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This story originally ran in the March 7, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Building a brand new ship is a huge undertaking, one that’s never without a few hiccups along the way. But as Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has seen firsthand, these small hiccups can lead to major roadblocks on the path to eventual launch.
The company’s new Scenic Eclipse, dubbed the ‘World’s First Discovery Yacht’ and the first of two Eclipse vessels planned, was originally scheduled to launch on Aug. 31, 2018. But following construction issues at the Uljanik Shipyard in Croatia (where the Eclipse was being built), Scenic was forced to delay the launch by five months, to January 2019.
But then, another roadblock. In November 2018 the company announced a second delay, this one due to financial issues at Uljanik, and a new launch date was set for April 13, 2019. All was looking good until February when it hit another snag – shipyard workers who had not been paid full salaries since August 2018 were on strike, leading to manpower shortages and months of lost production.
Following this latest delay, a new launch date was set for Aug. 15, 2019, nearly a full year after the Eclipse’s original debut. But will it stick?
The odds are good, particularly now that a consortium has been confirmed as the new owner of Uljanik. Led by the Croatian DVI group and Italian Shipyard Fincantieri, the consortium is expected to bring stability to all aspects of the build.
“The expertise in both shipbuilding and shipyard management that DVI and Fincantieri bring to the table are top notch,” Lisa McCaskill, VP Sales & Marketing Canada, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, tells Travelweek. “And our LOI (Letter of Intent) to take on the design and build management of all future Scenic Eclipse ships and our Discovery fleet, combining our expertise with the now consortium, should put to rest any concerns of completion and smooth build efforts for the future.”
To its credit, Scenic has taken each delay in stride, never losing sight of the end goal of launching a ‘6-star,’ ultra-luxury mega yacht. There was no way the company could have foreseen the troubles that laid ahead at Uljanik, a shipyard it has never before worked with, and it has done everything in its power to minimize disruption and stay on schedule.
Adds McCaskill: “These issues came to light after the building of the Scenic Eclipse was underway and became disruptive to the build process. In June 2018, Scenic took over the management of the build and paid the subcontractors directly, but the continued payroll/financial issues at the shipyard resulted in numerous delays in getting ordered parts and equipment into the shipyard, and getting the work done in a timely fashion.
“The last strike occurred in December and made it impossible to get almost any work done. As soon as we were able to get our crews back to work, we had to make up months of lost time. And even with the hiring of additional experienced workers from other countries to assist, we found it was just not doable.”
Despite all this, McCaskill maintains that Scenic Group’s relationship with the workers’ unions remains strong, and that construction is nearing completion.
“Construction has continued at most points throughout the strikes and work stoppages, but obviously at a much slower pace and with more interruptions,” she says. “Much of the ship has been completed, with finishing touches on the interior portions as well as some mechanical work that still need to be done.”
Prior to the first delay, the Eclipse was selling “steadily” ever since its first product launch. McCaskill credits this to the company’s “strong loyalty base of guests” in the Canadian market, as well as the buzz surrounding this new type of ‘Discovery Yacht’.
It’s this same loyal relationship with its customers that propelled Scenic to delay the launch, rather than debut a less-than-stellar ship simply to meet deadline. On this, McCaskill adds: Along with sea trials and a final certification, it made sense to delay and make sure everything was done properly.”
Scenic is offering affected guests a 100% refund as well as covering reasonable out-of-pocket costs they may have incurred due to delays, and up to 25% credit on a rebooking, whether it’s on the Scenic Eclipse or on its river cruise products. A dedicated phone number has been created, however, McCaskill says its being withheld so that “it is left clear for the affected guests.” All those affected received an email and a direct phone call from Scenic’s offices.
To honour its relationship with travel agents, Scenic is also protecting commissions on any impacted Scenic Eclipse departures due to delays. “We value the partnership and commitment of our travel agents,” adds McCaskill. “Their commission cheques are being processed along with the overall refunds, so they should not expect delays.”
When asked how these delays will likely impact the company in the long run, McCaskill says it would be “foolish” to think that they haven’t taken a toll on its bookings and trade relationships.
“But we are hard at work on keeping everyone up to date with what is going on, and our long history of delivering beyond expectations has helped us maintain those great agent relationship,” she says. “We are fully expecting that once the Scenic Eclipse sails, all the doubts and concerns caused by these delays will vanish. It will truly be a remarkable ship that we believe will set a new standard for luxury cruising – it will all be worth it in the end!”
Scenic Eclipse will feature 228 accommodations in 114 all-verandah suites, as well as 10 dining options ranging from Asian fusion to French fine dining, a spa with a gym and separate yoga and Pilates studio, two six-guest helicopters and one six-guest submarine, a 240-seat theatre, indoor and outdoor plunge pools and butler service for all guests, all available with Scenic’s all-inclusive fares.
Upon launch the ship will sail the Canadian Maritimes, the east coast of Canada, between New York City and Quebec twice, down the coast of the United States before heading to Central and South America. It will eventually set sail on voyages to Antarctica.
For more information, visit the agent portal at scenic.ca.