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Technology's Role in the Future of the Cruise Industry

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April 07, 2020
Cruise | Technology
Fran Worrall

Editor’s Note: The Spring 2020 issue was published prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. While some of the information is dated we published the articles in their entirety as the industry was showing great progress prior to the outbreak. We can learn from these articles and examples as we prepare for future disruptions.

There’s no shortage of exciting innovations in the cruise industry. From sleeker vessels to more environmentally friendly fuel, enormous changes are taking place and even more are on the horizon. 

Some of the most game-changing developments are the ones related to technology. “From guest-facing solutions to behind-the-scenes systems, there’s a high-tech explosion going on,” said Ian Richardson, CEO of UK-based travel industry consulting firm TheICEway and chairman of the Executive Partner Technology Initiative for Cruise Lines International Association. “In almost every area, technology is changing the ways in which services are delivered and problems are resolved.” In this exclusive interview, Richardson, who also serves as Seatrade 2020’s Global Technology Ambassador, shares his predictions for technology’s role in the future of the cruise industry. 

1. A Focus on Sustainability
Today’s guests, particularly younger travelers, are acutely aware of climate change and the impact of pollution on the environment. In fact, according to a recent Nielsen global online study, sustainability is such a priority for Millennials and Generation Z that they are willing to pay more for eco-friendly experiences. “As a new generation of consumers with heightened environmental consciousness emerges, the industry will have to adapt,” said Richardson. This will drive big technological changes throughout the cruise industry. “The shipbuilding process will increasingly incorporate technology that promotes sustainability,” he said. Already, mobile apps are being used to reduce overcrowding in resorts. And ships are becoming more fuel efficient. ‘Green apps’ that allow passengers to track their individual carbon footprints will also come into play. “Clever cruise lines will incorporate these apps to help the environment and attract new customers.” 

2. A Great Emphasis on Personalization
As cruise lines increasingly seek to differentiate themselves, personalized data-driven technology will become even more important than it is now, Richardson predicts. Technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artifi cial intelligence will employ data not only to enrich the guest journey but also to streamline embarkation and debarkation, improve health and safety, customize dietary requirements, and market activities and excursions. Moreover, technology will be layered on top of real-life experiences to enrich the guest journey, enabling crew members to become more responsive and even preempting passenger requests. Similarly, he foresees the emergence of applications that bring guests together. “We’ve become isolated as a society, and consumers increasingly want connections to real people,” he said. As a result, technology will become more socially engaging. (Think Peloton and the way it merges community and content.) “In every aspect of cruise life, consumers will enjoy more personalized and connected experiences.” 

3. A Heightened Awareness of Security & Data Privacy
Although security and data privacy have been hot topics for a while, the January enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act—described by the American Bar Association as the most comprehensive privacy legislation to be enacted in the United States—has increased awareness of everything from recordkeeping requirements to data breaches. Cruise lines control a great deal of sensitive data about passengers’ identities, health requirements and personal preferences and also conduct guest-facing marketing campaigns. As this information crosses national borders, it is likely to be exposed to security risks. “Although improved technology has made access to a company’s data more difficult, cybersecurity professionals still have to deal with new threats created by IoT, the cloud, mobile and wearable technologies,” Richardson said. Information that was once contained in systems now travels through routers, data centers and other hosts. For these reasons, he predicts that security and data privacy concerns will be top priorities for the industry. “Cruise lines will spend more money on technology that boosts security processes as well as on staff training that teaches employees how to safeguard data.” 

4. An Increase in the Use of Facial Recognition Technology
Facial recognition technology is already being used throughout the industry in a variety of ways. For example, some cruise ships are registering passengers’ faces to provide speedier boarding and disembarkation. In other areas, facial recognition technology monitors passenger congestion and queue lengths, so that crew members can be reassigned wherever their services are in demand. According to Richardson, this is the tip of the iceberg. “The use of facial recognition technology is just getting off the ground,” he said, adding that it soon will be deployed industry-wide. “This technology, perhaps more than any other, has the potential to transform the guest experience, making it frictionless and more secure.”

5. Improved Connectivity
Although Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite systems are still a couple of years away, hospitality software vendors— particularly those that develop property management and point-of-sale systems—are already preparing for the connectivity to come. The latest systems are being built around a true enterprise architecture and centralized methodology. “This is huge, because it will shift tasks from the ship to the central offi ce,” he said. What’s more, these satellite systems will usher in an age of increased bandwidth, which will become much more affordable. Cruise lines will fi nally catch up with other hospitality venues, such as theme parks and resorts, in offering ‘always on’ connectivity. Last year, Intellian, a global provider of stabilized satellite antenna systems, debuted the fi rst antenna that can negotiate between high-earth, mid-earth and low-earth satellites, enabling maritime customers to meet the increasing demand for high-speed connectivity. “This is just the beginning,” Richardson predicts. “Within the next few years, we’re going to see an explosion of bandwidth and available options.”

6. Emergence of IoT
The industry will also see an increasing emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). “As ships become more connected, there will be more IoT devices on board,” he said. “Technology vendors are already in a race to deliver solutions that bring all this telemetry data together.” Systems will soon use machine learning to develop insights and provide feedback that ensures ships are operating at peak effi ciency; in the engine room, for example, data will make certain that the ship is cruising at optimum speed and burning optimal fuel. Moreover, as IoT evolves, edge processing will come into play. “As IoT devices create exponentially increasing amounts of data, there will be a greater need to process and analyze information more rapidly,” he explained. While the cloud is critical to the success of IoT, bandwidth restrictions on ships impede fast data analysis.

In edge processing, processing power is decentralized from cloud service providers, reducing the load on cloud computing networks and enabling the cloud environment to optimize its own resources. “Keeping processing at the edge of the network conserves bandwidth and increases the speed of data analysis.” With so much onboard technology and so many devices pushing out information, the industry will also move toward the creation of digital twins. Simply put, a digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product or service. This pairing of the virtual and physical worlds will enable cruise lines to analyze data and monitor systems to prevent downtime, ward off problems and plan for the future by using simulations. Although the concept of digital twins has been around for almost 20 years, IoT will make it costeffective for the industry, which traditionally has been hampered by connectivity and integration issues caused by a lack of data taxonomy and API standards.

7. Digitalization of Longstanding Friction Points 
Digitalization is already widely used, primarily via apps, to streamline guest service, and Richardson predicts it eventually will be employed to overcome larger and more longstanding friction points. He cites the muster drill as an example. “Although cruise lines have done a great job of utilizing mobile devices to help with muster drills, they will eventually be virtualized so that passengers can participate from their cabins while still complying with maritime safety rules,” he said. Although using technology in this way is still in the trial stages, Richardson believes it will happen; and, when it does, it will revolutionize the industry. ““Digitalization in cruise is not just about sexy wearables or apps, although they do play a part,” he concluded. “The bigger deal is addressing and digitalizing the key longstanding pain points. When we can do that, we will have truly changed the entire guest journey.”

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