Sam Ballard speaks to Carnival’s John Padgett about their new digital development
“The MagicBand was an example of wearable technology before wearable technology even existed,” explains John Padgett, the chief experience and innovation officer at Carnival Corporation. “What Disney produced with that was a real game-changer. It revolutionised the way guests interact with the holiday experience. The Ocean Medallion is the next stage in guest interaction.”
Padgett speaks from experience – he worked at Disney for 18 years and was part of the team that brought the MagicBand to market. Launched in 2013, the wristband allowed millions of guests coming through Disney’s parks and resorts to do everything from gain entry to pre-booked fast-track rides to pay for snacks and souvenirs. They could even use it to touch into their on-site stateroom. So, what is it about Ocean Medallion that changes the landscape of wearable tech beyond MagicBand?
It all starts at home with Ocean Compass, a “digital portal” where future guests log in and enter their details, preferences and thus customise their holiday experience. Once filled in, guests are officially “ocean ready” and, from the point they arrive at the port, everything becomes much more interactive. When guests are on board they can choose to download Ocean Compass to their own smart device as a “digital concierge”.
“You have essentially already checked in to the ship, so embarkation is sped up,” Padgett says. “Previously you would print something off at home, arrive at the port and then probably have to reprint it because the barcode was unreadable. You
would swap those bits of paper for more paper and your keycard. There were so many processes involved.”
With Ocean Medallion staff on board the ship will know that you are approaching. Their tablets will show your picture. They verify it’s you and you are given entry to the ship. When approaching your stateroom that same technology unlocks the door for you automatically. Staff will be able to know when you are approaching the bar – they will also know what your favourite drink is and, if you go to get a table, where to find you. However, that’s just scratching the surface of what the technology can do.
“The thing about a cruise ship is that it’s a closed ecosystem. We own all of the verticals and consumer experiences so we can control far more than would be possible in, say, a park or resort.”
The first ship to become “Medallion-class” will be Regal Princess in November this year. To become ready the ship will need to have 72 miles of cable and 7,000 sensors installed across the ship. There will also be 4,000 high resolution screens that the medallions will be able to interact with whenever a passenger approaches one.
“Every guest is going to be able to choose their own digital avatar before coming on board, which we’re calling a Tagalong,” Padgett explains. “Whenever a passenger comes close to a screen their Tagalong will appear. The really cool thing is that if a family comes up to a screen, their Tagalongs will all appear together, swimming around, interacting with each other.”
The Tagalongs also raise the possibility for adding extras for loyalty scheme members. If you are an Elite member then perhaps your Tagalong could appear with a crown, for instance – or something else to subtly let fellow passengers know about your superior status.
The customisation of Ocean Medallion is one of the few exceptions to what Padgett refers to as “a democratisation of the cruise experience”.
“For a long time now the cruise industry has been segmenting off guest experiences and charging more for them. I wanted to connect everyone to the same ecosystem across the ship and raise the level of inclusion that we can offer.
“Cruise represents two per cent of the world’s hotel rooms. When we launch a ship we add one per cent to the cruise industry’s global capacity. We concentrate so much on that extra one per cent, but I want to make the 99 per cent happier. That’s the way we will grow.”
One of the biggest introductions Padgett has made with Ocean Medallion is “Here & Now” and “There & Then”. Essentially you will be able to ask any member of staff to grab something for you – be it some sunscreen from the shop or a burger – and they will bring it to your current location using the Medallion’s tracker. There & Then allows you to order something and have it delivered to a future location – say a round of drinks before dinner in your favourite bar.
The best thing about the Ocean Medallion is that guests can choose how much they want to be interacted with. If they don’t like the idea of a barman knowing their favourite drink then they don’t need to tell them. They can also turn off the tracking – unless they’re underage, in which case it’s compulsory. Information is also strictly to enhance the guest experience, Padgett insists, and not to be used to market customers with tailored offers.
The technology has 27 patents pending and will be rolled out across Princess within the next couple of years. The possibilities are endless, Padgett says.
“We could extend the technology to cover shore side experiences or lodges,” he adds. “We could also conceivably have a comedian that is able to tailor jokes at you – if you agree to it beforehand. It’s going to change everything.”
This was made possible thanks to the support of Arnold Donald, Carnival’s charismatic boss. Indeed it was Donald who got up at CES – the world’s biggest consumer electronics show – and delivered the opening keynote speech, the first time a travel industry executive has done so.
“Without him none of it would have happened,” says Padgett. “He was on board from the beginning.”