Cruise Industry Restart: Dealing with Supply Chain Challenges

The industry’s restart continues to pick up aggressively and has been met with new challenges: shipping delays, freight costs skyrocketing and general supply chain headaches, giving cruise lines a host of new obstacles in addition to public health.

In some cases, bacon has disappeared on certain days from certain ships, and some whiskey brands are nearly unobtainable.

Menus, now digital via QR codes, are quietly updated with dishes being swapped out and other crafty substitutions.

Supply chain issues were the hot topic among both cruise lines and the vendor community at the Marine Hotel Association’s (MHA) Symposium at Sea in October aboard the Scarlet Lady.

“It’s about working with the supplier community and having open and honest conversations,” said Frank Weber, senior vice president of hotel operations at Virgin Voyages. “We know some items may not come, but tell us so we can put some mitigation actions in place.”

‘Improvise Everywhere’

“The business is coming back. We have a plan to operate multiple ships in Antarctica this winter. The business is still challenging with airlift,” said Dietmar R. Wertanzl, president and CEO, CMI-Leisure, which manages hotel operations on 13 ships for 10 different clients.

Thew Ocean Explorer is managed by CMI Leisure

“Supplies and logistics is an issue. We can’t get what we need, and we have to improvise everywhere. Plus, there is inflation with higher pricing,” he said.

Another issue continues to be vaccination of crew, with different deployment areas for ships, crew coming from Asia and different client requirements, Wertanzl said.

Crew and Supplies

“It’s been a tough 18 months but we have taken some positives out of it, looking at our efficiencies for instance,” said Philippe Faucher, vice president business development, The Apollo Group, which provides hotel, crewing and catering for 18 ships, and is a major supplier to most other cruise lines.

“From a supply chain standpoint everyone understands this is not normal, there is a new norm and everyone is willing to work with us,” Faucher noted.

At Apollo that responsibility falls to Alia Abou Assali as vice president of purchasing and logistics, who noted the company was moving to shorter bids.

“Longer bids come with challenges,” she said, pointing to fluctuating freight costs.

She said the procurement action picked up in May and June of 2021 as the big ship brands looked to restart operations in North America.

“We were bombarded with RFQs and we needed to have products,” she said. “For 18 months we were looking at our inventory, what we had, what expired and what we needed to donate, and all of a sudden we needed to have product and needed to have it immediately in the middle of supply chain challenges with higher prices.”

‘What’s Available’

Taking on new ships and having its fleet in far-flung corners of the world, Lindblad Expeditions is used to moving supplies to off-the-beaten-path places, but that challenge has only been compounded, according to Bruce Tschampel, vice president of hotel operations.

“We’ve been on the phone trying to chase down linens, china, pillows and other parts. Adding crew, losing crew and getting them to our vessels has been an unbelievable challenge.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s available to us,” he said. “What we can get, when and where we can go.

“We’re dealing with what we can get that’s available and what’s impactful to the guest experience … We have to maintain our high standard onboard.

“We’re really remote where our ships are. When we get that container it’s like Christmas. All the presents get opened and if we’re missing something we’re in big trouble.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2021-2022 

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