Revolutionising the cruise experience through smart new technology

Revolutionising the cruise experience through smart new technology

Anthony Pearce discovers OceanMedallion, the little button that will totally transform your cruise, from ordering drinks to locating your loved ones

Princess Cruises is in the process of rolling out its OceanMedallion technology, which it claims is revolutionising the cruise experience. Its creator, John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer, says it’s more than just “a feature on a phone, it’s about a fully operating ecosystem that guests are a part of”.

On a recent tour of Crown Princess, Cruise Adviser got to experience the device, which not only acts as a room card, but also allows guests to order drinks, food and items from the shop, locate their travel companions and navigate their way around the ship. It also allows the crew to identify guests, know their preferences and assist them more easily, and makes muster drills and locating passengers in cases of emergency far easier.According to Padgett, the data could even help shape future ship designs. Now the hardware is in place, including what Princess describes at the best internet at sea, the software is already being tweaked.

Anthony Pearce spoke to John Padgett and Tony Roberts about making OceanMedallion a reality.

When did the project start?
John Padgett: “We started in summer 2015, so it’s been four years in the making, and in the last eight months we’ve moved it across four ships, we have Sky Princess in October and we have another six next year [see box]. That’s 11 ships in five years, so it’s pretty impressive.”

What was Carnival’s brief?
“Carnival said ‘focus on the guests, maximise their experience’ – that was it. Fundamentally, to create a fully connected experience with the personalisation we want to give, we knew we had to connect all the guests to this ‘ecosystem’ across the ship. We knew there was going to be some form of device to connect the guests, then it probably took about a year to hone it down. The reason we chose the Medallion is we wanted a device that is applicable to any situation – you can put it in a clip and wear it on a suit or a tuxedo, and it looks fabulous, or you can throw it in a sport band and go swimming with it, or go to the beach. We really wanted to give guests the choice on how to accessorise it.”

Have there been any hiccups so far?
“We’ve not had any significant issues with the most innovative technology. During our early beta launch in November 2017, on Regal Princess, we learned some lessons about the computing infrastructure we needed and the breadth of our shipboard network – we needed more horsepower. But in terms of the guest experience, there have been few surprises – if there is a surprise, it’s the fact that no one opts out. Vacation time is so valuable, and if you’re creating something that truly makes their experience greater, they embrace it.”

You’re rolling it out across the fleet – how is it being embraced?
Tony Roberts: “It’s changing all the time, and each new ship brings the next stage of the development, so it’s a really exciting project to be working on. The guest response has been positive; for each guest it means something different. It allows guests to make the most of their time on board and not miss anything. I was talking to some guests recently who’ve booked seven more cruises on Caribbean Princess. I was asking about OceanMedallion, what they like about it and whether it was a factor in booking. They said it wasn’t the reason they booked, but if they didn’t have it now, they would miss it. When you go to a hotel and have to find your room key, then queue at the bar for a drink, you think, ‘It was so much easier when I was on Princess’.”

Will one advantage be how data can be used to plan future ships?
“There are things we don’t understand about the flow of guests around the ship because we’ve never had that information, but now, all of a sudden, we have all of that available to us. And you can tap into that rich information, about how long people stay in certain places, what they do when they are there. So, for example, an interesting thing is that most restaurants empty out into stairwells. It made us question, ‘Does that drive the behaviour of what people do next?’ What if you had something else outside restaurants? Would they be more likely to stop and engage with entertainment? It helps you understand the guest experience, even if it just means more signposting so they know what’s available.” 

You’ve just announced your 2021 programme. Why so early? 

“Last year, we launched 2020 in November. Over the last few years, we’ve seen people booking earlier and earlier, particularly with Europe dates. It’s the confidence we’ve got in the European market and the fact we’ve got five ships here in 2021. We’ve also put it on sale during the onboard credit campaign we’ve got running at the moment. It’s about removing barriers, perceived or real, to engaging with the feature season – there are guests out there who know what they are going to be doing in 2021. There are some stunning cruises, such as 21-night Canada cruise – these have an earlier booking pattern, it’s something people are thinking about a long time before.” 

How important is the travel trade to Princess?

“One of the most important areas of our business is how we partner with travel agents, we’ve done a bit of work on this recently, making sure we’re explaining why you would choose Princess, and also providing easy-to-use campaigns, selling tools and engaging commercial programmes. Travel agents are such a huge part of what we’re doing – it’s key we continue to communicate with them. There’s lot of travel agents who have been able to grow with Princess over the last four years. We’ve got Sky Princess joining the fleet in September and 300 travel agents are joining us on a preview sailing in October. We’ll fly them out to Trieste, where they’ll join the ship and sail to Athens. They will be able to experience the newest ship in the fleet as well as OceanMedallion.” 

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