Gabriela Gonzalez is the Vice President for Guest Technology and Photo Operations for Carnival Cruise Lines.
“At Carnival, we are focusing on how to use technology to improve the cruise experience overall. We want people to walk away saying not that that was great technology, we want them to say that was a great cruise. Technology is an important part of improving the overall experience.”
Carnival Cruise Line's ”mission is to consistently deliver a fun and memorable vacation at a great value.” Therefore, with regard to guest technology, “our focus has been what can we do to improve the cruise experience. It is not about technology for technology's sake but it is about using technology to drive a better cruise experience. Our focus is really about our guests.”
“We are America's cruise line. Fifty percent of the US population can drive up to one of the ports we sail from. Our 4.5 million guests reflect America's demographics. We are big on families - - we carry more families than any other cruise line. Lots of couples. Lots of celebrations - - birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, family reunions. Lots of seniors as well. There are more seniors who cruise on Carnival than any other cruise line and they are some of our most loyal guests. What brings all these groups together - - older cruisers, younger cruisers, families, millennials - - is wanting to have fun.”
For a long time, the cruise industry lagged behind in satisfying consumers' technological needs. This was especially evident with regard to internet connectivity. Connecting to the internet from a cruise ship was difficult, expensive and when a connection was made, it was often much slower than what consumers were used to on land.
“That changed around 2013. Satellite connectivity and industry dynamics changed. The price went down significantly. Modem and compression technologies improved and so the connectivity from satellites to ships was much more accessible. We invested a lot of money to improve the connectivity of our fleet so that the experience is not like the middle of the ocean but more like a hotel experience.”
At the same time, the pricing structure changed from per minute charging to internet packages. “Five dollars a day is all it costs to connect on Carnival to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. With these changes in technology and the pricing structure, we saw our guest satisfaction go up over 40 percent with [regard to] connectivity. So we are solving connectivity, there is definitely more to do there. For us, connectivity [should be] fast, affordable and reliable.”
Using technology to improve connectivity is not the end of the story. “A lot of what we have done is focus on things like how do you reduce lines? How do you make information more accessible? How do you make transactions so that you can order anything anywhere?”
Another focus has been to find ways that technology can be used to make cruising more personal. “From a cruise of 4,000 to a cruise of one. We have a lot of information and we want to make sure that grandma and the granddaughter have their own unique paths through the cruise.”
At the same time, Carnival has been looking for ways to use technology to help satisfy the guests' desire to socialize. “Our guest is hyper-social and cruising is a very social experience. How do you connect people within the cruise ship who are traveling with each other; new people who are meeting on the ship and even a guest to crew member connection. So a lot of our focus is how do you use technology to improve the social focus onboard.”
One result of this work has been the creation of an app. “In the past, the TV has been the main channel on how to communicate with the guests. Now its the smart phone.“
“The Carnival Hub App is an android and IOS app. It now works on 20 out of our 25 ships. There was an emphasis on simplicity and a broad range of features. We have a lot of guests saying now that they do not want to cruise without it.”
The app gives guests access to a great amount of information. “We have over a hundred activities a day on a cruise ship and so it can feel very overwhelming. Where can I eat? We have 14 dining options on Vista and so people want to know where can I go? So on the app, you can see what is happening - - what are the activities happening right now, where can I eat right now. How much have I spent? You have your up-to-date account information right at your finger tips.”
“You can also chat with other people onboard. The chat that we built does not rely on internet connectivity so people can communicate with each other. Usually, it is: “Where are you? I'm at the pool.” That is the bulk of the conversations but you see also that people are meeting each other and using chat as a way to connect and enjoy the cruise.”
“The app is completely free and you do not have to have internet connectivity to use the app. The only aspect that is charged is the chat aspect. For five dollars for the entire voyage, you can use the chat which also works within our wifi network.”
Another application of technology involves the photographs taken onboard by the ships' photographers. Having your photo taken boarding the ship, in the various ports of call and onboard during those special evenings has long been a part of cruising. However, there have also long been problems associated with how these photos were sold. First, not every photo that was printed was sold and so the process was wasteful. Second, the racks and racks of printed photos that lined the ships' photo galleries took up a great deal of space. Third, guests had to wade through hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of complete strangers in order to find the photos that were taken of them.
On Carnival Vista, Carnival is debuting a new technology to help solve these problems. “We use facial recognition technology to identify you. [Your photo] shows up on your Hub app immediately and with a couple of clicks you can walk out with your photo right on your Hub app. You can also order a print to be delivered to your room. It eliminated a lot of friction from that process.”
Research showed, however, that some guests liked going to the photo gallery as a family activity and enjoyed browsing through the photos taken of the other guests. Therefore, Carnival has not eliminated the photo gallery on Vista. However, the photo gallery has a much smaller footprint and rather than look through racks of printed photos, guests can view digital displays of the images taken by the ship's photographers and can use the ship's Ipads to find their own photos.
Thus, with regard to photos, technology has provided “more choices to guests.”
Cruise ship interview - - Carnival Cruise Lines - - Carnival Vista - - Cabriela Gonzalez