRUISE, which has evolved over the eight years since it was introduced. The CRUISE program stands for Courtesy, Respect, Unfailing In Service Excellence. It is intended to create a culture of friendly care within an environment where the crew strives for the best level of service. Noha wholeheartedly supports the strategy but highlights those repeat passengers who know the credo and who place additional burdens on the cruise ship personnel. In particular, when the ship is full—which is becoming more frequent—cabin moves are a problem.