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Cruise Companies Are Using Tech to Innovate Beyond Wi-Fi and Robots

Skift Take

Cruise lines have been working on ways to improve guest-facing technology so passengers have a better experience on their trip. But it sounds like those efforts are moving to a new level this year — which should be good news for cruisers.

— Hannah Sampson

Recent years have brought speedier wireless service, robotic bartending arms, humanoid information-dispensing robots, onboard apps and communications systems to cruise ships.

In 2017, operators are signaling that they will get even more serious about incorporating technology to make every part of a cruise vacation more intuitive and friction-free.

Geneva-based MSC Cruises, which is adding two new classes of ships this year, is focusing on creating a “seamless, connected vacation experience,” a spokeswoman said.

The two new ships and the nine sister vessels to follow will include interactive screens onboard that allow for choosing shore activities, booking shows, and making reservations. Near field communication technology will also let passengers use a key card, bracelet, or smartphone to get into staterooms, pay for items on the ship, and find their way around.

Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, both part of parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises, are undergoing an overhaul of their mobile experience. A new mobile app will launch by midyear to allow passengers to better control their cruise before and during the trip, chief information officer Mike Giresi told Skift. By later in 2017, the app should have more capabilities for e-commerce, itinerary planning, conflict management and other options.

More broadly, Royal Caribbean is building a new guest-centric infrastructure that seeks to better integrate and synchronize data and technology capabilities.

“Whether it’s ordering towels for a room or trying to book a complicated product… technology just needs to be way more intuitive,” Giresi said.

Less immediately, the company is “definitely dabbling” in artificial intelligence, he said.

“We also think that this concept of the smart concierge, smart assistant is something that can definitely be viable,” Giresi said. The company is looking at potentially using voice-activated concierges for Celebrity Edge, the first of a new class of ship that debuts in 2018.

A competitor’s upcoming bit of tech news, so far, has only been hinted at in public.

The world’s largest cruise company, Carnival Corp., will unveil a new project on Thursday at CES, the technology event in Las Vegas. President and CEO Arnold Donald, who will give a keynote address on Thursday, wrote a blog post for the Consumer Technology Association last month offering a preview.

“We will unveil a new experience platform that creates an unprecedented connected guest experience based on the Internet of Things – i.e., connectivity throughout an entire space – that will change vacations forever,” he wrote. “We believe it delivers a whole new level of personalization, interaction and simplicity for what guests experience before, during and after a vacation.”

Carnival hasn’t disclosed many details about the announcement. But in his blog post, Donald said the company’s chief experience and innovation officer, John Padgett, had been working on the project for two and a half years with his team.

In his previous job at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Padgett headed the development of the MagicBand project, which lets guests use wristbands to get into parks and hotel rooms, pay for merchandise and food, and access the FastPass + service.

Separate from this week’s announcement, the parent company’s largest brand Carnival Cruise Line said it will roll out its Carnival HUB app to the few ships that don’t already have it early in the year. The app will get an update to emphasize features such as food menus, weather, shore excursions, and a planner, Gabriela González, the line’s vice president of guest technology and analytics, said in an email.

She said digital pre-cruise preparation will converge better with the digital experience onboard, and passengers will find more personalized communications.

“We look for ways that digital can enhance the cruise experience, from making it more personalized and social to eliminating friction points and lines,” González wrote. “In the end, we want guests saying ‘that was an AWESOME vacation’… and not saying ‘that was cool technology.'”

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