Groups at Sea Getting More and Better Technology

meeting planning tools Royal Caribbean digital signage
Digital signage, like Royal Caribbean International’s Wayfinder system, helps attendees find their way around the ship.

Groups at sea are able to use more mobile apps and other meeting tech, with cruise lines offering improved meeting planning tools to help attendees get connected.

Even the savviest ship still has nothing on that big international coffee shop down the street. But the technology has been moving forward, and cruise lines are increasing WiFi access, improving audiovisual options and even developing their own apps and onboard intranets for indivduals and groups.             Industry experts and cruise executives say it’s a simple matter of responding to planners’ requests for more meeting tech at sea.

“As in the hotel industry, (cruise lines) try to stay current,” says Jo Kling, president of Landry & Kling, a Miami travel company specializing in cruise meetings. “That’s what people want when they travel, unless you’re on a retreat. But even smaller ships have WiFi.”

Wireless Everywhere

Improved WiFi networks are probably the most profound change, says Trevor Roald, manager of industry relations for QuickMobile, which develops mobile apps for meetings, conferences and exhibitions. Attendees can connect with the ship’s network rather than try to access the Internet, which is more expensive and less reliable. (QuickMobile once solved that challenge by bringing its own server aboard a client’s cruise.)

Royal Caribbean International is steadily moving toward pervasive WiFi on its entire fleet, says Agnes Galvez, sales and marketing lead for corporate, incentive and charter groups. All new ships are getting bow-to-stern WiFi, she says, and it’s being added to older ships when they’re upgraded in dry dock. Eventually, Royal Caribbean’s entire fleet will have it.

Not all options are available fleet-wide, but Royal Caribbean tech tools also include digital signage to help keep everyone updated and direct them to venues on the ship; mobile phones available for rental; and professional-quality lighting, sound and special effects in onboard conference centers and event venues. Receptions can include sophisticated audiovisual presentations, and events can be simulcast between rooms on the ship.

“It just depends on what the client wants,” she says. “We can put on some pretty amazing events.”

Apps at Sea

In 2012, Norwegian Cruise Line offered the industry’s first smartphone app: iConcierge, which keeps users abreast of onboard activities and connected with each other. It’s available on about half the Norwegian fleet and can be customized for groups hiring a full ship charter, says John Diulus, national director of distribution planning and charters for meetings and incentives. Norwegian also has improved its WiFi network, he says, and can offer even more bandwidth to a group requesting it. One group needed 24/7 high-speed access—and Norwegian was able to provide it.

“That’s the reality of how we do things,” Diulus says. “We’re in constant communication. At the end of the day, that’s what consumers say they want. Most of the major cruise lines realize what an opportunity groups represent, so we do put quite an investment into making sure the technology is there.”

Content Is Still King

Once the hardware is in place, what then? As on land, it becomes all about the content.

Silversea Cruises can offer a sophisticated mix of content tailored to the client’s own specifications, says Jason Cohn, director of IT infrastructure. For an incentive cruise for top performers at a financial services firm, Silversea built a private intranet on which meeting attendees could, among other things, post their photos, get agenda information and watch a video about the destination for the coming year’s incentive reward. When another client gave tablets to its cruise attendees, Silversea streamed live TV to their devices.

It’s the experience that matters above all, Cohn says. “We ask, how can we provide an experience that the client will like, regardless of the way we do it?”