With two days of back-to-back conference sessions led by 40+ industry-acclaimed speakers, from the likes of Trevor Young (MSC Cruises), to My Nguyen (Seabourn/Holland America Line), there was a lot to be learnt at the Cruise Ship Interiors Conference, which took place on 19-20 June 2019 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Across the 16 conference sessions designed to inspire, key topics covered included upcoming interior design trends, sustainability in design & operations, the ideal drydock, colorart, and more.

Now, having had a chance to reflect on the unforgettable conference, we’ve got 10 takeaways from Cruise Ship Interiors Conference 2019.

1.) The cruise interiors industry is booming…

Kicking off the two-day conference, Cruise Industry Outlook: Leaders’ Debate shed light on many issues, but more than anything it reinforced the idea that the cruise industry is booming! Speaking alongside his fellow panellists, Stephen T. Fryers (consultant at Royal Caribbean Cruises) told the packed-out audience: “The industry at this moment is buoyant. The last time I looked, there’s 124 ships on order [globally], going through to 2027.”

According to Stephen and the rest of the panel, the growth we’re seeing in the industry is incomparable to what we’ve seen previously and the order book is at a record high. But what does this boom mean for our cruise lines?

Vice president of vessel refurbishment at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Colin Gant told us why he’s so enthused by the cruise industry’s recent expansion: “It’s exciting when you see so many new ships coming in the market because ultimately all of those ships are going to go to drydock, and ultimately, they’re all going to get refurbished as well. So again, it’s growth in newbuilding and it’s growth for the refurbishment provider.”

2.) …But resources are limited

Though a booming industry may have many positive aspects to it, with more newbuilds comes a need for more resources. Resources that, unfortunately, seem to be in limited supply.

Demand for newbuilds and refurbishments is putting pressure on the same resources, from shipyards to suppliers. In particular, skilled workers are needed to complete these demanding projects and the industry is seeing a lack of available talent in the shipyard sector, which is why nurturing existing talent and sourcing new talent is so important.

“Unfortunately, [newbuilds and refurbishments are] leaning on the same resources. It’s an interesting dynamic.”

Colin Gant, vice president of vessel refurbishment, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

There are also limited materials available to the market given the stringent IMO standards that suppliers must adhere to. Director of interior design at Princess Cruises George Scammel told the CSI audience that “there’s definitely a shortage of types of materials.” Luckily, marine interiors suppliers are finding new and innovative ways to provide IMO-certified materials. For example, Forbo Flooring Systems uses digitally printed flooring (Flotex FR) versus traditional carpet options.

Additionally, according to George, and luckily for the cruise interiors industry, “There are a lot more vendors coming into [the] sector that are very interested in how to do cruise. […] They see this as an emerging market, which it is, and there is a lot of growth and excitement with that.” 

3.) Sustainability is vital if the cruise industry hopes to win over the younger generations

Speaking in the session Sustainability in Design & Operations, Dansk Wilton’s Lone Ditmer shed light on the importance of incorporating sustainability initiatives for numerous reasons, one of which being that “the next generation of consumers and travellers is demanding us to take action” and “if they are not satisfied with the way [the cruise industry] deals with environmental issues, they won’t be going on a cruise. We need to make ourselves attractive to this young generation of consumers.” Formica Group’s group vice president of design Renee Hytry Derrington echoed this thought later in the day in the session Color: Endless Boundaries, noting, “Generation Z is driving design to become much more environmentally focused.”

Though the cruise industry may be somewhat behind in terms of sustainability initiatives in comparison to land-based hospitality, it’s come along leaps and bounds in recent years. Director of newbuild architectural design at Royal Caribbean Cruises Paris Swann commented: “We’ve seen such amazing advancements just in the past few years in material options and alternatives that can give the same level of high-quality design but in a more sustainable way.”

With sustainability being such a prominent topic at the inaugural conference and recent environmental movements coming to the forefront (in her session, Lone Ditmer made reference to environmental activist Greta Thunberg), it looks like the cruise lines, designers, outfitters, and suppliers will be taking sustainability more seriously than ever.

4.) Creating the ideal drydock may be getting harder

Though the ideal drydock may be a unicorn (at least according to Seawise Consulting Group’s Lawrence Rapp), it’s still something outfitters and cruise lines must strive to achieve.

However, with demand at an all-time high for this fast-growing industry, the ideal drydock may be getting further out of reach. CEO of MJM Marine Gary Annett told an attentive audience, “As the industry grows, the time to deliver these projects is getting shorter and more challenging.” Fortunately, talented interior outfitting firms such as MJM are doing everything in their power to ensure a quick turnaround time.

Nevertheless, a key challenge for the industry in years to come will be overcoming the lack of available workers. With shipyards busier than ever, the industry must source the appropriate talent to ensure the vast number of upcoming projects in the cruise order book can be fulfilled. Lawrence raised an interesting question of whether there is a diverse enough pool of talent to pull from.

5.) Cruise goers are yearning for more natural, authentic environments

From colours to textures, guests are looking for more natural environments in which to spend their time.

Offering her perspective in the session Color: Endless Boundaries, Renee Hytry Derrington explained that guests, more than ever, are searching for a way to connect to nature. This could be interpreted as a response to our increasingly digital and technologically focused landscape.

“As urban living becomes increasingly prevalent, controlled nature becomes more important, as designers investigate how we connect with nature in the built environment.”

Renee Hytry Derrington, group vice president, Formica Group

Through various textures and materials, guests can feel closer to nature from the comfort of a cruise ship. For example, wood aesthetics offer a way to “connect with our organic world,” according to Richloom Contract’s Glenda Spangler, who also informed attendees that whites will become increasingly popular in cruise colour palettes, as they offer a blank canvas for nature to flood on to.

Additionally, you’re likely to see more sunset colour palettes onboard cruise ships because, as Glenda explains, a sunset represents “the end of a great day” and offers a sense of natural warmth.

6.) Cruise and landside design are leaning on each other for inspiration

In Design Trends 2022, esteemed interior designers were left to debate the difference between landside design and cruise design. Founding partner of Miami-based firm Studio DADO Javier Calle offered his insight into the issue, stating: “Traditionally, the cruise ship industry as it’s been known has been based on strongly themed spaces, almost to a fault because it meant that spaces became outdated really quickly.” Javier explained that, in his view, cruise industry design “has become more sophisticated by nature.”

Interestingly, SMC Design’s managing director Andy Yuill offered a counterpoint, arguing that cruise ship design is not and should not be in any way distinct from, for example, hotel design. Andy claimed that as interior design specialists, “it’s our responsibility to make sure that the design is as good as possible” regardless of whether the project is land- or sea-based.

Both Javier’s and Andy’s views on land versus sea design led to an interesting dialogue that highlighted one key point: Cruise and landside design are now relying on one another for inspiration. While cruise ship design may have been inspired by landside design in the past, now the two industries pass ideas and inspiration back and forth.

According to AD Associates’ marine projects & communications director David McCarthy, this change may have emerged as “cruise line executives have started to understand that they aren’t just competing with each other in the cruise sector but actually the wider global leisure, hospitality, resort, and holiday destinations.”

More recently, we’ve seen cruise interior design accepted by the landside hospitality market in the form of an award. AD Associates made history by taking home the accolade in a new ‘Transport’ category at the AHEAD awards in Miami.

7.) Design studios have a responsibility to evolve their design along with brand changes

While designing to guest experience is often cited as a cruise interior designer’s priority, designing in line with a cruise line’s branding is of equal importance. DADO’s Javier Calle (pictured) reinforced this point in his session, claiming, “We have to make sure we are designing to brands each time they evolve.” With the introduction of new players to the industry (think Virgin Voyages and Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection), more traditional cruise lines are taking the plunge to refine and renew their existing branding, meaning older ships in the fleet must be updated and harmonized with newer ones.

Harmonization is something that interior design studios must prioritize, ensuring they’re creating cohesive spaces across the fleet.

8.) Being a leader is about more than just a job title

Veering away from the topic of cruise interiors for a moment, the impressive Women’s Leadership Forum on day two showcased the importance of having strong leaders in the industry. A lack of available talent was a hot topic throughout the conference and this panel offered valuable insight into how to nurture existing talent and develop new talent. Attendees were left inspired, having learnt that creating a culture that allows people to learn and grow is what leads to success.

“Leadership is about inspiring people.”

Dee Cooper, senior vice president of design, Virgin Voyages

CEO of the FZ Collection Felicia Zwebner offered wise words, telling the audience that “success breeds success.” Meanwhile, director of interior design & operations at Seabourn and Holland America Line My Nguyen claimed that “it’s our role as leaders to make sure our team has the tools it needs to become successful.”

9.) Extending the lifespan of old ships is essential

If the cruise industry is serious about sustainability, then extending the lifespan of old ships is essential. In a previous session, Stephen T. Fryers mentioned the vast amount of tonnage that used to go to waste. Now, cruise lines are working to keep their old vessels operational and exciting, saving time, money, and resources.

With the extension of a ship’s lifespan comes the need for harmonization. Extending and updating old spaces has become vital to keep up with the demands of the market, but it’s also vital that these old ships remain consistent with their existing fleet.

As we know, refurbishment and revitalization are booming markets, and as My Nguyen rightly pointed out, “there are a lot of opportunities for multipurpose spaces” onboard vessels old and new.

10.) Inspiration can come from anywhere

In the final session of the conference, the Legends of Design Q&A, attendees were taught a valuable lesson about inspiration.

When questioned about gathering design inspiration, each industry legend on the panel made reference to a different place, time, or even experience. According to partner at YSA DesignBjørn Storbraaten, Miami is the place to go when you’re looking for design inspiration: “Being in Miami, there is so much inspiration. It’s like an explosion!” Bjørn also made reference to the famous Delano Hotel, created in 1947, which he visited in 1994, and where SMC Design hosted industry VIPs just the night before the conference.

In contrast, CEO of Garroni Design Vittorio Garroni looked to the past for inspiration and said he often draws on European influences to inspire his interior design – something that set Garroni Design apart from other design studios when it was first established.

Meanwhile, founder of GEM Giacomo Erasmo Mortolo went back to basics and told audience members that all his projects “start with how a passenger can use that space and how the flow between spaces can be managed to create a specific experience,” an ethos that still resonates prominently today.

The Legends of Design Q&A panel not only taught us many things, but it also reminded attendees that inspiration can be found everywhere.