According to ICF International’s Annie Chua, cruise lines’ onboard retail offerings are set to get bigger and even more luxurious

“Shopping is a particularly popular pastime, particularly in the Asian market, which Star Cruises targets”

In their quest to exceed guests’ expectations and find new ways of differentiating themselves from the competition, cruise lines are constantly having to evolve their onboard experience. Yet while many upgrades and refurbishments have been predominantly focused on the restaurant, bar and entertainment areas, a new trend is on the rise and it’s centred around the retail experience.

Star Cruises is one line that has recently made a concerted effort to significantly enhance its retail offering to cater to growing customer demand for more shopping facilities. Last year it forged a partnership with China Duty Free Group to launch an upscale duty-free shopping experience onboard its vessels. Marine turnkey specialist ICF International has been instrumental in facilitating this move. As Annie Chua, the firm’s executive director, explains, it is currently involved in a fleetwide transformation project with the line, which involves cabin conversions and upgrades, public space refurbishment, and building luxury boutique shops as well as vast duty-free retail shopping malls.

“SuperStar Gemini was the first vessel to undergo refurbishment and now features a 450sqm shopping boulevard – one of the largest retail spaces on a cruise ship,” Chua says. “The China Duty Free store sells a large range of high-end designer merchandise, including luxury handbags, watches, sunglasses, perfumes and cosmetics. We also developed stores for jeweller and watch boutique Canopus and leather goods specialist Milan Station.”

When the newly renovated SuperStar Gemini was unveiled to the public in February 2013, David Chua, president of Star Cruises’ owner Genting Hong Kong, said in a press release: “SuperStar Gemini was restyled with a primary focus on Chinese cruise passengers, including the remodelling of the onboard dining and recreational facilities, among others, to meet their holiday preferences. More importantly, our partnership with China Duty Free Group will provide a comprehensive one-stop cruise experience that Chinese passengers will be fond of.”

Recently, ICF International completed work on SuperStar Virgo – the largest ship in Star Cruises’ Asian fleet – during a three-week drydock in January 2014.

The vessel’s retail space has been tripled to 562sqm and now sells brands such as SK-II, Biotherm, Lancôme and Shu Uemura in its extensive China Duty Free store. Like SuperStar Gemini, it too features an upgraded Canopus store and Milan Station outlet as well as the souvenir shop Ports O’ Call. According to Chua, the design of the boutiques and large duty-free stores is consistent across the line’s fleet. “We have worked closely with Star Cruises and the brands to ensure everyone’s requirements have been met,” she says. “The overall design is very contemporary, with clean lines and minimalist decor helping to accentuate the feeling of luxury across the stores.”

Looking ahead, Chua expects more cruise lines to follow in Star Cruises’ footsteps and expand their onboard retail offering.

“Shopping is a particularly popular pastime, particularly in the Asian market, which Star Cruises targets,” she says. “To take full advantage of this trend, I’m sure we will see other cruise lines adapt their public areas to incorporate more stores. Onboard shopping areas are set to get bigger and even more luxurious. We’re working with more high-end retail brands than ever before to develop concessions on cruise ships.” As a result of ongoing projects like this, in the last three years ICF International’s turnover has increased by more than 50%. Building on its reputation as a leading turnkey contractor in Asia, the firm is expecting further business growth over the next few years. “We’re the only contractor in Singapore that carries out this type of work, which puts us in a very strong position,” says Chua. “We’re finding that more cruise lines are keen to take advantage of our services, thanks to our strategic location, competitive prices and our ability to complete projects to a very high standard.”