Travel and Cruise

Three critical features cruise lines should look out for in an onboard POS system


When I started working in systems and IT for a cruise line several years ago, I was amazed at how complex the technical landscape was to support the business, and how many systems were in place to do so. What should have been relatively straightforward was a challenging, costly, and resource-intensive IT administration feat. Even the simplest of changes were overburdened by the sheer amount of forward planning required to carry them out. While the systems we used had served their purpose, they stagnated in time, becoming a right headache to manage.

This was a widely recognized challenge across the cruise line, whose innovation and business potential were being held back by clunky, siloed, and outdated systems that were difficult to administrate. When the opportunity arose, I was excited to lead a major systems replacement program that would transform the business by bringing our IT landscape to the modern age.

I was officially on the lookout for a new onboard POS system to unlock retailing capabilities while simplifying operations management. Given the number of potential solutions on the market, I quickly realized that I needed to focus my search around three critical areas to fulfil my brief. 

1. Centralised management

The company's existing onboard POS was hosted and maintained on each ship. When new products were introduced, administrators onboard the ships would set them up in the system and map them to the various revenue centres, which created inconsistencies across the fleet.

For example, when introducing Pepsi across the fleet, the product's naming would rarely match. You could find "Can of Pepsi", "Pepsi Can", "Pepsi 330ml", or just "Pepsi". Additionally, the product codes, which were system set and sequential, wouldn´t match due to each ship having its own database. Given the number of products and services sold onboard, you quickly get the picture!

On top of the cumbersome process of introducing new products and services, reviewing company-wide sales figures for each was near impossible. While head office received sales reports from individual ships, matching the same products and services across the fleet was a monumental task. Identifying which products and services were performing well and where – accurately – was sometimes impossible. Furthermore, prices were often updated incorrectly, and without a head office view, there was no way to audit this.

Given the context, my first filter for selecting our new system was the ability to manage inventory centrally and distribute it at scale across our ships. This would allow head office to configure each product or service and deploy them across the fleet consistently, with one product code, one product name, and accurate pricing - whether uniformly priced across the fleet or differentiated per ship.

2. Efficiency savings

Considering the copious administration needed to maintain our old onboard POS, my next critical factor for selecting a new system was efficiency. For example, although 80% of the beverages offered onboard appeared on all the bar and restaurant menus, our incumbent POS required individual menus to be set up per revenue centre, translating into significant duplication of work. For a large ship with many bars, restaurants, amenities, and services, establishing the full inventory would take a long time.

With this in mind, another requirement for our new system would be the ability to create flexible "master menus" that could be shared across multiple revenue centres and ships. Effectively, if a new beverage was introduced, we wanted to make it available across all fleet locations with the flexibility to easily exclude locations and ships where it wasn´t offered.

The fundamental principle was establishing a "working by exclusion" methodology, rather than inclusion, to generate significant efficiency savings for systems administration. Of course, creating bespoke lists or menus would still be required to reflect ever-changing consumer habits, trends, and preferences.

3. Promotions and discounts

The cruise line had a fleet-wide loyalty programme that offered guests different benefits based on their tier level. But the existing POS required applicable promotions and discounts, for example, to be established on each ship individually, which again translated into work duplication that was also prone to human error.

Additionally, our "All Inclusive" packages offered guests complimentary products and services or discounted rates off list prices. These again had to be managed ship to ship, although the rules were the same across the fleet.

So, my last critical feature for the new onboard POS was to be able to manage promotions, discounts, and packages centrally and be able to share these across the fleet through a single instance. Essentially, doing so would ensure consistency and efficiency while giving our sales teams more control over how they designed packages and programs for different guests.

Unlocking new shore-to-ship capabilities

Of course, there was a long list of requirements, big and small, that we were looking for in a new onboard POS system. But given the complex, inflexible, and legacy systems landscape we were coming from that was increasingly burdening the business, centralised management, efficiency savings, and flexible promotions and discounts settings were critical considerations.

By upgrading to a new and modern platform with advanced onboard POS capabilities, we reduced the number of system administrators on each ship, training and transferring them to head office functions. Critically, we also minimised the effort required to configure, manage, deploy, and maintain our mission-critical systems.

When looking for POS systems, there´s often a tendency to focus on the front-end benefits modern user interfaces deliver, like the ability to connect to different devices or introduce galley screens - important requirements to consider. However, it´s just as important, if not more so, to drill down on the back-end technology and processes required to maintain the systems. Simplification is the order of the day; the less time you spend tinkering around with technicalities, the more you can focus on real value delivery.

And yes – you might have guessed – IBS Software´s iTravel POS was the system we selected to replace our legacy systems landscape and unlock advanced shore-to-ship capabilities.

Author info

Michael is the Product Manager for the iTravel Onboard Systems portfolio, IBS Software´s suite of solutions for the tour and cruise industry.

In his current role, Michael oversees the PMS, POS, Dining Management, and Guest Services systems. Previously, he worked in systems and project management at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, where he specialised in onboard software for cruise ships, including the selection, implementation, and support of the iTravel POS system. With broad experience in cruise operations and software management on both the customer and vendor sides, Michael brings valuable insights for iTravel´s continued development and application to real life scenarios.

Comment for this post has been locked by admin.