Carnival rides technology wave

CARNIVAL Corporation took to the global technology stage last month, with ceo Arnold Donald delivering the keynote address at the massive annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. He took the opportunity to launch the cruise giant’s new ‘Ocean Medallion’ — a wearable device which is claimed to have the potential to revolutionise not just cruising but the entire vacation sector.

The major Carnival technology project was led by John Padgett, who also developed the MagicBand system rolling out at Disney’s Florida resorts. The Ocean Medallion incorporates a range of communication technologies including Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth Low Energy, which combine with thousands of shipboard sensors and a proprietary back-end called the Experience Innovation Operating System or xiOS. That in turn links to a network of screens called the Ocean Compass, with the system also accessible via a range of personal devices such as smartphones, tablets and in-room TVs.

With this infrastructure in place, Carnival expects to completely reimagine the holiday experience. The sky is the limit as more and more smart devices become available, but initial applications include expediting port embarkation and disembarkation, cashless purchases, interactive gaming and entertainment and the ability to order food and beverages and have them delivered to you wherever you are on the ship. There’s more too — stateroom doors will automatically open as guests approach, at the same time as the lights and air conditioning are activated — and possibly deactivated when you leave, meaning potential big energy and cost savings for Carnival. Crew members will also be equipped with a ‘Crew Compass’ to empower personalised guest interactions — for example when passengers arrive at the airport, hosts will be able to provide personalised greetings and guest services.

“With this interactive technology platform, we are poised to have our global cruise line brands at the vanguard of forever changing the guest experience paradigm — not just in the cruise industry, but in the larger vacation market and potentially other industries,” Donald said. “Our focus is on exceeding guest expectations every single day and consistently delivering great experiences, and we do that extremely well. Now we are in prime position to take the guest experience to a level never before considered possible and build on cruising’s popularity and value as the fastest-growing segment of the vacation sector.”

Carnival isn’t the only cruise company using technology to revolutionise the holiday experience. Royal Caribbean offers Near Field Communication-based “WOWbands” on some of its ships to allow smart check-in, activate door locks, make purchases and interact with its “Royal IQ” personal vacation management app. However the underlying xiOS offered by Carnival promises significantly expanded capabilities — which in turn will up the ante for rival operators. While security and privacy may be an issue for some cruisers, Donald noted during his CES address that anyone who is concerned can simply choose not to carry their Medallion around with them.

Carnival’s Ocean Medallion, which is personalised with a passenger’s name and cruise departure, will debut on Regal Princess in November this year, followed by Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess in 2018, with the complete rollout across the full Princess Cruises fleet planned over “multiple years”. Although Carnival claims the xiOS platform is “deployable on any ship regardless of ship age or size,” Donald didn’t detail whether other Carnival brands such as P&O Australia, Holland America, Carnival Cruise Line or Cunard would eventually receive the technology.