November 2018, Amsterdam
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How cruise liners are going high tech
For too long, cruising has been thought of as plain and staid travel for the middle aged and over but no more, writes Sally White
Scepticism there may be on the extent of millennials’ enthusiasm for cruise, despite lines’ expensive shopping sprees to kit their ships out with technology targeted at them. The US-based Cruise Lines International Association, however, has no doubts and certainly no one can deny that this travel sector is currently booming.
Overall, cruise tourism numbers are at a record high, with 27-plus million travellers expected globally this year, giving an annual growth rate of up to six percent. In the fastest growing market, Chinese passenger numbers are up ten-fold in five years with 4.5 million expected annually by the end of the decade. India’s Cruise Lines Association has ambitions to achieve similar numbers. Around 50 new cruise shops are on order for delivery by 2025.
As if those validations are not enough, Sir Richard Branson, no less, is launching three Virgin cruise liners in 2020, his first move into the industry. He has teamed with Boston-based investment group Bain Capital to raise the funds for the $2 billion production costs.
The quest for millennials’ bookings is indisputably bringing changes to the industry, certainly in Virgin’s ships, at least. Branson obviously believes that catering for millennials forms a gap in the market and Virgin’s website promises to woo them with “a unique and differentiated approach to cruise tourism…” For Branson and his designers this means not so much technology, but more a Bollywood version of cruise. There will be a ‘no children’ rule, glitzy décor, loads of clubs, slick restaurants, wellness offerings and a focus on “relaxing and socialising” with huge lounge decks.
The US-based Cruise Lines International Association’s stab at coming up with an average age for cruisers is for around 46 years (using the North American market as a research base) and the Virgin offer should have a wide appeal! Yet, since millennials are such a large chunk of the population in the cruise industry’s top US market, Virgin’s millennial focus is understandable. They have overtaken baby-boomers, number 80 million and spend an annual $1.4 trillion. Right now, though, baby-boomers and older (50+) are by far the leading cruise age group.
The [Chinese] cruise market wants high-technology vacation options…
For the Chinese, however, if a survey from Bloomberg is anything to go by, the technology on the armada of giant luxury vessels sent to their ports is a must in the attractions of ships’ cruises. (Along, that is, with an extra-large range of shops compared to ships for other markets and cooking by local Chinese chefs). According to international management consultants Accenture’s 2018 China Tourism Insights Report, the cruise market there wants “high-technology vacation options, the ability to manage the trip on their smart phones, shopping and an advanced technology stateroom experience”.
The tech drive hasn’t been missed by Stena Lines! Indeed, Amer Mohammed, head of digital innovations at Stena Line will be speaking at EyeforTravel Amsterdam about the thinking behind appointing a head of artificial intelligence!
Accenture points to Carnival’s Ocean Medallion technology as an example of a rising new technology. The Medallion, a wearable device, lets guests pay for services which Carnival can analyse and use to anticipate what passengers might like. It also cites Costa, the Carnival brand, which has launched two WeChat apps for the growing Chinese market enabling smart boarding, on-board purchasing, restaurant reservations and more.
“A very strong trend in China is that demand for iOS and Android apps is waning, while that for programme developing based on WeChat is rising,” Reuters quoted Guangzhou-based app developer Beansmile as saying, explaining the choice.
…another essential and widely used piece of technology helps keep tabs on the kids
Given the vast size of the 13-storey passenger liners and the Chinese love of family holidays, another essential and widely used piece of technology helps keep tabs on the kids. Accenture names MSC Cruises’ wearable bracelet allowing monitoring in real-time and to check where they are at any moment. The kids’ bracelets interact with the thousands of sensors on board so that you can find them in any of the ship’s public areas (cabins not included) in seconds. Carnival’s Ocean Medallion can also help parents keep an eye on their children’s whereabouts.
Not that the kids should be short of things to do – technology provides all kinds of activity, from sports to PlayStation gaming. A modern take on arts and crafts can be enjoyed with the HP Sprout, scanner and 3D printer, for one. Here children (around seven to 12 years old) can design their own computer creations and then print 3D versions to take home. For older children, the interactive multimedia tables, resembling a giant iPad, are popular, with sending messages and sharing music two of the most used options.
Shaking it up
Wearable technology is also being used by cruise lines to give access to any number of credit cards, the geography of ships, reservations in the restaurants, and bookings for on-shore trips. The virtual personal assistant for MSC Cruises’ guests, for example, is “a conversational, voice-enabled innovation that can communicate, learn and intelligently predict guests’ needs to make relevant suggestions”, the company’s press release state. It employs a solution from Harman Connected Services, which can provide instant and personalised information like cruise events, entertainment options, journey updates, or just playing favourite music.
Robot bar tenders…can mix and shake cocktails and ‘mocktails’
In some technologies, cruise has moved ahead of land-based catering. Royal Caribbean Cruises announced robot bar tenders four years ago. They can mix and shake cocktails and "mocktails," then slide the finished drinks down a long slot to waiting human drinkers. Passengers can use tablets to order mixed drinks!
Cruises are certainly no longer a throwback to the past!
Join us at EyeforTravel Amsterdam to hear more from Stena Lines about how the cruise industry is going digital