Course corrections: Unlike hotels, cruise ships steer around trouble and assure a bon voyage

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Trouble doesn’t take a vacation, even when travelers do.

It doesn’t respect carefully laid plans. It has a way of showing up without notice. Trouble can turn a hotel into something a lot less inviting.

A cruise ship isn’t a hotel, though it has all the amenities of even the finest resorts. There’s a big difference:

If trouble arrives, a cruise ship moves on.

This flexibility allows us to minimize how any negative events or conditions impact the experience of our guests, as well as our bottom line.

When political turmoil and violence overtook Ukraine earlier this year, the officers aboard Azamara Quest weren’t particularly worried about an itinerary planned for the region. They simply bypassed Ukraine until things settled down.

When Hurricane Sandy was menacing the Caribbean, captains quickly reacted by changing itineraries. Instead of calling on CocoCay — the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas, in the path of the superstorm — Majesty of the Seas and Monarch of the Seas spent the day out in calmer waters until trouble moved on.

“This flexibility allows us to minimize how any negative events or conditions impact the experience of our guests, as well as our bottom line,” says Chris Allen, associate vice president of global deployment and planning for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

So while U.S. hotel occupancy rates sank as low as 44 percent during the economic crisis in 2009, Royal Caribbean’s topped 100 percent – factoring in families of two or more who stayed in double-occupancy staterooms.

Royal Caribbean relies on a team of eight people to plan the deployment and itineraries for Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises ships while providing guidance to Azamara Club Cruises and Pullmantur Cruises.

“Sometimes we joke that people think we simply use a dartboard to determine where our ships go,” Allen says. “But it’s actually a very complex, year-round decision-making process that focuses on putting our ships in places where we can maximize profitability.”

The team works with executives to develop an overall strategy that reflects trends and demands in the marketplace. Influencing factors include where the company can satisfy the demand for cruising around the world, the destinations guests want to visit, fuel costs, regulations and more.

Then there are new markets, both as sources of luxury travelers and as destinations for others.

While the Caribbean accounted for 37 percent of global itineraries in 2013, China is trending toward 20 percent by 2020. Recognizing this, Allen’s team decided that Royal Caribbean International’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, should make Shanghai, China, its homeport in May 2015.

“We are continuously leveraging our assets to support and develop new markets,” Allen says, “and sending a ship like Quantum of the Seas to China shows how important we feel it is to the future of the company to invest in that market.”