This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
No business gets a second chance to make a first impression and those operating in the cruise sector know that better than most. Every passenger – whether they are travelling on their own, as a couple or as a large group on either a short break or a trip of a lifetime – comes onboard for a great experience. Although payments are an unwelcome part of any holiday, there are several ways that cruise operators can use innovative payment solutions to enhance the passenger experience.
Cruise operators trade with passengers across multiple channels before, during and after cruises. Passengers may book their cruise online, via a call centre or travel agent, but they also make in-person payments onboard the ship. To make these experiences seamless for passengers – and as easy as possible for crew on the front-end – operators should implement a back-office system that integrates all their payment channels, property management and inventory systems. This means they will not need to ask passengers to submit their details multiple times. It also makes payment-related admin slicker and quicker for crew.
Offering a variety of familiar payment methods makes passengers feel at home and, as such, minimises the number of lost sales. Cruise operators should be able to accept international card brands, such as AMEX, Diners, Mastercard and Visa as standard, but they should also accept country-specific bank products and wallets. They can do this by partnering with a payments provider that can facilitate various payment methods through a single, easy-to-implement interface. Such a partner should also be able to offer advice on the best payment options per country to help maximise online sales.
Cruise operators must maintain various payment and non-payment gateways for commercial and operational efficiencies. In addition, they have to cope with the logistics of a fleet at sea where there is little to no outbound connectivity. This is where a payments partner that offers one payment gateway combined with one POS gateway for property and inventory management, loyalty programmes and more can help. ‘Store and forward’ capabilities can also be beneficial here. This functionality enables transactions to be stored if ships are in ports where internet connectivity is poor, or at sea and out of range, and then forwarded when connectivity resumes. Direct gateway integration is also advisable to handle onboard functions, such as top-up authorisations, settlements and reversals of unused amounts.
If an operator’s ships are not in port for long, they need a payments infrastructure that is easy to deploy and maintain. The PXP Financial-hosted solution, for example, runs on a ‘thin’ application, which means it is set up on our host with little to no configuration required client side. Deployment is quick and easy – we once rolled out our solution to a retail client with 800 stores within two weeks at the touch of a button.
Historically, the cruise sector and wider hospitality industry has held cardholder data across more systems and for longer than in other industries. When data is held on POS and other systems for use before, during and after the service is rendered, it increases the risk exposure to data breaches. Certain technical network, hardware and software practices are common across the industry, which may in turn make it more of a target. For example, systems can be networked together. Although this may make sense operationally, it makes it easier for attackers to enter and move laterally across linked networks in search of sensitive data. Similarly, the passenger profile and trading patterns within the cruise industry make it an attractive target for data thieves. There are typically high volumes of high-value payments made on cards with higher credit limits, so they fetch higher prices on underground markets if stolen.
Encrypting passengers’ card data from the moment it enters their systems (usually on the PIN pad) means cruise operators never see sensitive cardholder data in the clear. This helps reduce risk in the event of a breach, as well as the costs associated with lost revenue and damaged reputation. Tokenisation replaces sensitive card data with a token, which can be used across various front- and back-end systems instead of the real card data.
Outsourcing payment security to a trusted partner as a fully managed, hosted solution has many advantages. It helps save cruise operators time internally in keeping up to date with industry standards. It obviates the need for these brands to recruit, retain and train their own experts. And it helps them to cut costs because they can piggyback off the developments their payments service provider is making to quickly offer new and improved services
to their guests.
Technology is important but it is only part of the solution. Payment is as much about people as it is about technology. When looking for a long-term payments partner, cruise companies should consider the human element: their guests, staff and day-to-day contacts at their payments partner. Not only should they consider the knowledge, skills and expertise of the payment provider’s staff, but also their experience and references within the sector. Hospitality policies and protocols are so specific: reservations, no-shows, pre-authorisations, top-up authorisations, delayed charges and so on. When it comes to guiding business response, there is no substitute for deep domain-level expertise.
PXP Financial has more than 30 years’ experience in the hospitality sector and has built long-term relationships with major cruise brands and tier-one international hotel brands. We offer a completely integrated, multi-channel, multi-currency, scalable payments solution that is already used by major cruise operators worldwide. We offer a range of plug-and-play services, including everything from cruise industry-specific card acceptance, to risk management and tokenisation. They are quick to deploy, which means our clients benefit from operational efficiencies straightaway.
In addition, our company attracts and retains expert consultants and we operate a single point of contact for customers. The always-on customer support team provides 24/7 help, making us an ideal partner for cruise companies that operate ships worldwide.
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