Monday, July 29, 2013

Silversea Cruises - The Silver Shadow Failed the CDC Inspection Because V.Ships Failed! Who is V.Ships?

Silversea Cruises' biggest problem is not its failure of the Silver Shadow's Centers for Disease Control inspection, but V.Ships.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, V.Ships is an independent management company that both yachts and cruise lines hire to manage various aspects of their staffing and/or ship management.  This can be stewardesses or ship's officers, provisioning or engine maintenance, etc.  You can read about V.Ships on its website.

In my prior article Aspirations in Luxury Cruising - Is Losing Staff a Good Thing? I wrote the following:

And then there was the head of VShips, a company that manages the crews, staff, hotel services, etc. and/or maintenance of all sorts of ships; including some cruise ships. Its representative made some very interesting, and for me troubling, comments about staffing on cruise ships. He extolled the virtues of Filipino staff because they are loyal and believe there is real value in their jobs. And he claimed that Chinese see a cruise ship job as a life's career. Meanwhile he asserted that it made no sense to hire staff that want to work for a couple of years and then open a restaurant or go to work in a hotel or something else.

Hearing that I said to myself, "Huh?"


Silversea made the decision in 2008 - back in the days of Marilyn Conroy (the wife of Mark Conroy, formerly of Regent Seven Seas) - to change from European staffing to Filipino staffing.  As I wrote in
Silversea - A Call from the Captain!:

[A]ccording to Ms. Conroy the change from European to Filipino staff was done, in part, because some of the European staff were not as friendly as they might have been. However, the training of the Filipino staff was not instantaneous and there was a significant learning curve. Personally, I am not buying this one. While there are definite cultural differences between Filipinos and Europeans (and many cultural differences between Europeans!) this all comes down to training, training and training (as well has happy staff). I have had wonderful Filipino staff on Celebrity and outstanding European staff on Seabourn. It can be done regardless of culture...even though the styles may be different as a result of those cultures. I also remain convinced that the change was, in the other part, a cost savings measure.

And so here Silversea is with is staffing literally controlled by V.Ships whose motivation is personally to profit by providing the most low cost and less prone to turnover staff that is trained far less than it needs to be. How do I know this? In June I spent a week on the Silver Shadow impressed by many aspects of Silversea, but utterly baffled by the poor training of some of its staff not only from a service standpoint, but from a hygienic one as well.  I don't need to repeat the specifics here, but you can read about my experiences in my seven part review of my time on the Silver Shadow in the Goldring Travel Cruise Reviews section of my website.

This is where it can be a bit complicated, but follow me on this:  Since V.Ships virtually controls the staffing there is actually very little that the officers and Silversea Cruises management can do to rectify problems because the staff essentially works for V.Ships; not Silversea Cruises!  

Let's layer this on top of the cultural issues which V.Ships has added to the mix.  The Filipino culture is one that is more group oriented, where conformance is seen as a virtue and "bucking the system" is essentially unheard of (and, in fact, such conduct can bring shame to the group).  So, if the group is not properly trained from the outset there is going to be a systemic degradation of the quality as staff is added because there has never been a proper baseline of standards implemented.  (The Filipino staff on Celebrity Cruises, on the other hand, have a group focused Celebrity's success through the instilling of high standards through extensive training and a culture of exceeding expectations; rather than third-party V.Ships's bottom line.) 

Now let's add the complacency of a group of people that have absolutely no desire to move on to other jobs or to outshine the others in their group and you have, at best, an inability for things to improve and, more likely, as it is a human condition: a recipe for standards to slip...because there is no motivation for the standards to remain where they started or, more troubling, to improve.

Not being done, let's now add a "superior" whether it be a poorly trained or improperly motivated Executive Chef or Sous Chef possibly wanting to save their jobs...which they know they have been poorly performing in (as I noted, observed and wrote about!) and the subservient, group-orientated, non-system bucking, poorly trained staff does what it is told to do:  Hide known violations of health requirements in the hallways and cabins, take short-cuts, fail to maintain galley equipment as it should be, etc. (Can you imagine staff saying, "I am not putting raw meat under my bed!"  I can, as an American, but not as someone culturally trained not to challenge the boss and fearful of loosing my job.)

What is remarkable to me is that Silversea Cruises was compelled to hire an "external sanitation consultant". That should never be necessary as the requirements for appropriate sanitation are quite clear and there are how many cruise ships that meet or exceed these standards on a daily basis (including, I might add, other Silversea ships!).  Properly trained and motivated Executive Chefs and Hotel Managers should be all that is needed. 

But the one that shocks me the most (not really) is the statement by Enzo Visone, the CEO of Silversea Cruises, that Silversea has introduced an anonymous call system where any member of staff can report failings of procedures to senior managers without fear of reprisals.  Let's go back to the beginning of this article about the Filipino cultural group sociology.  Tell me:  Who is going to make that call Why would there be fear of reprisals?

Have I lost faith in Silversea Cruises as a luxury cruise option?  No.

Do I think Silversea will be just a bit better after this fiasco?  Yes.

But I also believe what Silversea is doing is but a band-aid on a problem that was created back in 2008 when it accepted V.Ships' approach of less-expensive, woefully under-trained, staff that culturally complies with whatever they are told and have no motivation to report problems for fear of being rejected by their group.

The solution is simple:  Silversea must fire V.Ships and take back control of its  luxury cruise line.

By the way, Seabourn dabbled with V.Ships and terminated them.  Regent Seven Seas uses V.Ships and, in fact, sued (albeit unsuccessfully) for its failure to maintain its ships.

In closing, I do not find Silversea Cruises without fault. It must correct the situation far beyond complying with the CDC requirements.  But we must be sure not to "throw the baby out with the bath water".  Silversea has been very slow in reacting and far less than forthcoming on the publicity side of things.  I don't run the company, but I can tell you I would be opening up all of its ships to full, very public, inspections to assure its well-heeled and high price paying guests that it is truly a luxury line providing a true luxury experience.