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Author: Guest/Friday, June 30, 2017/Categories: Viewpoint, Onboard experience
Markets from Europe to Asia are seeing unprecedented growth as cruise tourism continues to rise.
Growth took the number of cruise passengers worldwide to 25.3 million this year, putting operators under mounting pressure to continue to evolve their onboard offer. Now that a newer generation of consumers are looking at cruising, operators’ new ships need to depart from traditional formats. That tends to mean more shops, casinos, and enclosed sun decks, as well as a focus on high quality cuisine and investments in more consumer-facing technology and back-end IT systems to cater to tech-savvy consumers. Today, customer experience is everything.
Many cruise companies have started to attract the all-important market of first-time cruise passengers, particularly young families. Attracting this demographic is a strategic win for an industry where consumers tend to be repeat customers, and success typically comes not from relying on loyalty to cruising, but on outperforming alternative experiences on land. To do this, cruise operators have begun to invest heavily to improve ships in three key areas: technology, food and enhanced experience activities.
How is the cruise sector looking to create that edge around customer experience? Onboard installations are one way. Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas was equipped with a robotic bartender and North Star, a viewing capsule that lifts passengers 300 foot above sea level. MSC Cruises has partnered with Samsung and invested almost £20 million (US$25 million) to update its ships and host the technology-enabled theatre show ‘Cirque Du Soleil’. The cruise industry has made staying connected while traveling a priority. More importantly, investments in internet infrastructure – increasing bandwidth by 25% every year and regular wireless network upgrades – have transformed the customer experience. It’s been vital in attracting first time cruisers who currently make up around 40% of cruise travellers.
The proliferation of cruise apps, high-speed wi-fi, RFID wristbands for staff and in-room iPads contribute to an improved customer experience, especially for younger consumers who expect access to technology. This ranges from targeted promotional campaigns, to more activities to drive customer loyalty, such as preferential seats at shows and exclusive restaurants for guests who purchase premium accommodation. Further value is added when the technology supports customised experiences or personalised premium add-ons, meaningfully targeted at passengers with specific profiles. Carnival Corporation is leading the way in elevating the cruise experience using wearable technology via its new Ocean Medallion. The device connects with the ship’s onboard systems to create that seamless experience for passengers, whether they are ordering meals or unlocking cabin doors.
Gone are the days of cruise passengers sitting next to strangers and choosing from the same buffet in one enormous dining room. Today, guest expectations have risen radically and cruise lines recognise that food is where they can truly impact the customer experience.
Royal Caribbean transformed the dining experience onboard Quantum of the Seas – innovative in so many areas – by partnering with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver as part of its Dynamic Dining initiative. In addition, guests can book a specific table at one of the ship’s 18 onboard restaurants at their chosen time. Meanwhile, P&O Cruises has replaced the traditional buffet with The Pantry, which resembles an upmarket food hall. Not only do these innovations add more variety, but they also create more platforms to add premium features that prompt guests to spend more.
If they were once considered a comfortable way to travel between holiday destinations, now cruise ships are recognised as the focal point for all holiday activities and experiences. The inclusion of facilities to provide wellness programmes, free childcare and the more adventurous onboard activities – such as multi-storey waterslides and ziplines – reflects another move to attract a younger audience. It’s in partnerships with extra activities that has really shifted the cruise industry’s game and shows real innovation in the offer.
New holiday packages combine cruises with more active pursuits, such as the collaboration between Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Carnival Corporation has looked to attract younger consumers by offering social impact travel cruises via its Fathom brand, allowing guests to disembark in Cuba and the Dominican Republic to work on local humanitarian projects. Azamara Club Cruises offers a ‘Cruise Global, Eat Local’ programme to please foodies by letting them dine at local culinary hotspots.
Comparatively little innovation has occurred within onboard retail. As in airports, cruise ships have lagged behind malls and high streets in their onboard proposition. Yet airports are beginning to appreciate that their large spaces and captive audience allow fantastic showrooming opportunities, and that with the right technology, they can even intelligently fulfil customer orders from different terminals to any chosen gate or the passenger’s home. Partnerships and joint brand ventures will lead the way especially at the luxe end. LVMH’s partnership with Starboard Cruise Services is one example.
For now, cruise lines are investing heavily in the infrastructure they need to enhance their passengers’ experiences and they are beginning to reap some success. The next step is to better understand their newly acquired customer data and partner with relevant brands to provide an engaging retail offer which matches – or improves on – customer experience on land. As cruise operators continue to improve the experience in other ways and as passenger numbers grow, there seems a fair wind for them to continue to innovate and ride this wave.
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CruiseandFerry.net is the online home of International Cruise & Ferry Review, a twice-yearly magazine that is also available for subscription in both printed and digital formats.
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