The evolving IT ecosystem in the Cruise Industry
Post-pandemic, like all other industries, the cruise industry is also trying everything possible to bring customers back on board. There have been apprehensions from the customers, even the most loyal of them. However, technology is here to help the industry and solve quite a few challenges that it is facing now. Derek Howard, Senior Director, Travel & Cruise at IBS Software, talks about the IT evolution currently underway in the cruise ship industry.
What is driving cruise companies to look into transforming the shipboard IT ecosystem?
The first and foremost reason is data privacy and security. Cruise companies are working hard to fight cyber threats ahead of time. There has been a common misconception that ships are not vulnerable to cyber threats. However, during the pandemic, cruise companies were hit, onboard systems were attacked, and damage was done. Hence, cruise companies are pushing to ensure that the security of these systems is dependable and meets all data security requirements.
Other reasons cruise companies are looking to transform the ecosystem are to reduce the complexity of operations, offer new technology experiences to guests and crew, and offer better space management for the hardware required to run applications. Cruise companies are constantly looking for ways to engage with their guest via mobile platforms and improve crew operations with technology. At the same time, there is an expectation that the onboard technology is less complicated and easier to manage, which leads to reducing the overhead and maximizing space.
Finally, the cruise ship companies want to create an ecosystem that allows the guests to do more. Some examples include enabling guests to place food orders from the pool area or make dinner reservations or spa bookings using their phones or other devices.
Are cruise companies accepting onboard systems moving to the cloud?
In the last couple of years, companies have become more interested in moving these systems to the cloud. However, before they do this, they want to understand how they can operate in this environment without affecting the operation. So, yes, companies are becoming more receptive. They feel comfortable with shore-side systems moving to the cloud and understand how it can help reduce the complexity of keeping up to date on software updates and expand their integration needs. However, we know that not all companies will want to move to the cloud. The more software companies can build a compelling story about the technologies and benefits, the more willing cruise companies will participate in these conversations and look to move their onboard systems to the cloud.
What technologies do you see most changing with the shipboard ecosystem?
The most significant changes are toward mobility, integrations and people movement. Allowing the guests and crewmembers to do more on their phones or tablet continue to be a driver for this ecosystem change. Guests want to interact with the cruise ship as they do with the traditional hotels, and they do this from the comfort of their phones and tablets. The vessel technology changes allow cruise companies to expand the guest/crew experience with integrations to the point of sale, property management systems, and others, allowing the brand to deliver a tailor-made experience to their guest/crew very quickly.
Another change is access to the onboard data. Cruise companies are always looking for ways to market and communicate better with individual guests while on the ship. Consider a situation where a vessel has had to skip a port of call because of a storm. How do you keep everyone on board informed of the itinerary change and offer options for him or her on this unexpected cruise day? The cruise staff needs to notify guests and offer up options like a happy hour at the pools or opening at the spa, movie screenings, and other activities for kids, improving the guest experience and driving more revenue.
Technology is also expanding how a guest can embark and disembark the ship. Implementing technologies like facial recognition, which is already present at many airports across the globe, will make embarking and disembarking the vessel much smoother and faster than today. Cruise companies are always looking for ways to improve the boarding process, primarily when Tender Boats are used. Cruise companies want offline functionality for onboarding guests as they are boarding the Tender and then synchronizing that data once they get close to the ship and the guests get off the Tender.
What key points are cruise companies looking into when evolving their onboard IT ecosystem?
Again, companies want their IT providers to keep the transition as simple as possible. We know our at-home experience with IT, where most of our devices get regular, automated updates that are easy for the consumer to apply the update with regularity. Similarly, OS updates on your computer and phone can be timed such that they do not interfere with your working hours. Cruise companies have similar expectations from their evolving onboard IT ecosystem.
Companies also want the flexibility to address rising trends as quick as easy as possible. Cruise companies enjoy the flexibility to 'mix-and-match' solutions with minimal impact on the onboard operation.
Finally, cruise companies want to ensure access to data on the ship when needed, so redundancies will have to be in place for them to do this. The onboard crew will always need access to systems like the Point of Sale and Property Management System to service the guest, and the onboard systems will need to provide some level of offline capabilities should the ship be in an area that is not providing access to the cloud.
What would the IT ecosystem for a cruise company look like in your ideal world?
Ideally, cruise companies will be migrating onboard applications to the cloud. Through my experience in hospitality, I have seen the benefits of cloud applications first-hand. Companies (both the software provider and consumer) want to react quickly to the market and customers' needs, and having systems in the cloud allows for this. Transitioning to the cloud is not as scary as it used to be. I have seen when the application providers continue to work with their customers to understand their concerns, providers can help navigate them through the transition and ensure that all their concerns are addressed.