A reader recently asked if there was a time where I did something and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, and what I did after that. There are probably many relevant examples, but the one that most comes to mind is Project Radiance. This project was a crucial element in the introduction of Radiance of the Seas into service in 2001 and in the development of the Royal Caribbean International brand ever since.
Project Radiance was a far reaching effort to re-think our approach to operating our ships, primarily on the hotel side of the operation but certainly having implications for the marine operation as well. I will get to the key aspects of the project in a moment, but first by way of background I will mention that we had taken delivery of Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas in 1999 and 2000, respectively. These two ships with 3,114 berths each were over 50% larger than any of our ships that had preceded them. We were extremely nervous about making the transition from Vision-class to Voyager-class ships and therefore not eager to try any revolutionary ideas that might go awry. We mainly scaled up our traditional approach and then adjusted as necessary. But with Radiance-class and its 2,100 berths we felt we could approach the new ships with more or less a blank sheet of paper.
Our sense was that the hotel operation had remained status quo for 30 years and there must be opportunity to re-think it given the significant differences in guest mix/expectations, ship features and amenities and new ideas about being customer-centric. There was a lot of nervousness between marine and hotel and within the hotel operation about the degree of change we contemplated. We introduced changes and/or new positions in the windjammer, onboard revenue, housekeeping, guest services, facilities management, inventory management, etc. We changed how the doctors reported into the hierarchy among other changes in the boxes and lines.
All of the above would probably have been manageable from the start. We went one step further, however, in our quest to achieve meaningful change. We felt that if we utilized the hotel personnel who had operated under the time tested system they would struggle in the new approach. So we recruited a significantly higher percentage of new to the company employees to staff the ship. This quickly proved to be a mistake in the short term, as their inexperience was revealed in the glare of introducing a new class of ship. The basics of service did not hold up under the pressure and ship management did not respond to the challenge in a proactive way. It was one of our most difficult introductions and in large part self-inflicted.
The key strategic challenge was to discern which elements of the struggle emanated from the approach and which came from the implementation. It’s easy after 12 years to be clinical in saying the approach was right and the implementation was wrong. At the time, Project Radiance was judged to be a failure from the front lines to the Board of Directors. We really needed to dissect what had happened especially with Adventure of the Seas coming in six months and five additional new ships in the following three years.
We really did have faith in the concept. We were headed for a 45,000 berth fleet including five Voyager-class ships with unprecedented features and complexity. We believed the foundations of Project Radiance would provide the basis for sustaining and even increasing our award-winning guest satisfaction. Behind the scenes, we were confident that the operation would be both more effective and more efficient.
If you ask people who are still at the company about Project Radiance, most will still say it was a failure. That is how it is recorded in popular history and based on the events of the day it was a failure. But we stuck with the concept and when we look at our now 60,000 berth fleet and some of the highest guest satisfaction scores we have attained, we see the fingerprints of Project Radiance on our success.