First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Douglas Heingartner

Representing a €75 million investment in Almere, Carnival Corporation’s new Arison Maritime Center is home to the CSMART Academy, which features the industry’s most advanced simulators and provides training to up to 6,500 of Carnival’s bridge and engineering officers every year. At 10,750 m2, the environmentally friendly CSMART – which stands for ‘Center for Simulator Maritime Training’ – is more than double the size of Carnival Corporation’s previous training site in Almere, which opened in 2009. What’s more, the Arison Maritime Center also has an onsite hotel exclusively for all its trainees.

The campus’s buildings were designed by Dutch architect Paul de Ruiter, with construction carried out by Dutch firm Dura Vermeer. Sustainability was a key consideration at every stage: the buildings were constructed to LEED Gold environmental standards, and the simulator team even managed to reduce the power consumption and heat emission by 70 per cent due to virtualisation.

Realistic training

The centrepieces of the CSMART Academy are undoubtedly the full-size bridge and engine simulators, whose massive screens allow Carnival officers to virtually operate cruise ships around 60 ports around the world, like New York, Copenhagen and Singapore. The centre features technologies never before used in the maritime industry, creating an experience that gives trainees an immersive, real-world environment where they can interact in real time, just as they would on a real vessel. The bridge simulators achieve this realism by using lifesized mock-ups of a Carnival vessel’s actual bridge and control consoles. A huge array of screens wrap around the bridge to provide a 220-degree virtual view of the ship’s surroundings.

These simulators are similar to the flight sims used in the aviation industry, except that they don’t move up and down on hydraulic jacks. Instead, the screens convincingly recreate the effect of motion, emulating the sense of what it would be like on board without actually moving at all. The CSMART bridge sims recreate all manner of real-world maritime scenarios and sea conditions, like stormy seas, thick fog, hectic port traffic and even schools of jumping dolphins.

The realism provides an authentic experience that lets crew members hone their skills in navigating complex situations. The CSMART Academy also features simulators for the engine and voltage rooms, which are based on actual ship layouts. They replicate the sights, sounds and environmental conditions that the crew would actually encounter, replete with blaring alarms, mammoth floor vibrations and simulated smoke for practising emergency scenarios. Each simulator is run by an instructor who directs it from afar, while cameras record everything so that the training can be reviewed later. In addition to their technical skills, trainees also learn to work as a coordinated team, based on roles rather than ranks. All Carnival Corporation’s officers are encouraged to speak up if they question a decision.

A feather in Almere's hat

The arrival of the Arison Maritime Center and CSMART Academy is a big win for Almere, as it forms a powerful testimonial from one of the world’s most recognised brands. Carnival Corporation is the biggest leisure travel company in the world, with about 120,000 employees working on the company’s ten cruise brands, which include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O. With a combined fleet of 102 cruise ships, they sail 11 million guests annually to more than 700 ports around the world. That’s why the centre represents a major economic boost to Almere and the greater Amsterdam region, generating an estimated economic impact of about €17.5 million per year for the local community and region.

Almere’s ideal location played a key role in Carnival’s decision to build the centre there, as did the Netherlands’ long and rich tradition of maritime excellence and its reputation as a welcoming place to do business. ‘Before locating our training centre, we considered different locations, but Almere really stood out. The city is centrally located in Europe, has an efficient airport close by (Schiphol) and a business-friendly environment with predominantly English speaking residents’, says CSMART’s Managing Director Hans Hederström. In fact, Carnival is among the many global companies that have recently chosen to invest in the region. Other international companies based in Almere and its surrounding province of Flevoland include Giant, Yakult, Mitsubishi Caterpillar, IBM and Staples.

The roughly 250 international companies based in Almere mainly hail from the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, France, Taiwan and South Korea, and specialise in industries such as engineering, aerospace, life sciences, renewable energy and IT. The city offers an abundance of space to accommodate both residential and commercial investments, from business parks to campuses. It also has excellent procedures in place to facilitate the licensing or sale of land to set up a new business, or expand an existing one.

A city on the rise

One of Europe’s newest and fastest-growing cities, Almere was designed from scratch in 1976 based on a plan that incorporated as much of the surrounding water and nature as possible. Currently the eighth-largest city in the Netherlands, Almere now has about 200,000 citizens. As part of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, Almere is ideally situated, with transport links to numerous motorways, railways and waterways, and with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and the Port of Amsterdam within easy reach. This nexus of connections will improve even more when the expansion of Lelystad Airport is completed in 2018, with a new focus on business passengers. With its many green spaces and a vibrant downtown area, Almere offers an exceptionally high quality of life. Offering plenty of healthcare and leisure facilities, the city is home to one of the biggest shipping districts in the Netherlands, and its comfortable, spacious and affordable homes make it an increasingly popular place to live.

High tech in the dunes

The teamwork skills that are taught at the CSMART Academy also reflect the way its Almere location has been taking shape. Carnival Corporation partnered with the Dutch property group AMVEST Vastgoed to purchase a seven-acre plot of land in Almere Poort, called Duin. It is here, in this business and residential community, that they built the Arison Maritime Center, and through their collaborations with top Dutch companies, were able to ensure the centre met with the Carnival Corporation’s standards for excellence. Located right on the beautiful IJmeer lake, Duin forms a completely new part of the city in a unique landscape. With real dunes of up to 10-metres high, plus forests, beaches, a marina and a lively boulevard with apartments, shops and restaurants, Duin offers plenty of room for living and working.

Duin's winding residential streets will eventually host about 3,000 homes, and an innovative water system uses the natural purifying process of the dunes. The International School Almere, for students aged 11 to 19 years, is just three kilometres away, and finding a parking space in Duin is easy. Likewise, the fibre-optic cabling here allows for some of the fastest data connections in the country, and transport is just as fast: with direct access to the newly-expanded A6 motorway and the Almere Poort train station, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is just over 30 minutes away, and Amsterdam’s city centre is even closer. Trains to Amsterdam leave every 12 minutes, and there’s even a seasonal ferry from Duin to Amsterdam. Perhaps best of all from a business perspective, Duin’s newness means that companies like Carnival have a lot of freedom in designing and building their new office or campus site, just the way they want it to be.