Skift Take

Implementing a unified tech solution has the power to transform the cruise and ferry sector through responsive forecasting, streamlined operations, and modernized experiences for customers and employees.

Like all facets of the travel industry, the cruise and ferry sector faced its own unique set of challenges during the pandemic. As recovery continues to set in across the field, new technologies are emerging as a crucial game changer. For the cruise and ferry sector especially, retail software solutions that encompass retail sales, restaurant management, services, bookings, and reservations in one point of sale (POS) system have the capacity to streamline and simplify operations, harness new clientele, and create exceptional customer and staff experiences.

SkiftX spoke to LS Retail’s Joerg Schmikale, lead consultant for travel retail, Jakob P. Nickelsen, solution architect, and Johann S. Sveinsson, senior developer, about the benefits that integrated retail software can bring to the cruise and ferry industry and why they’re needed now more than ever.

Here, we explore five ways the right retail tech can provide a better cruise and ferry experience for both passengers and employees, based on our conversation.

A Single Source of Truth

Data is overhauling the way the travel industry strategizes and operates. The importance of being able to more accurately forecast customer behavior responsively in a dynamic, fluctuating marketplace, as well as to better understand customer needs and preferences, cannot be overstated.

For the ferry or cruise company, there are big advantages in having all data — customer loyalty, retail sales, restaurant consumption, bookings, and registrations — within one system. A single POS system allows the company to see the big picture. Instead of having different data points spread across various databases, they have one point of truth for information on sales and guests across the entire enterprise.

Perhaps the single biggest advantage is the possibility to have all that pertains to a journey integrated together under a single guest identity. This means the ticket, a dinner reservation on the ship, a massage, as well as other add-ons off the vessel, could all be tied to a single booking. This unified view enables operators to better know their guests and make more accurate decisions around purchasing, merchandising, and staffing, which can help reduce costs.

Fueling Customer Loyalty

One of the key shifts in the industry of late has revolved around customer loyalty. With legacy programs and incentives no longer as prevalent, businesses have been rethinking how to attract and incentivize future client loyalty.

With a unified system across the entire offering, brands can offer customers a loyalty card or login which lets them collect and spend points across all of the stores, restaurants, and services the brand offers, both on board and off the ship.

For example, one of LS Retail’s customers is a leading North European ferry and cruise operator, which uses a single POS system for the restaurants and stores on board the vessels, as well as for border stores and food services at the ports, which range from hot dog stands and wine stores to cafés and other retail outlets. Customers can collect and spend points across all of these entities and get the same brand experience throughout.

And by having all customer data in one database, including loyalty status and past purchases, this operator can get a clear and complete view of their customers. They can track customer habits — for example, understanding how often guests return, what routes they book, how much they spend, and what they usually buy across the entire company, whether on or off the vessel.

Having one system also enables operators to quickly plan and enact marketing campaigns. For example, a ferry line LS Retail works with recently decided to run a last-minute campaign where they selected 15,000 customers and offered them free loyalty points if the customers booked a ticket on specific routes within 14 days. By using a single system to manage loyalty, sales, and customer data, they could easily plan and execute such a campaign and track its success.

Making Jobs Easier for Employees and Staff

In addition to improving the passenger experience, these unified systems make life easier for employees too. Staff on the vessels can look up customer information and bookings more easily. Employees in the main offices can access the data they need in one place, and no longer need to look for information or make changes across different interfaces and databases.

With travelers’ plans still subject to last-minute changes, operators continue to face a high risk of cancellations. A unified solution reduces the complications and manual work that cancellations can cause: If a guest cancels their trip, the system automatically cancels all of the add-ons, too. The services that were cancelled then become automatically available and can be immediately resold, limiting both risk of errors and loss of revenue.

Constant Connection, Guaranteed

Though it’s certainly ‘in the same boat’ as other industry players recovery-wise, the cruise and ferry sector faces its own unique challenges, many of which can be alleviated through the embrace of unified software solutions.

For example, losing internet connection is a common occurrence on ferries and cruises, as the vessels don’t have a landline and the satellite link is not always fast enough, or can have gaps. This means that POS and sales solutions need to be able to work offline. Operators also need a very stable system, and not every technology solution can provide that.

Using a tech solution that can guarantee a stable, distributed environment, as well as a highly reliable data replication system that can combine the cloud with offline capabilities, is key. This guarantees that operators can always serve customers on board — even when there is no internet connection — and that all data stays aligned across the enterprise, from what items are sold, to what products are available, to how many points a loyal customer collected with their purchase.

The cruise and ferry sector is no island, and the changes and transformations it faces dovetail with those of the broader industry. For example, the unified, contactless, and self-service tech innovations that are emerging in other respective fields are becoming essential throughout the cruise and ferry experience.

Aligning with broader trends, both operators and guests are looking for contactless, self-service experiences that are seamless, quicker, more automated, and reduce the need for physical interaction. Unified systems make this much easier. For example, with a single solution that covers different services on the vessel, a customer could add a dinner reservation to their booking when they buy their ticket online. If the company uses a single guest identity, their booking is registered on their boarding card, so the guests can go directly to the restaurant, scan their boarding card at a self-service machine, and be seated immediately.

This speed of service and convenience is valuable for all travelers, but especially for passengers like truck drivers, who use the ferry passage as a rest stop. The faster these guests can be seated and served at the restaurant on board, the more time they can rest. Operators that can offer fast and seamless service will have an advantage over competitors when it comes to attracting commuters and other frequent passengers.

In travel, there is still a tendency from many operators to want to take control of the guest experience and offer the traditional “all inclusive holiday.” However, modern customers want to personalize experiences to their tastes and have control at their own fingertips.
In the future, automated self-service experiences that empower customers will become the norm. Guests will increasingly be able to manage, maintain, and change their own bookings by themselves, instead of needing an employee to do it for them.

A big-picture, strategic understanding of the benefits of a unified software solution will also become more common over the next few years. Many operators haven’t yet registered the potential of having one point of truth in terms of data analytics, forecasting, customer experience, and process automation. Instead, they are often focused on short-term costs or are concerned about their current IT investments, and don’t want to take the leap to a new way of managing their business, the HQ, and the vessels as one.

But as more retailers realize that unified commerce is indispensable to deliver seamless experiences online and in person, travel operators will also likely see the benefits of rethinking their entire approach to technology and data.

This content was created collaboratively by LS Retail and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Tags: customer experience, SkiftX Showcase: Technology, technology, travel tech, travel technology

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