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Cruise design must lead the cultural revolution
YSA Design recently completed a luxury ship refurbishment project in China which brought invaluable insight into the exterior and interior solutions that will satisfy a fast-developing cruise market.   The rise of China as the cruise industry’s driver for growth has major consequences for ship owners, shipyards, architects, engineers, and subcontractors alike, but all parties are convinced that the ‘Made in China’ cruise ship will emerge after a marathon, not a sprint.   May’s deal to build the first luxury cruise ship in China for Carnival Corp was engineered through a joint venture between China State Shipbuilding Corp and Fincantieri SpA which will see the European builder and end customer closely involved throughout the project. Again, the long lead until the 2023 delivery leaves time for Baoshan district government’s $739.97 million investment in the Shanghai CSSC International Cruise Industrial Park to yield the necessary network of suppliers, service providers and logistics companies.   What has been established more quickly is that the fast-emerging Chinese cruise constituency brings an entirely new set of tastes to which ship designers must respond. Since 2006, the compound annual growth rate of China's cruise economy has been around 45 percent, with outbound cruise passengers numbering 2.48 million in 2016 according to the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association.   As one of the world’s leading cruise ship design studios, YSA Design is one of only a handful of companies that engages in newbuilding and refitting projects from concept to delivery, liaising with owners, architects, engineers, yards and subcontractors.   With references that include MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Disney, P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean, the company has worked in wide-ranging cruise segments experiencing fast-changing demographics for over 30 years. In the last 12 months, it has also been involved in one of the first refits of a well-known European-built ship at a Chinese yard which has been undertaken so that its public spaces truly reflect the tastes of the Chinese passenger.   The project in question involved a “rip-out” and reconfiguration on the main pool deck, with the jacuzzi considered surplus to requirements, and the pool reconceived more as a feature than as a lido. But it was the overall way space is used that brings home the different way Chinese passengers think of their cruising experience, according to Derek Barkas, YSA Design Senior Interior Designer. Outdoor exercising and dancing in formation are in, as is card-playing and picnicking in small groups; sunbathing is - more or less - out.   The project concerned was vital for establishing relationships with local subcontractors and dealing with the logistics challenges involved in supplying a Chinese yard. Our refit role is in some ways the same as it is for newbuilds,” says Barkas. “We need to take care of the functional – like weight issues involved in any new features installed, materials delivery and quality, and subcontractor relations, and manage delivery within the time constraints agreed with our yard partners.”   However, what makes YSA Design special, Barkas says, is its ability to deliver ‘unique’ design solutions within the customer’s brief. At a subtle level, designing for the Chinese audience involves parameters guided by tradition, he adds. The Asian cruiser is likely to respond well to wide entrances that evoke energy flow, but may be less amenable to sharp edges or design angularity. In general, designers considering the colour palette will want to exploit red’s link to good fortune, but should avoid “overkill”.   Designers also need an entirely new take on public spaces, says Barkas. Chinese cruisers have less thirst for bars serving alcohol, for example, so the creativity often used to deliver different bar-room ‘vibes’ would be better harnessed designing areas for karaoke, or semi-private areas for gaming and socializing, as well as public casinos.   Fewer bars also mean lower demand for pantry-style catering. “Food and beverage operations need to be set up differently,” continues Barkas. “Chinese cruise passengers have a greater requirement for the choice and speed of service offered by buffet-type restaurants, and for more variety in specialty restaurants that provide high quality food and flexibility, as well as live entertainment. As designers, we need to consider consequences that include table sizes and seating arrangements, passenger flows and turnaround times.”   A refocusing of retail expectations is also required for Chinese tastes; while familiar luxury brands play a major role, there is also desire for a wider range of retail outlets. Furthermore, the understandable appetite for ‘eastern’ cosmetics feeds through to fixtures and fittings in the spa and salon areas.   The change in focus extends from the outdoor decks to the private cabins. Serving the greater number of family groups travelling means more connecting doors between cabins, or even duplex designs. “Already, we have learned quickly that “the ‘western’ and ‘Chinese’ cruise experiences involve very different guest expectations,” Barkas concludes.      
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