THE FUTURE OF CRUISING
How cruise companies are using technology to reduce their environmental footprint and enhance guest experience
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.
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