The Future of Cruising: How Technology Impacts Experience & Sustainability

Category: Strategy & Insights
10 Jul 2019
Read time: 5 MIN
Cruise providers need to harness evolving technology if they are to meet the demands of ever-discerning travellers and compete in an increasingly crowded market.
Written By
MOF Team
MOF Team

In this article, we explore the latest innovations in the cruising world and assess how companies can leverage technology to enhance the customer experience and minimise environmental impact.

The cruise industry is steadily growing year on year and is on course to continue this in 2019, with a total of 30 million travellers expected to set sail – up 6% from 28.2 million in 2018.  

Previously, cruise lines have focused on upgrading their fleets of ships with ever-outlandish attractions like zip lines, go-kart tracks or water parks: generating PR and buzz along the way. But friction points still existed at key points of the customer journey. 

Now, technology can work to streamline the traveller’s experience from pre, during and post-cruise; combating the effects of long queues at embarkation and excessive crowds, while simultaneously providing moments that surprise and delight.

Before we explore the evolving tech, it’s worth taking a look at the current cruising demographic...

What was traditionally a market for seniors, retirees, newlyweds and an elite class has expanded in recent years to a luxurious travel option for a more diverse group of travellers. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) research, key demographic categories to keep in mind now are Gen Z, digital nomads, female travellers and solo travellers.

1. Generation Z is set to become the largest consumer generation by 2020. This group, much like their millennial predecessors, values experiences over material items. Music festivals at sea like Groove Cruise are the ultimate in hedonistic adventure; while the appeal of multi-destination trips is undeniable for a group interested in adventure travel.

2. Digital nomads combine work with leisure time, opting for trips where they can see the world and work at the same time, provided they are well-connected with wifi and desks.

3. Female and solo travel provide ripe opportunity to create unique experiences catered towards uniting communities and providing a space to connect with new people. Cruising also eases the process of travelling alone, with itineraries to the most far-reaching destinations and none of the hassle of organising the minutiae. 

Before Departure

Technology is streamlining the check-in process, with many ships now offering this as a remote service online. Royal Caribbean offers a ‘smart check-in’ system, which allows passengers to avoid queues at the port by uploading their own photos and documentation before departure day. 

"We're trying to give you the first day of your vacation back." – Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean

Princess Cruises’ pre-cruise service allows you to input passport information and food preferences, which they’ll record in a wearable device called the OceanMedallion, delivered to your home address before your trip. It is the size of a coin and can be worn in a clip, sports band, bracelet, or necklace. You can even have it customised onboard.

The OceanMedallion speeds up embarkation, unlocks your cabin door as you approach, enables payments, and lets you order drinks on-demand directly to your location on the ship, helped by wifi triangulation. Servers are equipped with a phone that flashes a photo of your face so they can identify you.  The OceanCompass app integrates with the OceanMedallion and helps passengers locate friends and family anywhere onboard. 

Royal Caribbean’s WOWbands look like watch straps but use radio frequency technology to open your cabin door. 

MSC Cruises’ MSC for Me interactive wristband provides 130 smart features, including a digital way-finder and a speedy reservation service. 

Intelligent Navigation

Much in the same way we now rely on Citymapper or Google Maps on land, passengers don’t have to rely on traditional maps to find their way around their new floating city – and they are indeed like sprawling metropolises on the sea.

Not only do the wearable tech options allow you to get directions to your chosen destination – like a restaurant, bar, pool or attraction – some cruise lines are taking it a step further by introducing new artificially-intelligent crew members. 

Meet Pepper. Pepper is a four-foot tall trilingual robot available on some Costa Cruises to help with navigation, providing directions, information about destinations, entertainment, and general assistance.

"There are thousands of interactions between our customers and our crew every hour. And we realized that our customer habits were changing significantly, and we needed to respond. The thinking was, could we bring something to complement and enhance interaction and help our customers?" Rahul Chakkara, ‎Chief Digital Officer at Costa

'Smart' dinner reservations

Smartphone apps such as MSC for Me (MSC Cruises), Ocean Compass (Carnival Corporation), iConcierge (NCL) and Royal iQ (Royal Caribbean) allow you to make a dinner reservation from anywhere on the ship. Some vessels also have tablet stations and interactive screens for making personal reservations.

MSC Meraviglia has 114 interactive screens that allow you to book dinner as well as other activities, such as the theatre or spa, with few clicks and a swipe of your wearable bracelet. These then appear automatically in your personal agenda.

Geo-locate your children

MSC Cruises’ wearable bracelets for children allow you to monitor their whereabouts in real-time; with sensors on the ship interacting with the bracelet to provide localised information. Carnival’s Ocean Medallion also helps parents keep an eye on their children’s location.

The ‘Stateroom of the Future’

“The idea is to make the walls feel less solid. We wanted to create a space where people could see views of the ocean and skies from inside their cabin, without having to necessarily go to the promenade of the ship.” – RCI spokesperson

Passengers will be able to stream live video or choose from stock scenes to create their most idyllic natural surroundings. Sunrise alarm calls can be customised, down to the colour of the sky. A full LED ceiling and LED ‘stream’ in the floor turns the cabin into something far more.

Virtual reality dining

RCI also teased the idea of virtual reality dining onboard, though at this stage the idea has not been implemented on any ships. The immersive experience is intended to enhance the flavours. 

But is any of this sustainable?

Let’s be frank: the cruising industry is not known for its environmental credentials. But in today’s climate, it’s vital that cruise lines start to think realistically about the environmental impact of their ventures.

One company leading the way in sustainable tourism is Lindblad Expeditions, which recently announced a climate change action plan focused on lessening their own environmental footprint, while simultaneously increasing awareness of global environmental issues. 

“Our Plan for Climate Action is a critical step for addressing the very challenges that are facing us as we travel to the poles and the pristine corners of the earth. For years, we have been working to preserve and even restore these places around the globe. Today, global warming is helping to shape the sustainability conversation, and we want to engage as many of our guests in that conversation as we possibly can,” Sven Lindblad, president and founder of Lindblad Expeditions. 

The company is set to become carbon neutral this year, effectively offsetting 100% of emissions from their ships, all land-based operations, employee travel and offices in New York and Seattle.

Lindblad has worked with artist Zaria Forman to curate an exhibition, Change, aboard their newest cruise ship, the National Geographic Endurance. The exhibition will feature work inspired by polar regions, showing them in a vulnerable light to remind passengers of the need to protect these precious places.

Windstar Cruises last year announced an enormous renovation project for 2019/20, focused on lengthening and upgrading three ships – the Star Breeze, Star Legend, and Star Pride – adding start-of-the-art public spaces, dining and relaxation experiences. Amid this renovation, they are replacing each vessel’s seven engines with four new ‘greener’ engines, which run on cleaner fuel to reduce emissions.

Meanwhile, RCI has debuted the first-ever use of an ‘air lubrication system’ that coats the hulls of ships with millions of microscopic air bubbles. This aims to mitigate fuel consumption by minimising resistance and drag.

“Experimenting with new ways to power our ships is part of our commitment to being a responsible environmental steward,” said RCI’s chairman and CEO Richard D Fain. 

Technology is evolving rapidly, and cruise lines need to ensure they keep up to meet the demands of their customers. But while those demands still mean personalisation, luxury and seamless experiences – increasingly, they are demanding their cruises providers possess an environmental conscience, too.

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