What Oscar Wilde can Teach You About Cruise Technology

Feb 11, 2020

The first vessel built exclusively for luxury cruising launched in 1900. Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright, died that same year. So what could this sardonic 19th century writer have possibly noted during his lifetime that’s relevant to cruising and 21st century technology? Turns out Mr. Wilde, as usual, had plenty to say.

1. Cruise Technology is a Huge Investment

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”

Once upon a time, cruise lines emphasized serving large quantities of food and visiting warm-weather ports. There’s been a shift in that thinking for many cruise operators to market the cruise ship itself as the destination of choice for guests, even during port days. The idea is for a cruise vacation to offer as much enjoyment, recreation, and variety as a getaway to a Las Vegas resort.

However, cruise ships move continuously across water with no publicly available connectivity, so cruise lines face huge capital and human resource investments for delivering game-changing customer services to reduce hassles, personalize interactions, and deliver what guests want during their vacation “right now and right here.”

Cruise lines started making significant investments in technology to increase shipboard speed of service for food and beverage about 10 years ago. And now technology budgets for supporting extraordinary on-demand experiences across all guest touchpoints rival the expenditures for maintaining cruise ship engines.

Recent upgrades to enable Carnival Corp’s MedallionClass™ experience required a whopping $450 million to revamp the technology infrastructure of existing Princess Cruises vessels. The retrofit of a ship hosting 3,600-passengers was allocated 72 miles of new cable, 7,000 sensors, 500 edge computing devices, and more than 4,000 interactive digital displays, in addition to developing the custom software platform that synchronizes the shoreside, cloud, and shipboard applications driving all of that new hardware and data capture.

Will this corporate financial gamble move the needle for vacationers to select a cruise holiday versus spending those same dollars to take the family to Orlando?

Oscar Wilde Quote

2. Cruise Technology is Buzz-Worthy

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Cruise lines strive to leap-frog each other, and even land-based vacation options, to offer the most unique experiences for their guests, and the media has taken notice of the impressive technology powering “the magic” behind the scenes.

The Walt Disney Company has long been the media darling for delivering memorable experiences for guests of all ages who come back to Disney parks, resorts, and cruises again and again. Some cruise lines have fast-tracked transforming their brands by luring away several Disney-experience innovators to head up previously overlooked cruise customer experience teams.

John Padgett, Carnival Corp’s Chief Experience & Innovation Officer, is a former Disney cast member who played a key role in bringing the MagicBand and MyMagic+ experience to life. He is also a highly sought-after customer experience thought leader by news media around the world. Much like a celebrity chef who is enthused about creating a new twist on dishes using special ingredients and techniques, Padgett is passionate about turning the customer service model upside down by utilizing bespoke software, lots of sensors, low latency connectivity, and reconstituted hotel operations.

The result so far is that guests and the media report being surprised and delighted by the “ground-breaking” MedallionClass™ experience currently available on six (soon to be seven) Princess Cruises ships.

3. The Best Cruise Technology is Invisible

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

The same can be said about shipboard services enabled by technology. No one wants to spend time fiddling with an app that’s not easy to use or crashes constantly, especially the cruise ship hotel operations staff when a new gadget or complicated process hinders their efficiency.

Any kind of new feature introduced to guests and crew members has to work beautifully for adoption, and the best experiences are enabled by technology operating quietly as part of the ambiance. If it’s done right, no one will even realize the technology is there.

Joey Hasty, Royal Caribbean’s Head of Innovation and Transformation, said in a recent podcast, “No one wants to use facial recognition. Everyone just wants to get on board the ship faster. No one wants an app. People just want to have a drink brought to them [wherever they are]. We work to hide the technology so it just blends into the experience. Success [is] in really understanding that people have goals, and it’s never about the technology.”

Oscar Wilde did not live long enough to enjoy his leisure time on a cruise ship. However, if he were alive today, we can imagine that even Mr. Wilde would have found it noteworthy enough to blog about spending the day on a cruise line’s private Caribbean island, while ordering an Old Bushmills (or two) from his iPad for delivery during a walk from the tapas bar to his stateroom. Once outside his door, there’s a display greeting him with his name, and the lock automatically opens, which is perfect because both his hands are full carrying the whiskey shots he just picked up in the corridor from the bar runner. As he said, “Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”

What do you think cruise lines will offer next to entice vacationers to spend their available time and money on a river cruise or ocean voyage?


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