Tracking the visitor’s every step

Since late last year, a small number of ships in Carnival’s Princess Cruises fleet have been offering something very different on their Caribbean sailings.

In order, they say, to enhance their clients’ vacations, they have introduced a new way in which those on board can, as they put it, ‘make the most of their time’, ‘be inspired to see and do more’, and ‘experience a truly personalized and effortless’ break.

What the cruise line is offering to help achieve this is an ‘Ocean Medallion’. This can be worn like a wristwatch attached to a brightly coloured wrist band or as a pendant or medallion. By doing so on board, or on some trips ashore, the client and the ship, as it were, are able to constantly communicate with one another.

The idea is that this medallion holds a unique digital identity, and is able to communicate with equipment located throughout the ship and in certain parts of selected ports, to tell the company exactly what you are doing throughout the voyage. This then, using sophisticated algorithms, enables Princess to anticipate and better meet their clients’ requirements.

More prosaically, the medallion allows the crew to know who you are, and in effect recognise you personally; to be aware of your food and drink preferences; allow you to make cashless on board payments; and by following a guest’s movement throughout the ship can, for instance, enable food or a drink to be brought directly to you by a server who has access to your photograph. It can also be used for unlocking your stateroom door, to speed up embarkation and disembarkation, and to help clients locate friends and family on-board.

It is a technology that is in its infancy and which others in the industry have introduced in different forms or are rapidly developing.

It will, as it develops, revolutionise much of the tourism sector, not just on cruise ships but in larger properties such as resort hotels and all-inclusives, and no doubt with certain refinements and personal guarantees, come to play a role in some of the region’s smaller up-scale properties as well.

For the industry, it has the advantage of not only enabling the closer monitoring of guest likes and dislikes, and enhancing security, but it makes sales and service more efficient and less subject to error, and facilitates the retention of information for future marketing.

For the guest, on the face of it, such apps offer not just enhanced attention and efficiency in a busy service environment, but for instance, can provide other benefits such as awareness of where their children are.

However, all such technology comes at a cost to personal privacy.

Although in recent years, hotels and cruise companies, along with almost every other commercial supplier, have been accumulating data on individuals, which third party companies then bring together to sell on to a growing number of cross-border entities involved in personalised marketing
of everything from automobiles to garments, the issue seems to be of little concern to most consumers.

While all this could change, were there to be a significant data breach with negative consequences for the guest, most companies at present make clear that it is the company, rather than the device they provide, that stores the data.

Moreover, Princess and others moving into this area, make clear that their clients are at liberty to decline the use of the device, although in years to come it is hard to see how the same service levels can be provided to guests in properties or on ships where the majority are using the new technology.

In the end, however, the choice to use such devices is likely to become closely related to personal preference, lifestyle, and an individual, couple or family’s needs from a vacation; suggesting that to accommodate such differences, hotels and cruise ships may have to become much more diverse, with some offering complete escape, and at a price, simple old fashioned personal service.