CRUISE CON­TROL

Fast Company - - Contents - By Cliff Kuang

Car­ni­val in­tro­duces a tech plat­form that pro­vides cus­tom­ized, on-de­mand ser­vice to pas­sen­gers.

This month, the 141,000-ton Regal Princess will push out to sea af­ter a nine-fig­ure re­vamp of mind-bog­gling scale. Pas­sen­gers won’t be greeted by new restau­rants, swim­ming pools, or on­board ac­tiv­i­ties, but will in­stead step into a fu­ture au­gured by the likes of Net­flix and Uber, where nearly ev­ery­thing is on de­mand and per­son­ally tai­lored. An am­bi­tious new cus­tomiza­tion plat­form has been wo­ven into the ship’s 19 pas­sen­ger decks: some 7,000 on­board sen­sors and 4,000 “guest por­tals” (door-ac­cess pan­els and touch-screen TVS), all of them con­nected by 75 miles of in­ter­nal ca­bling. As the Car­ni­val-owned ship cruises to Nas­sau, Ba­hamas, and Grand Turk, its 3,500 pas­sen­gers will have the op­tion of car­ry­ing a quar­ter-size de­vice, called the Ocean Medal­lion, which can be slipped into a pocket or worn on the wrist and is synced with a com­pan­ion app.

The plat­form will pro­vide a new level of ser­vice for pas­sen­gers; the on­board sen­sors record their tastes and re­spond to their move­ments, and the app guides them around the ship and to­ward ac­tiv­i­ties aligned with their pref­er­ences. Car­ni­val plans to roll out the plat­form to an­other seven ships by Jan­uary 2019. Even­tu­ally, the Ocean Medal­lion could be open­ing doors, or­der­ing drinks, and sched­ul­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for pas­sen­gers on

all 102 of Car­ni­val’s ves­sels across 10 cruise lines, from the mass-mar­ket Princess ships to the leg­endary ocean lin­ers of Cu­nard.

The Ocean Medal­lion is Car­ni­val’s at­tempt to ad­dress a prob­lem that’s be­come in­creas­ingly vex­ing to the $35.5 bil­lion cruise in­dus­try. Driven by eco­nomics, ships have ex­ploded in size: In 1996, Car­ni­val Destiny was the world’s largest cruise ship, car­ry­ing 2,600 pas­sen­gers. To­day, Royal Caribbean’s MS Har­mony of the Seas car­ries up to 6,780 pas­sen­gers and 2,300 crew. Larger ships ex­pend less fuel per pas­sen­ger; the money saved can then go to adding more ameni­ties— which, in turn, are geared to at­tract­ing as many types of peo­ple as pos­si­ble. To­day on a typ­i­cal ship you can do prac­ti­cally any­thing—from at­tend­ing vi­o­lin con­cer­tos to bungee jump­ing. And that’s just on­board. Most of a cruise is spent in port, where each day there are dozens of ex­pe­ri­ences avail­able. This avalanche of choice can bury a pas­sen­ger. It has also made per­son­al­ized ser­vice harder to de­liver. “Peo­ple might be so over­whelmed that they don’t want to take a cruise, or they might not un­der­stand what a cruise is,” says Jan Swartz, group pres­i­dent of Princess Cruises, the first Car­ni­val brand to adopt the Ocean Medal­lion plat­form.

For John Pad­gett, Car­ni­val’s chief ex­pe­ri­ence and in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer, the project is the cul­mi­na­tion of a decade spent think­ing about the di­vide be­tween mass ap­peal and ex­clu­siv­ity in travel. “It galled me that in the va­ca­tion in­dus­try, peo­ple call it in­no­va­tion when they do some­thing spe­cial for one tiny group,” he says. “Our goal is to de­moc­ra­tize the elite va­ca­tion.” Be­fore land­ing at Car­ni­val, Pad­gett spent 20 years at Dis­ney, where his last big project was the Dis­ney Mag­icband and My­magic+, a sixyear, $1 bil­lion in­no­va­tion that re­placed tick­ets, money, and lines for rides at Walt Dis­ney World with a wear­able wrist­band and an app.

The Regal Princess in­tends to do all that and more: Thanks to the ship’s sen­sors, any­thing a pas­sen­ger wants can be de­liv­ered on de­mand. If she opens up her app and or­ders sun­tan lotion and a mai tai, a server will find her. What’s more, each in­ter­ac­tion with the app will be crunched three times a sec­ond by a bun­dle of 100 al­go­rithms, de­signed to pre­dict what she might want next. (All Ocean Medal­lion data is en­crypted and isn’t stored in the Medal­lion. Guests can opt out, but will not re­ceive the new tai­lored ser­vices.) By bring­ing the kind of an­tic­i­pa­tory in­tel­li­gence that Net­flix and Ama­zon of­fer cus­tomers to a real-world en­vi­ron­ment, Pad­gett and his ex­pe­ri­ence team are at­tempt­ing to trans­form the cruise in­dus­try.

Pad­gett, who has an aw-shucks grin, neatly parted hair, and a hard-charg­ing con­fi­dence, grew up in Seaford, Vir­ginia, near the naval ship­yards. Most of his neigh­bors built air­craft car­ri­ers and sub­marines. “Early on, I learned that build­ing big things wasn’t scary,” he says.

Pad­gett’s work with Car­ni­val be­gan with a man­date from CEO Arnold Don­ald, who wanted to find a way to tai­lor his com­pany’s cruises to of­fer trav­el­ers more au­then­tic and per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ences. When Pad­gett started, he promised Don­ald a pre­sen­ta­tion that would change the com­pany. He soon de­liv­ered a full-blown sim­u­lacrum of a cruise ship, jammed into a non­de­script build­ing once oc­cu­pied by the Mi­ami Herald, where the plat­form is be­ing built and tested. This “ex­pe­ri­ence cen­ter” in­cludes a full­size guest room, a casino, a bar, even a mun­dane, sub­ur­ban liv­ing room—a nod to the pas­sen­ger’s home—where the cruise-book­ing process be­gins. Just be­hind the walls, cheek by jowl, sit hun­dreds of coders and de­sign­ers.

Dur­ing a tour of the space last sum­mer, I walked around a rigged-up sun­deck with the app in hand, watch­ing as the op­tions for nearby en­ter­tain­ment shifted in real

“OUR GOAL IS TO DE­MOC­RA­TIZE THE ELITE VA­CA­TION,” SAYS JOHN PAD­GETT, CHIEF EX­PE­RI­ENCE AND IN­NO­VA­TION OF­FI­CER.

I WALKED AROUND A RIGGED-UP SUN­DECK WITH THE APP IN HAND, AS OP­TIONS FOR EN­TER­TAIN­MENT SHIFTED BASED ON WHERE I STOOD.

time, based on where I stood. Other ex­pe­ri­ences were still be­ing re­fined: re­spon­sive way-find­ing screens of­fer­ing per­son­al­ized di­rec­tions as I passed; cus­tom­ized drink tast­ings; even poker ta­bles that would sense when I bel­lied up.

Once the tech­nol­ogy is de­ployed on the ship, hun­dreds of data points (in­clud­ing what time of day it is, whom pas­sen­gers hang out with, and how much time they’ve spent in each area) will help the app serve up rec­om­men­da­tions. (Guests can ad­just lo­ca­tion-shar­ing set­tings within the app.) “So­cial en­gage­ment is one of the things be­ing cal­cu­lated, and so is the nu­ance of the con­text,” says Michael Jun­gen, the com­pany’s SVP of ex­pe­ri­ence de­sign. Each of the ship’s ste­wards will also get their own data-driven de­vices, pro­vid­ing real-time in­tel on the guests they’re serv­ing. They’ll be able to see a guest’s plans for the day or if it’s his birth­day later that week, and be able to act like concierges.

Swartz views the new, highly per­son­al­ized ser­vice as cru­cial to both keep­ing pas­sen­gers happy on a ship of this size and tempt­ing them aboard as more and more ves­sels set sail. In­dus­try an­a­lysts are watch­ing. “In­vestors worry about the in­creased sup­ply in the in­dus­try,” says David Beckel, an equities an­a­lyst at Bern­stein Re­search who fol­lows Car­ni­val. “A bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence should in­crease the prob­a­bil­ity of re­peat vis­its.” If the Medal­lion boosts re­turn book­ings by just 10%, that’s a wind­fall that could be worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in ad­di­tional rev­enue for Car­ni­val. And if hav­ing a credit-card-con­nected wear­able en­tices pas­sen­gers into spend­ing more while on­board the ship, all the bet­ter.

Some in­dus­try ex­perts also be­lieve the new tech­nol­ogy could help Car­ni­val reel in younger au­di­ences at a time when the av­er­age cruiser is 46, ac­cord­ing to the Cruise Line In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion. “Younger trav­el­ers want to feel unique,” says Chris Gray Faust, se­nior ed­i­tor at Cruise Critic, a site fo­cused on cruise in­dus­try in­for­ma­tion and re­views. “The Ocean Medal­lion is go­ing to guide peo­ple to things [that are] im­por­tant to them.”

Yet the tech­nol­ogy can only do so much. “We’re spend­ing count­less hours in train­ing the ship staff,” says Swartz. Crew mem­bers will have to make peo­ple feel the high-tech per­son­al­iza­tion as a lux­ury—and not as a creep­ing in­cur­sion. “If I want to share a glass of wine at sun­set with my hus­band, I won’t have to in­ter­rupt the mo­ment to make eye con­tact with a waiter. The app will tell her my or­der, and she’ll find me,” says Swartz. “But [she] has to be trained to let me have that [pri­vate] mo­ment as well.” Such sub­tleties of­fer a test bed for the fu­ture, as smart de­vices and sen­sors more deeply weave them­selves into cities, homes, shop­ping malls, and airports. As the gad­gets around us get more pow­er­ful, they’ll also need to be more so­cially aware. They’ll need to know not just when to step in, but when to keep quiet.

A mock state­room at Car­ni­val’s Mi­ami test­ing cen­ter al­lows the com­pany to ex­plore how guests will use the Ocean Medal­lion plat­form to cus­tom­ize their cruise.

Be­fore over­see­ing Car­ni­val’s Ocean Medal­lion project, John Pad­gett helped launch Dis­ney’s $1 bil­lion Mag­icband and My­magic+ plat­form.

The Ocean Medal­lion can be car­ried separately or snapped into a wrist­band.

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