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Five ways tech is transforming the cruise business
Ian Dickson

Ian Dickson

Technology is revolutionizing the cruise ship industry, from geo-location of children to facial recognition for check in. And it's benefiting customers and businesses alike.

Last year, more than 28 million people globally took a cruise, almost double the number of a decade ago. Next year that's expected to rise to more than 30 million, with cruising the fastest growing category in the travel sector.

It's easy to see why. For many, cruises are the ultimate getaway, a chance to escape the hubbub of everyday life. According to a survey by FCAA, 88% of people said cruises are more relaxing than land-based holidays, and 82% said they're less hassle.

But the competition has never been fiercer for cruise ship companies – and with 50 new high-tech ships arriving in the next five years, the cruise operators who can minimize passenger strain and maximize passenger pleasure will be the likely victors. Is technology the key to unlocking a modern, seamless cruise experience? Here are five ways technology is improving the cruise-ship experience.

1. Virtual check in

As any traveler is all too aware, arrival is often the most stressful part of any holiday and cruise ships are no exception. With thousands of passengers checking in at the same time, cruise ship embarkation can be slow and frustrating. However, on Royal Caribbean's latest ship, Celebrity Edge, facial recognition is being used to eliminate the dreaded check in queue – a win-win for both company and guest as everyone saves time.

Passengers check in in advance by uploading a scan of their passport and a selfie. When they arrive at the dock they can simply walk onto the ship, bypassing security and the queues. Royal Caribbean says this has reduced the embarkation time from 90 minutes to just 10.

2. Geo-location

Another technology innovation on cruise ships is location intelligence. With up to 16 floors, cruise ships can be difficult to navigate for guests, but mapping technology is taking the pain away. The MSC Cruises' Mobile for Me app, for instance, gives guests smart navigation around its ships, with turn-by-turn directions on their phone allowing them to seamlessly find their way from room to restaurant to cinema with ease. It will also allow them to track their bags, too.

Our HERE location intelligence technology can help you manage the flow of people around your ship. With tech such as our HERE indoor positioning software, you can take control of your data to see real-time information on queues – at restaurants, for instance - and deploy your staff where they're needed most.

Cruise ships innovations and technology

Cruise ships are transforming into smart floating cities.

3. Augmented reality

Augmented reality is another new feature of Celebrity Edge. Using an app, guests are given a guided tour of the boats' key features as they walk around it, helping them familiarize themselves with it in a more personal way and without the need for human assistants.

In the not-too-distant future, mixed reality – the fusing of the virtual and real worlds – will allow guests to have an even more interactive and immersive experience.

Already, modern location technology, such as our HERE Places, allows passengers to take virtual shore excursions, a kind of try-before-you buy feature, giving them a chance to walk around a destination from the comfort of their cabin and allowing them to plan their holiday more effectively. According to FCAA's report, 68% of cruisers said the destination was the most important factor influencing their holiday choice – so giving them a chance to explore it in advance could help sell the experience.

Royal Caribbean's app even gives guests virtual access to parts of the ship normally off limits, like the bridge or the engine room. On board virtual reality dining will soon allow your guests to dine at restaurants all over the world. As guests seek ever more unusual and adventurous 'Instagram-worthy' experiences, VR dining could help set you apart from the competition.

4. Chatbots

Over at MSC Cruises, a virtual assistant called Zoe is available in each cabin to answer guests' questions, make reservations and book activities. It features machine learning, so it will improve with every interaction, helping crew get to know your passengers' preferences and giving them a more personalized service, while also giving them the space to enjoy their holidays without interference.

5. Wearables

Wearables are the next big revolution in cruise ships. MSC Cruises' wearable bracelet and Carnival and Princess Cruises' Ocean Medallion are replacing the key card to offer passengers a more personalized and smarter onboard experience. MSC's wristband, for instance, interacts with the app to provide 130 smart services.

As well as allowing passengers to store important information such as food allergies and credit card data, wristbands allow parents to keep track of their children wherever they are on the ship. They also give your guests the opportunity for a highly-personalized experience, from on-demand, paper-and-cardless food and drink to entertainment recommendations based on your activity pattern. Order a drink, for instance, and beacon technology allows the waiter to serve your guests wherever they are.

Guests can even control the lights and temperature in their rooms via the wristband.

Revenue opportunities

Smart technology has the potential to create valuable new revenue opportunities for cruise ships. As more and more guests rely on apps and wristbands for a seamless experience, the data they create can be used for programmatic advertising to promote shopping and activities on board and at destinations, or for third-party services such as drone-based shore-to-ship deliveries.

And with connectivity at sea improving rapidly, there's the potential for ships to up-sell higher-speed data packages to customers who want to stay connected with land through social media or stream Netflix.

The future of the cruising industry has next-gen service at its core, giving guests a more seamless home-from-home experience – find out more about how our location intelligence and mapping can help you adapt to this new trend.