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Getting to know the CEO of the 196m private residential yacht The World

5 January 2023

Tom Wolber is Chief Executive Officer for The World, Residences at Sea, the largest privately-owned residential yacht on earth. Since joining the company in January 2022, he has been responsible for leading the organisation and managing everything from its strategic direction, and operations, to guest satisfaction, sales, marketing and upkeep of the ship.

To find out more about his interesting role, BOAT spoke to Wolber and, along the way, learned a few more interesting things about The World.

Tell us about yourself! What enticed you to take the role of CEO of The World, and how is it different?

I was born in Germany and raised in the Netherlands and have worked in the hospitality industry all my life. I am fluent in Dutch, English, German, and French and enjoy working for an international resident community. I received my bachelor’s degree in economics from Breda University of Applied Sciences and from there began my career.

I have worked for several cruise lines but apart from its outward appearance, The World is totally uniqueThe World is a private home for 150 families from 20 countries and is a lifestyle of luxury travel and exploration. It’s the gold standard of residential ships and the only privately-owned residential mega yacht in operation today.

Managing The World is much different from other cruise brands in that she has more than 300 owners. We work diligently to ensure each of them, and the family and friends they bring on board, receive excellent, personalised and anticipatory service. Unlike a cruise ship, we know our residents’ personal preferences in a multitude of areas.

What is the business model of The World and why is it successful?

The World’s original concept has not changed significantly since its inception. The idea was to create a small floating city that continually circumnavigated the globe visiting interesting destinations. Early on, the business model changed to 100% residential versus a previous rental component before the residents purchased the ship in 2003. In 2006, the original inventory of residences sold out. Unlike most company business models; we don’t measure our success by how much money we make. Our success is measured by resident satisfaction. We’re essentially a not-for-profit entity.

The World’s residents are the sole members (shareholders) of The World Resident Holdings, Ltd. with a management team based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that runs all ship operations. Owning a residence on board The World is similar to owning a luxury apartment or condominium. There is an initial outlay, followed by annual ownership costs (based on square footage) comprised of a resident’s share of the ship’s operation including crew compensation, maintenance, capital reserves, fuel, food, and beverages. Homes are paid in full and there are no mortgages. 

Owners enjoy a unique luxury travel lifestyle with unprecedented access to the most exclusive destinations and one-of-a-kind experiences on the planet along with incredible onboard programming, bespoke shoreside opportunities, Michelin-level dining, an award-winning wine program, a world-class spa and wellness centre, and much more.

How are decisions made aboard The World per route, programming, dining, and other aspects of daily life?

The World’s management company, ROW Management, Ltd. (ROW), reports directly to a Board of Directors who are elected by the community. ROW is responsible for all aspects of the vessel’s operation.

There are several resident committees that serve in an advisory capacity to the Board of Directors. For example, our Resident Itinerary Committee, whose members each have an incredible amount of travel experience and knowledge, works in conjunction with our two captains and ROW to design sailing itineraries that reflect residents’ personal interests. The final route is determined by a resident vote which takes place three years in advance to allow sufficient planning time.

Since our itineraries are different every year and we always add new, maiden ports to the journey, it takes several years to arrange all the logistics like supply chain, programming and special events, guest chefs and lecturers, entertainers, and much more. Our Florida Office and shipboard staff work together to bring each destination alive with onboard programming, food and beverage, shoreside destination experiences and overland journeys, and even our retail offerings.

What are the prices for the apartments on board? Does it include insurance?

Prices are based on square footage and range from $2 to $15 million with additional annual ownership costs. Residences range in size from 30 square metres to the largest three-bedroom home (301 square metres) and all have custom interiors.

We typically have a small selection of homes available for resale and a waiting list for certain categories. Our guest stay programme, which is by invitation only, is available for those who are interested in experiencing the ship before purchasing. The spacious residences include 106 two and three-bedroom apartments, 19 one and two-bedroom studio apartments, and 40 studios. And for someone wanting to take ownership of a home, the process can be completed in as little as two months.

Various types of insurance are included in a resident’s annual ownership costs. They also have the option to purchase, on an individual basis, additional coverage on top of the standard insurance benefits including coverage for rentals and increased coverage limits for apartment contents.

How have you seen the costs of apartments change over the years?

Resale prices for residences on The World have increased year over year. We have been lucky that demand for homes remains high and we plan and prepare for eventualities that may impact our running costs.

Annual ownership costs are based on the size of the home and cover each owner’s share of the ship’s total operating and maintenance expenses. A significant portion of the fees paid by residents, including fuel and port charges, varies annually depending on the itinerary. In an endeavour to uphold the highest standards of luxury, a portion of the costs is dedicated to the capital reserves set aside to maintain and enhance the ship with the latest interior design, technology, equipment, and onboard services. Much of these reserves are used for major dry-dock refurbishments which occur every three years.

What is the current level of occupancy on board?

Occupancy changes every few days while the ship sails from port to port as residents and guests embark and disembark. There is on average 150 to 200 residents and guests on board along with approximately 300 crew, a ratio of 1:2 which is much higher than luxury passenger ships which is typically 1:1. The high ratio of crew to residents along with the crew’s experience is how we deliver such a high level of service that is unmatched in the industry.

Occupancy fluctuates according to the season, itinerary and residents’ personal schedules as many are still active in their businesses, although they often work from on board. The ship is typically busy during the holiday season as it’s a special time of year and residents enjoy sharing it with their family and friends. During expeditions is also a popular time because no one wants to miss the adventure!

A small selection of homes on board The World, Residences at Sea are available for resale every year. To learn more about ownership opportunities and the unique residential lifestyle of this one-of-a-kind mega yacht, contact The World’s Residential Advisor by calling +1 954 538 8449 / +44 20 7 572 1231 or clickiing here. For more information visit aboardtheworld.com.