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TALKING OCEAN MEDALLIONS
A conversation with Captain Tim Stringer, Hotel General Manager Dirk Brand and Customer Services Director Ralph Dsouza
by Richard H. Wagner
Regal Princess is implementing a new set of services called Ocean Medallion services. “The idea of Ocean is to bring the guest experience to the next level. Make it more seamless, intuitive and to meet the needs of the guests, Ocean Medallion is technology-driven but it just gives the crew [the ability] to make things more personal,” explained Regal Princess' Hotel General Manager Dirk Brand.
The name of this group of services reflects the fact that each guest embarking on a Princess cruise will be issued a medallion. These devices are about the size of a silver dollar and have sophisticated technology inside. Guests will carry them around during the cruise in place of the plastic cards traditionally issued by Princess and other cruise lines.
One function of the traditional plastic cards is to unlock the door to the passenger's cabin. The medallion will also perform this function but in a different way. “You have the medallion on you, it knows you are approaching [your stateroom] and as soon as you have your hand on the handle, it communicates through the panel on the door and the door will open. Then you will get personal messages on the door screen. If it is your birthday, it will appear there. You won't have things stuck on the door,” said Captain Tim Stringer, master of Regal Princess.
Along the same lines, the medallions will improve the process of boarding the ship. In the past, a guest returning to the ship from a day ashore had to have his or her plastic card manually scanned at the gangway. “You wear your medallion at the gangway [and] we know who is coming on. At the moment, you touch the medallion [to a pad]. Once we pass the protocols for that, the next stage will be you just walk up the gangway, you won't even have to find where the medallion is in your pocket.” noted Captain Stringer.
Unlike a plastic card, the medallion transmits the location of the guest to various sensors around the ship. This information will allow the crew to provide services more efficiently. For example, it will tell the crew when to service your cabin. “We won't have to have the steward looking down the hallway to see who is there and who is not.”
Mr. Ralph Dsouza, Customer Services Director, added: “It helps us as a company to use our resources to the max. In the future, we will be able to see what lounge is full and which places need more manpower.”
It will also allow Regal to provide more service. In the future, suppose a guest is returning to his or her stateroom and wants to have a cold drink on the balcony when he or she arrives. “You would be able to order it on your device. We know where you are and we would be able to bring it to you. You'll get a cold beer when you are on the balcony. You don't have to go down to the bar if you don't want to. It is a lot more relaxed.”
Mr. Brand pointed out that the medallion will also facilitate the guest experience when the guest is not in his or her cabin. “Say you are in the back of the ship watching the sunset either alone or with your partner and you want to have a drink, the closest crew member will see [the order sent from your device], get the order and even if you sit far away at the Sports Court, he will find you there. He'll see a profile picture and deliver the drink. You don't have to call a hotline or stand in a line. It makes it more easy. It makes it more convenient for the guest and helps the crew member work more efficiently.”
The medallion will also provide information to the crew. “When you go to the bar, for example, the bartender will be able to ask will you have your usual cup of tea or whatever you order every time. The restaurant will know it is someone's birthday and can say happy birthday. We'll be able to offer that personal touch, which is important. It is like the small ship feel on a big ship.” Captain Stringer commented.
It can also provide the crew with critical information. “For example, if my son has an allergy to peanuts, they will know that he has a peanut allergy and will make sure they don't give him any peanuts,” Mr. Brand noted.
Princess is aware that some guests may not want to share their information. “You still have the right of privacy if you don't want to be traced.” Captain Stringer pointed out.
“If you say I don't want you to know anything about me, I just want to escape, you can do that as well. It is your choice,” Mr. Brand elaborated.
Along the same lines, Princess realizes that many cruisers, particularly more mature cruisers, are uncomfortable with technology. Captain Stringer reassured: “It is not something to be scared of. Everyone is connected now. The technology is designed for our demographic. You don't have to be 12 years old to be able to do this stuff. It is all designed to be very easy. It is not intrusive, it is designed so that you hardly notice it.”
Each guest will receive a new medallion for each cruise he or she takes. “You can take it home as a souvenir. You don't reuse it.” Mr. Brand said.
Above: Ocean Front Lead Navigator Ricardo Hernandez holds one of the ocean medallions while standing by one of the touch-screens that has been installed on Regal Princess as part of the Ocean Medallions project.
Above: Captain Tim Stringer, Customer Services Director Ralph Dsouza and Hotel General Manager Dirk Brand
Mr. Brand pointed out: “There are many things coming together with Ocean, which are not necessarily useful only with the medallion.” Indeed, a major element of the Ocean Medallion project is a new, improved internet connection called MedallionNet, which despite the name, does not involve the use of a medallion.
“You'll see a lot less latency than you did before because of the speed. Our new satellite systems have the ability to pick up the medium orbit satellite as well as the high orbit satellites. That means we can do things like stream sporting events. I walked into the restaurant last night and a guest was watching football on his device. I saw a [question] the other day: 'Will I be able to Facetime with my children when I am away?' And the answer is yes, you can with the new Medallion Net. It is making a big difference because people want connectivity.” Captain Stringer explained.
It is not only guests who will benefit from this improved internet connection but also the crew. “The crew members have fantastic new internet plans. People are away from their family for four, five, six, seven months and it is nice to be able to connect with your family on Facetime, Skype or Messenger and the internet allows that. It makes a big difference for the crew to have that. It is not just important for the guests but also for the crew.”
“We are very guest-centric. But for me the secret recipe is happy crew members, happy guests. If the crew has the right motivation and tools to be happy and successful then we have happy guests. That positive vibe and energy swings over to the guests. If we as a management team can make sure that the crew is happy, they can look after all our guests.” said Mr. Brand stated.
As part of the OceanMedallion project, 4,030 new touch screens were installed around the ship. Captain Stringer described the function of the most visible of these screens. “In the stair towers, we have one on one side where you can see what activities [are happening on the ship]. The one on the other side, you say I want to get [to a certain place] and it will show you a map on how to get there.”
The screens can also detect a guest' medallion and the guest can program it so that a character or avatar will appear on the screen as he or she passes by. Guests can also play games on the screens. “It is much more interactive, much more for the families.” Mr. Dsouza pointed out.
“New shows with Ocean on the open decks and in the theater. Every cabin has a new 4K television,.” noted Mr. Brand. The entertainment that can be viewed on the interactive televisions includes OceanView, travel programming showcasing exotic locations.
OceanConcierge can be accessed on any web browser while onboard. It can be used to plan activities. Purchase shore excursions, view your stateroom account , pre-order breakfast and see onboard event locations and venue hours. “It makes it more seamless, interactive and fun,” Mr. Brand declared.
The OceanFront is a dedicated physical location “where we showcase everything to do with Ocean,” Mr. Dsouza said. It is staffed with Ocean Navigators, who are there to provide assistance. Guests can also purchase accessories relating to the medallions. Unlike the plastic cards used by Princess in the past, the medallions are not color coded to match the guest's level in Princess' loyalty program, the Captain's Circle. However, one can purchase medallion accessories that do indicate you Captain's Circle level.
Off the ship, “the terminal in Fort Lauderdale was completely renovated. The guests have an easier way to embark the ship in the terminal. They do not have to stand in long lines. Very smooth, very seamless transition to join the ship.” Mr. Brand pointed out.
Not all the Ocean Medallion services are currently available. Rather than roll out the entire set of services at once, Regal has been introducing them gradually, conducting pilot programs to refine the services. “When you put it on the product you learn certain things. The ship moves, there is interference. There are certain things you only learn when you operate it where it goes,” explained Mr. Brand.
Captain Stringer agreed, “Although they have a really good test center ashore, you can test what you want ashore but it is when you get on the ship that you will find the nuances because it is so complex.”
Cruise ship interview - - Princess Cruises - - Regal Princess - - Ocean Medallion