Travel Executives Sound Off on Carnival's Technology Leap

Regal Princess is the first ship slated to debut the new Ocean Medallion technology later this year. Its atrium is shown.

Last week, Carnival Corporation announced the launch of new technology designed to revolutionize the guest experience – taking personalization to an entirely new level. It will debut on Regal Princess later this year. 

Sixty top travel industry leaders attended the announcement at the annual CES 2017 conference in Las Vegas. Five of those leaders subsequently provided us with their perspective about the new initiative. Here are highlights. 

“I must say, this is a very bold and forward thinking initiative that Carnival is making to truly enhance the customer experience including check in, boarding the ship, room key entry, onboard activities, reservation services, and much more,” stressed Roger Block, president, Travel Leaders Network. 

“To me, the key is not just attempting to make the transactions easier, but the really exciting facet of the program is that the system captures all activity of guests onboard and will allow the ship crew to provide an enhanced level of service, even on a proactive basis,” he said, adding that the level of investment and personnel Carnival has devoted to this project is impressive.

Noting that Carnival “has stepped up the game,” Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, told us that “a pain point for customers is waiting in lines- at shows, embarkation and for meals - this new technology will allow the travelers to customize and lead their own vacation experience.” 

She stressed that the technology gives guests personalization choices – which they make via a touch screen in their cabins, smart device apps and in other ways. Cruise Planners is encouraging its agents to learn and embrace the new technology.

Princess previously told Travel Agent that it would offer upcoming webinars and had designed a Princess Academy course on the new technology. 

“When more consumers – especially those new to cruise – are talking about how innovative the cruise industry is, the better for us all,” Fee said. “Now, the travel agent community needs to understand what the Medallion technology enables guests and jump into promoting it.”

Fee says she’s personally looking forward to her next Princess Cruises sailing so she can test it out herself. “As an avid cruiser, the easier it is to get customized service, the better for me,” she noted. 

“I have long thought the most effective way to increase customers/clients or to introduce new people to cruising is to [personalize and enhance] the overall onboard experience,” said David Crooks, senior vice president of product and operations, World Travel Holdings, parent company of the CruiseOne, Cruises Inc. and Dream Vacations brands.

Crooks said he learned that “the sky was the limit” in terms of Carnival's investment. Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises’ president, told him that “'no' was not in the vocabulary” and that the developers were told to do whatever it takes to develop a breakthrough, exceptional guest experience. 

Crooks says it's far more than just technology. He believes it’s most important for travel agents to communicate to clients that “it’s about the customer experience -- the flexibility to do what you want and when you want to do it" in a personalized way -- everything from avoiding lines at embarkation to easily getting on and off the ship, making dinner reservations, ordering drinks and much more. 

“It’s really cool and we should all be excited,” he told Travel Agent by phone over the weekend. Crooks also stressed that the new technology also will equip crew members with the tools to ensure they can focus less on paperwork and more on the guest experience.

Training is forthcoming for the trade, he said, but “the next step for agents is to consider, ‘How do you simplify what the message is?’” That’s because in the start-up, Ocean Medallion will be on Regal Princess later this year, and Caribbean Princess and Royal Princess early next year, but not all ships initially. So, agents selling Princess who have clients eager to try the technology need to be sure what ships have it and when. 

Calling it an honor to attend Arnold Donald’s announcement in Las Vegas, Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales, Avoya Travel, said that Carnival went all out in production value for the announcement – "all of which was justified based on this unique customer-experience program that will be provided through the Ocean Medallion.”

Koepf said “the potential to create a more seamless experience before, during, and even after a cruise has a tremendous upside.”

He said Avoya Travel is also quite interested in how Carnival Corporation and Princess Cruises will integrate travel agencies' and Avoya's own branding and messaging into the new experience. 

“I thought this new technology was impressive,” said John Lovell, president, Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group. “It has the potential to transform the cruise experience and this is an exciting new technology that should help potential first-time cruisers overcome the uncertainty of taking a cruise.”

Lovell also said he was encouraged that Carnival Corporation is committed to engaging and training the travel agency distribution channel on this new technology, as well as looking at ways to make sure the travel agent remains relevant as clients engage with the Ocean platform.