In an industry first, Fraser has launched a service accreditation for charter yachts. We joined the training aboard Four Wishes.

Crew members practise the perfect handshake

Crew members practise the perfect handshake

You are never good enough,” says Captain Aaron T. Clark on board the 44-metre Four Wishes, “until you’re as good as you can possibly be.” He’s not the only one who thinks so: being the best of the best is the philosophy behind the Diamond Collection, Fraser Yachts’ new elite service qualification, towards which the crew of the yacht are working today.

The changing charter market and the economic downturn have led to higher expectations from both owners and guests, and Fraser CEO Hein Velema has been planning the initiative for the past two years, partnering with training consultancy Triple S. Having taught service professionals in high-end yachts and hotels since 2008, Triple S has developed the customised Diamond Collection qualification specifically for Fraser. The timing, they believe, is ideal: not only is the industry ready, but crews are no longer made up of people who wander into the job. “Yachting has become a highly skilled industry,” says head trainer Rob Preston. “And as such it is now attracting talented people who actively seek to work in it.”

This is the first time steps have been taken to set in place a specific professional standard on an industry where service has never been measured or audited, despite its importance. “We see the Diamond Collection as a great opportunity to be at the top end of the world charter fleet,” says Captain Clark. “The industry is long overdue for a training standard like this.” And although the Triple S service is currently exclusive to Fraser, if it is successful we may see other charter companies follow suitoverthecomingyear.“ThereasonIwanttodomy part and get my crew trained up is because I want this qualification to expand through the industry. For me, it’s really important that a standard is established.”

Constant communication is vital for excellent service

Constant communication is vital for excellent service

Four Wishes is the ninth yacht to gain the accreditation since the launch of the initiative earlier this year; others include Imagine, South and the flagship of the collection, the 52-metre Latitude. “Fraser is an elite company,” says Clark. “And I want us to be the elite of the elite. What’s so great about this is that it brings in an unbiased third party in Triple S. Just as a hotel can’t give itself five stars, a yacht can’t properly say it offers top service unless it’s judged independently.”

Qualification for the Diamond Collection involves a two-day training course on the yacht, for which at least three-quarters of the crew need to be present. In the bright main salon on the aft deck of the yacht, Rob

starts a session, as Captain Clark and his crew sit attentively on sheet-covered sofas.

The training is essentially designed to make the practical elements of running a yacht as seamless as possible, while making service to guests a priority. This includes making the guests feel as happy and comfortable as they can from the moment they step onto the deck, which is achieved, according to Rob, through “physical and spiritual energies” and “the vibrations we put out” .I’m mystified, but the crew nod sagely. His point is that while behind the scenes it may be frantically busy, the guests must never sense that. “What we do should be a ballet: silent and seamless,” he adds. Each crew member needs to find a ‘happy place’ to escape to when they can, such as running or listening to music, adds Captain Clark, encouraging the five boys and four girls to relax and exercise to make sure they are healthy and have the energy for a long charter season.

One reason why setting a standard throughout the industry is difficult is because of the vast differences between boats, crews and captains. Additionally, of course, no two charters or group of guests will be the same or have the same requests and requirements. The training deals with this problem, and one of the most interesting sessions is on the need-to-know essentials of different cultures. Did you know, for example, that while forming an ‘O’ shape with the forefinger and thumb means in the West that everything is great, it’s offensive in Brazil and other parts of South America? Or that in Asia, beckoning with the palms facing upwards is an obscene gesture?

Presentations on what to remember when serving guests from different cultures

Presentations on what to remember when serving guests from different cultures

The section on the different cultural customs with which the crew should acquaint themselves is helpful and informative in many ways, but I have to hide a smile when the touchingly antiquated list of traits about the British comes up. “They do not touch one another during conversation,” explains trainer Suzie Westenberg. “Meals are very formal. They burn easily in the sun. The Royal Family is very important to them.” From the overview about other cultures however, from European to American to Middle Eastern, it becomes evident just how much the crew members have to think about constantly in their work. The order in which Indian guests are served drinks or food, for example, is complex and precise, and the importance placed on tradition and etiquette means it is vital not to make any mistakes.

Food service in general carries the potential to go wrong, so being aware of what guests will request beyond the information provided on the preference form (“knowing what they want before they do,” as Rob puts it), is also included in the training. It’s often a case of making predictions based on previous experience of difference cultures: to generalise, American guests will sometimes have very specific dietary requests, asking for a pizza without the dough or a plate of only white food; some Russian guests like an extravagantly large amount of many different foods to be prepared, enough for four times the number of guests. The culture of where the boat is berthed should be taken into account too, the trainers point out, because according to the pace of life, supply orders for boat parts, food and flowers may take longer to arrive. In some parts of the Southern Med, chief engineer Terry points out, things happen at a pace so laid-back that “it’s pretty much in reverse”, so it is wise to place orders far in advance.

Although everything learned while training for the qualification is geared towards guests, the experience also strengthens the team bond among the crew: each department’s responsibilities are listed, and together they devise ways to streamline tasks and run the yacht more efficiently. Captain Clark plans to take it a step further and occasionally ask crew members to try other jobs: he will cook a meal, the chef will work with the deckhands, the engineer will help clean the bathrooms (which prompts a look of amused scepticism from one stewardess). The aim is to ensure every crew member appreciates each role on the yacht and the person doing it: “The happier people are when they’re busy, the less unhappy they are when they’re not,” explains Clark. The Four Wishes crew, a friendly, typically international group whom the captain describes as his best ever, evidently get on well; if there was discord, he adds, it would be sensed quickly by the guests.

Once the training is completed, yachts are presented with a passport-style certification

Once the training is completed, yachts are presented with a passport-style certification

On day two of the training, the trainers help the crew to devise a detailed three-day pre-charter plan, which they’ll put into practice in a few weeks’ time. They’ll be classified as part of the Diamond Collection for a year (monitored by self-evaluation and feedback after each charter to make sure the standards are still being met), after which the trainers will revisit for an audit and possibly further training. Captain Clark is certain that what the crew have learned will be of great benefit, and says he knows the owners will notice the difference.

“The Diamond Collection qualification is going to set the benchmark,” he says. “At the moment, we are the only boat chartering in the Caribbean to be in the Collection. All I’d say to other boats is this: if we’re doing it, why aren’t you?” SyW

A year’s membership to the Diamond Collection costs €12,000. Contact: Fraser Yachts. Tel: +3 779 3100 450. Website: www.fraseryachts.com

This feature is taken from the September/October 2011 edition of SuperYacht World. Click here to buy the issue for your iPad.