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With global travel in the midst of a digital revolution, the cruise sector has worked to bring the cruise experience into the digital age.
It hasn’t been easy, but global cruise lines are finally deploying new technology to a wide swath of their vessels while looking to improve experiences beyond the ships themselves.
“As you, I, and everybody knows, digital transformation is just a bunch of buzzwords,” said Jay Schneider, senior vice president of digital for Royal Caribbean Cruises. “But about two and a half years ago, the board made a pretty pivotal decision to really figure it out. Consumers are expecting technology to be ubiquitous throughout their entire digital life. And, frankly, people are expecting personalized, relevant experiences no matter where they are, and that includes when they’re on vacation.”
For Royal Caribbean improving the guest experience has led to a focus on moving beyond wearables to make it easier for guests to access their rooms or buy things. Reconciling a guest folio or dealing with lengthy boarding queues go beyond the ability of a RFID (radio frequency identification) bracelet to solve, for instance, so mobile apps can be used to better empower guests to solve problems and reduce the strain on staff.
Schneider should know. He worked on the Magic Band project during a stint at Disney earlier this decade.
What goes unmentioned much of the time in cruising is the massive improvements that have taken place behind the scenes in digitizing back-of-house operations through digital technology. It also starts with connectivity, both for guests and staff members, but also in cruise ports and in destination during shore excursions.
“Connectivity is probably one of our bigger challenges because, if I give you an app that allows you to board, book something on the ship, or open your stateroom door, that has to work when you’re floating in the Caribbean where connectivity is solid and great, as well as when you’re in off the coast of Norway, where it might be spotty, versus no connectivity in the southern Indian Ocean,” said Schneider.
“Connectivity has been a challenge,” he added, “but we work through it. Every piece of technology for guest or crew has to be looked at through a lens of: Can we go cloud, can we go local, can we do hybrid, and how do we move data?”
The managing and analyzing of data is also key, when you think about the contemporary megaship as something of a floating city with both visitors and residents who represent the ship’s staff itself. Coming up with solutions to limit energy use and food waste involve not just what cruisers see, but the life of cruise staff members too.
“You can deploy all the technology you want but until you really thoughtfully go through the change management side of it, it won’t really make a difference,” said Schneider. “We did an application in artificial intelligence for food waste last fall with the goal of reducing 10 to 15 percent of food waste. The data we have with our guests staying with us and crew living with us 24/7 is amazing, but every now and then you run into things that we had no data for.”
Change is not just good, but necessary, for the cruising experience to evolve and to bring more environmental sustainability to the sector.