Why mobile roaming charges are killing innovation in the cruise industry

NB: This is a guest article by Mark Gristock, commercial director at Psycle Interactive.

Every time there’s a major leap forward in communications, the travel industry has been there to embrace it.

But while the buying and marketing process has completely changed, there are a number of opportunities in brand enhancement and customer experience that have been identified but not exploited.

And, frankly, until there are major changes in mobile billing, there is little point in implementing them.

Although the European Commission, for example, has pledged to lower data roaming costs to a more reasonable level by July 2014, anyone downloading content or accessing social networks while abroad will have had to do a great deal of research and planning in order to avoid a disturbingly large bill upon their return.

Anyone on a cruise is facing an even tougher set of circumstances.

Passengers using a ship’s cellular antennae are likely to be spending more than £10 a megabyte.

I’ve been working with a major cruise brand for the last six months; first developing the social media platform before moving on to identifying new ways to differentiate the experience of passengers, finding new forms of on-board entertainment and ways to enhance off-board excursions.

Some of the ideas we’ve come up with have been extremely promising, offering potentially massive returns on quite limited investments in design and development.

While you might expect that some of the more outlandish concepts – augmented reality, 3D sound technologies, themed interactive guides and virtual entertainment – to be the stuff of science fiction, surely making social media a fundamental part of the cruise experience is essential to brand differentiation.

But while existing social media platforms are already been used to successfully generate new enquiries and significant levels of sales, it’s proving impossible to integrate them in a way that will provide significant benefits to passengers.

We had hoped to use social communities to drive onboard activity; for example, helping people find other passengers they’d like to be with, try new things and improve the safety, security and popularity of children’s clubs – but even the most basic options have cost implications for those using them.

Without a significant reduction in roaming charges, each innovation has serious cost implications for cruise companies. Even the most optimistic business would have to think long and hard about the unproven revenue models before making the significant investment required to create an on-board wifi infrastructure.

But until we make that investment, mobile apps and related technologies will not become a central part of the onboard experience and we will be unable to exploit the opportunities mobile devices offer us.

As a result, cruise companies will continue to focus on the booking experience and promote apps that are nothing more than clumsy and ineffective sales tools.

NB: This is a guest article by Mark Gristock, commercial director at Psycle Interactive.

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A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Dean

    I would have to agree with Alex and where I was going with this, at this time it seems a satellite connection is the only way to go. Maybe they can partner with Google and rent some satellite space. Mobile technologyis evolving rapidly, but I haven’t heard nor read anything as far as receiving signals from remote locations. Or if they can’t rent satellite space they should partner with other cruise companies and put up their own satellite. They can rent the excess out to offset the investment.

  2. Alex Bainbridge

    That 10 GBP per MB price point is quite right (say 17 USD per MB). Remember the data has to go via satellite – we are not talking mobile network that then plugs into existing land based networks.

    At this price you really don’t want your onboard people all doing windows updates etc – or downloading videos. Just email with most headers / attachments stripped is best

    If cruisers really want to access Internet while in middle of the ocean (and the cruise company isn’t providing a service) then it is easy enough to hire an internet connected satellite phone for a couple of weeks and some pre-paid airtime. I have one 😉

  3. Dvir Reznik

    Great opinion piece Mark!
    Cruise lines must understand that being connected is an essential part of the experience they provide passengers. As you said, many opportunities open up once passengers are connected, that can enrich their cruise and benefit the brand as well.

    In my opinion, it’s a great opportunity for a telco company to be innovative, be the first to provide broadband Internet access during cruises. It’s an investment, and not a small one, but the benefits are huge and will help differentiate who ever offers it first.

  4. Daniele Beccari

    I’m not an expert in cruise, so I’m staggered to discover there is no free wifi on board. Even good old Paris cafés now understand why you should provide free wifi.

    • Bob Hughes

      Istanbul and most of the towns visited on the cruise had free Wi-Fi at coffee shops, lunch cafes, and so forth. Once we realized that connections were available on shore, we took the IPad and caught up on emails there. The cruise lines view internet access as an “extra” to be paid for instead of a basic part of the deal. Hotels are already providing wireless as part of the room charge, and airlines are close behind, and if they can do it, there’s no reason why cruise lines can’t as well (except it cuts into their revenue from passengers…)

  5. Bob Hughes

    Our two cruises this year (Alaska & Istanbul/Greek Isles) were delightful, but I was acutely aware of how much we missed unlimited internet access, both at sea and in port. High speed wireless is a given, and doing without it for 10 days on a ship deprives the cruiser of many things that would greatly enhance the cruise experience, including social networking, email and news access, research about visited sites through Wikipedia, and so forth. We paid $99 for 208 minutes over ten days, so kept in touch enough to download the NY Times, answer urgent emails, etc. But the experience was always pressurized (sign off quickly before using those $0.48 per minute credits) and it made the whole cruise less pleasurable than it might have been. The cruise line that offers unlimited access, with the cost built into the ticket price, not as a for-profit add on, will get my future business over all others.

  6. Alan Wilson

    If you have a bunch of ship-specific features, why not run a server with them onboard and a wifi network for it? People wouldn’t be able to connect with their Facebook or other social media accounts, but they probably aren’t now at the price of roaming. If you wanted people to interact with each other while aboard, set up your own ship-specific social media application on the “free” wifi network.

  7. Michael Dalia

    InnView has a product that specifically addresses this issue. Their mobile application allows passengers to place phone calls, text and access the internet from their smart phones while on board, without incurring carrier roaming charges. This allows families to stay in touch and find each other while on board and to readily access social media and cruise services such as excursion ticket purchasing, room service, spa service and most other amenities. You can get more information by e-mailing: mdalia@comtecusa.net

  8. Faraz Qureshi

    Agree this investment needs to happen before we can get more innovative apps/technologies on cruises. I have to believe that at some point consumers will demand that cruises have the same level of access they get on land (and in the air)…and at a reasonable cost. Don’t know when that will happen, but when it does it’ll be a fun time to build apps in this space.


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