THE FU­TURE OF CRUIS­ING

How cruise com­pa­nies are us­ing tech­nol­ogy to re­duce their en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print and en­hance guest ex­pe­ri­ence

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - DEVELOPMENT – MAURITIUS - BY CATHER­INE MOR­RIS, STAR BUSINESSWEEK COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Once known as the va­ca­tion of choice for the el­derly and re­tired, cruis­ing has had a facelift in re­cent years. Thanks to game-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy, the in­dus­try is evolv­ing and the lat­est wave of in­no­va­tion isn’t just good for pas­sen­gers, it’s great for the en­vi­ron­ment too.

FO­CUS ON SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY

Around 28 mil­lion cruise ship pas­sen­gers will take to the sea in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, and 27 new ves­sels will make their de­but this year as cruise com­pa­nies world­wide rush to keep up with de­mand.

In the Caribbean, mega-lin­ers have long been a com­mon sight at is­land ports. The in­dus­try is a huge tourism con­trib­u­tor with many re­gional des­ti­na­tions heav­ily de­pen­dent on the mil­lions of pas­sen­gers that dis­em­bark an­nu­ally. Saint Lu­cia’s cruise busi­ness grew by 27 per cent in 2017 and the coun­try is on course to wel­come around 800,000 pas­sen­gers this year.

While the in­dus­try is en­joy­ing steady growth, it has not re­mained im­mune to the re­cent trend to­wards eco-con­scious and eth­i­cal travel. Not con­tent with brows­ing the buf­fet and tak­ing in the view, to­day’s pas­sen­gers are be­com­ing more aware of their en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print and are at­tracted to brands that are openly fo­cused on sus­tain­able tourism.

For the com­pa­nies them­selves, sus­tain­abil­ity isn’t just a buzz­word to get guests on­board, it’s key to the sur­vival of their busi­ness. Cruise lines have come un­der fire in the past with well-founded con­cerns over their im­pact on lo­cal ma­rine life and ecosys­tems, pol­lu­tion, garbage and emis­sions. Many is­lands in the Caribbean have strug­gled to bal­ance the need for cruise dol­lars with pro­tect­ing their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment — it­self a ma­jor draw for vis­i­tors. With thou­sands of ships dock­ing in the Caribbean each year, pro­tect­ing the re­gion’s nat­u­ral as­sets is paramount.

Speak­ing re­cently at a mar­itime con­fer­ence in The Ba­hamas, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Ma­rine Op­er­a­tions with

Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional (RCI) Gre­gory Purdy said cruise com­pa­nies recog­nise that sus­tain­abil­ity is good for busi­ness, and are also

keenly aware that they have an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate best prac­tices that can spread to other sec­tors. “The cruise in­dus­try is very fo­cused on this area and we have the re­sources to do a good job and lead the world. We work with sup­pli­ers to lever­age our scale and to change the in­dus­try. We can drive that be­cause of the vol­umes we drive around the world.

“For us it is busi­ness crit­i­cal be­cause peo­ple will not want to visit where we have dam­aged the area. We need to make sure we are adding value to com­mu­ni­ties.”

Purdy pre­dicts that the ships of the fu­ture will make greater use of tech­nol­ogy to re­duce emis­sions and be­come more en­ergy ef­fi­cient. Car­ni­val will be first to mar­ket when it launches North Amer­ica’s first liqui­fied nat­u­ral gas (LNG)-pow­ered cruise ship in 2020 from Port Canaveral in Florida. Dis­ney is fol­low­ing suit with three LNG lin­ers join­ing its fleet in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

RCI will de­but its own LNG ships in 2022 with the new ICON class. “LNG is the way of the fu­ture for the next 10 or 20 years,” said Purdy. “We have a lot of in­ter­est in that. It is very ex­cit­ing.” ICON is also set to in­cor­po­rate fuel cell tech­nol­ogy which takes in hy­dro­gen and con­verts it to elec­tric­ity.

The only byprod­uct of this process is wa­ter, thereby sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing harm­ful emis­sions.

CUT­TING-EDGE EX­PE­RI­ENCES

Tech­nol­ogy isn’t just help­ing cruise com­pa­nies go green, it’s also redefin­ing the guest ex­pe­ri­ence. Ar­tif­i­cal in­tel­li­gence, vir­tual re­al­ity, ge­olo­ca­tion and face recog­ni­tion soft­ware — the in­dus­try is in the midst of a tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that will make cruis­ing eas­ier, safer and more en­joy­able.

Last year Car­ni­val Cor­po­ra­tion un­veiled its ‘smart ship’ tech­nol­ogy in the form of a small, per­son­alised medal­lion that con­tains pas­sen­ger in­for­ma­tion and can in­ter­act with the en­tire ship. Pas­sen­gers can up­load their per­sonal pref­er­ences to the Ocean Medal­lion which are then used by staff to sug­gest ac­tiv­i­ties. The medal­lion can also open cabin doors, dis­play user’s va­ca­tion pho­tos and be used to or­der drinks or food from any­where on­board.

RCI has been in­vest­ing heav­ily in vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity. This spring the com­pany in­tro­duced the Sky­pad, where guests bounce on tram­po­lines while strapped into a bungee har­nass and us­ing VR head­sets to give them the sen­sa­tion of bounc­ing through dif­fer­ent land­scapes and worlds. On the Quan­tum of the Seas, guests with in­te­rior rooms can still have a view thanks to vir­tual re­al­ity bal­conies.

Cruise com­pa­nies are also us­ing tech­nol­ogy to com­bat one of the big­gest guest gripes — the long and cum­ber­some board­ing process. RCI of­fers fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware to pas­sen­gers who want to skip the queue at check-in and most of the mar­ket’s heavy­hit­ters such as Car­ni­val and Dis­ney have apps al­low­ing pas­sen­gers to book shore excursions and other ac­tiv­i­ties ahead of time.

PRE­PAR­ING FOR GROWTH

As cruise com­pa­nies lure more vis­i­tors on­board with the lat­est gad­getry, small is­lands like Saint Lu­cia are po­si­tion­ing them­selves to take ad­van­tage of the in­crease in the mar­ket. Saint Lu­cia’s gov­ern­ment is look­ing to fur­ther grow its cruise busi­ness with the multi-mil­lion dol­lar ex­pan­sion and rede­vel­op­ment of Cas­tries Har­bour and Pointe Seraphine. Up­grades to the port now al­low it to ac­co­mo­date Quan­tum class ves­sels, which can carry nearly 5,000 pas­sen­gers per visit. There are also plans to de­velop in the South, with the Il Pi­rata site in Vieux Fort ear­marked for a new cruise ter­mi­nal.

But it’s not enough to en­tice ships to visit; if Caribbean des­ti­na­tions are go­ing to reap the re­wards of in­creased cruis­ing, they have to en­cour­age pas­sen­gers to dis­em­bark and di­rectly con­tribute to the lo­cal econ­omy.

The cur­rent cruis­ing rev­o­lu­tion will gen­er­ate more busi­ness in the years to come but the Caribbean can­not be left be­hind. If it wants to grab a share of the mar­ket, the re­gion’s tourism stake­hold­ers must stay ahead of the game and bear in mind that high-tech en­ter­tain­ment op­tions avail­able at sea could make it more dif­fi­cult for land-based providers to com­pete.

At a time when com­pa­nies across all sec­tors are com­ing un­der scru­tiny for their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment, the cruise in­dus­try is set­ting sail for an even more sus­tain­able fu­ture

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