Discussing Cruise Guest Experience Technologies with UIEvolution
Photo courtesy of UIEvolution
When first I heard of UIEvolution, I honestly knew nothing about the company, and in many ways that’s exactly what it wants. After speaking with Travis Beaven, the company’s chief product officer and GM of Consumer Engagement, it becomes clear that invisible technology is key to providing a positively effective cruise guest experience.
UIEvolution brings a modern approach to the areas of entertainment, mobile devices and signage onboard cruise ships. Working with brands like Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises within the Carnival Corporation and Crystal Cruises in the luxury segment, he says, “I think they get it. They get the importance of technology and taking it forward.” The company also works with other solutions, seamlessly integrating with separate technologies like the Princess@Sea web app, for instance.
Beaven recognizes how cruise lines in the past several decades have taken an approach of installing basic television systems or new technologies only to let them languish over time and bucks it with solutions that are constantly evolving, all the while learning from and applying guest and crew feedback. He adds, “the TV experience, the mobile experience [and] the signage experience should always feel like it’s today, not a year ago or five years ago.”
As much as he admits it’s a cliche, he also says, “it’s bringing that internet of things that people are having at the home into the luxury cruise ship.” As apps are always updating shoreside, so too should onboard technology be required to. That means starting with beautiful ship hardware and enhancing it with software that serves live and on-demand entertainment content seamlessly across fixed and mobile devices.
So, what does seamless integration across technologies and devices look like? It’s sharing a backend of services so if the guest wants to book a shore excursion on their smartphone app, they will be alerted with a notification on the television system or shipboard signage. It’s starting a movie in your stateroom and resuming it on your mobile tablet. And it’s doing it all in your native language whenever possible, specific to the destinations traveled.
“We’re trying to make it so that the technology can enable, say, a Chinese experience for the Chinese market if the ship is going there versus a European environment or a Caribbean environment,” says Beaven. “If it’s going to Alaska on a voyage and then resetting to the Caribbean, then we’re changing that experience so it fits the location it’s in.”
Communication bandwidth is usually very limited onboard, but UIEvolution, having experience also with hotel and plane limitations, has efficiently cached and delivered its data in smart packets as the company has grown. There’s also a disparity between the newest and oldest ships in a fleet and the different infrastructures therein, but its solution is designed to act consistently across multiple applications, and so far, no desired feature has eluded its knowhow for implementing it.
Customizing the system for individual cruise lines is also an important factor, and Beaven says, “the biggest thing is going to be the user experience. I think each brand, each flag, has its own thing that it’s trying to do. It knows its audience, and it has its own delivery mechanism. Holland for example is pushing very aggressively on the culinary experience, food and dining. It’s a big part of the story. Princess appeals to a slightly different demographic, so they’re doing different things. And I think the biggest thing we can do is just make sure that their message, the way they’re trying to interact with the guest, and the experience they’re trying to create, comes through to the technology.”
In the end, it’s all about the user experience and deploying the right technologies, whether they be native or web apps, or offline or online portals, to ultimately make it feel like an extension of the ship itself. “It should feel like it belongs,” he says, “and it shouldn’t feel like ‘oh, this is the same thing that I saw on a Princess ship.’ It shouldn’t feel like the same thing that’s on the Britannia, for example. It should feel different. And the experiences that are driven through it are different.”
Of course, the solution works best when cruise passengers are actually using it. Unfortunately, there remain strong warnings against joining foreign networks, particularly over cellular for fear of roaming charges, that can falsely persuade people to keep their devices in airplane mode. In reality, logging onto Wi-Fi is entirely different, and it’s crucial that the cruise lines educate their passengers that such mobile features outside of internet expenses are freely available.
Beaven, however, says, “the fears of security and privacy are certainly out there, but we’re seeing a lot more engagement which means people are kind of getting over it.” Either way, people are keeping their phones with them – even if they remain on airplane mode, still presenting a prime opportunity for offline apps – and many more across all demographics now want to engage with the technology at a higher rate as they become more comfortable with it.
After all, they want to communicate with other passengers onboard, watch closed-circuit streams of onboard shows, call up on-demand programming and port information and more. “Certainly, we always see the ships that put this system on index a lot higher on guest satisfaction, guest experience,” he says. “The guests like the system.”
As to where things are headed, Beaven says, “because of the growth in cruise and the market they’re trying to hit…, technology is something that has to happen on these ships. It’s critical to the experience.” He thinks it’s important to spread across ships for fleet consistency, be mindful of globalization in markets like China, take into consideration new devices like smart watches and show to the lines returns on their investment in getting guests to go to the shops or book more shore excursions.
“Definitely, the cruise partners that we’ve had have been amazing to work with, they’re embracing these changes, they’re seeing how it helps their overall story,” Beaven concludes. “I love this business. I love cruising. And the nice part about it is we can put a solution in place, and we can see almost immediate overnight results.”
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