Article

Ashima Jain
Ashima Jain 10 July 2018

Cruise industry – can AI help in delivering better internet experience at sea?

With recent innovations in conversational AI, cruise lines can address connectivity issues for passengers more efficiently

Cruising industry is at a crossroads where companies have an opportunity to transform and provide unique experiences, to an increasingly sophisticated traveller.

Spurred by innovations in retail, customers’ expectations are now being set by pioneers such as Amazon and Apple. Customers demand multichannel engagement, seamless payment processing, personalised service 24x7, from the outset.

According to ABTA, more than three-quarters of holidays are now booked online in the UK. The need for integrating data to analyse customer interactions for precision marketing is more pronounced than ever before. And this is no mean feat as data across touchpoints/channels is often available in disparate systems and formats. This coupled with the fact that the average age of a cruise passenger is expected to decline, cruise companies will have to future proof by finding relevant ways to engage and service the social networking millennials.

As people’s social media preferences change in favour of one-to-one chatting with an active user base of four messaging apps now bigger than Facebook and Twitter, companies will have an even bigger challenge of dealing with higher bandwidth requirements along with a diminishing willingness to pay. Adidas now uses Whatsapp as a platform to build hyper-local communities (‘squads’) across cities around the world to drive brand engagement.  

While companies operating on the land scramble to find new ways of using data and digital technology to grow brand love, for cruise companies providing reliable and affordable internet itself remains a challenge. The immense costs of buying satellite bandwidth and lengthy lead times to retro-fit tech on vessels has meant that wi-fi services on board can often be expensive and patchy.

Market leaders such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp though are paving the way for better internet connectivity at sea and leveraging innovations in satellite technology (such as medium earth orbit satellite constellations) to provide fast internet matching the speed on land. Their respective wifi services, VOOM and MedallionNet, are powered by the same technology partner and are slowly resetting benchmarks.  

In tandem, recent developments in conversational AI (including chatbots) provide a fantastic opportunity for cruise companies to offer passengers an experience similar to full internet bandwidth at significantly lower costs. Such platforms support integrated Pay as You Go in-app purchases and use chatbots as a front-end interface on user devices. For instance, BOTS can help customers with duty-free purchases, onboard reservations and access to social platforms. In the background, BOTS work on intelligent data compression techniques and even function when offline. They are scalable and can be programmed for any other use such as supporting crew. Given its robustness in remote network locations and instant messaging interface that is in vogue, this AI-based technology has huge potential and is already being adopted by airlines, cruise and cargo organisations at pace.

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