//Interview: Tony Roberts, vice president, Princess Cruises, UK & Europe

Interview: Tony Roberts, vice president, Princess Cruises, UK & Europe

Anthony Pearce learns how the line is using tech to revolutionise the cruise experience

Princess Cruises is in the process of rolling out its Ocean Medallion technology, which it claims is revolutionising the cruise experience. The device not only acts as a room card, but also allows guests to order drinks, food and items from the shop, locate their travel companions (i.e. their family) and navigate their way around the ship. It also allows crew to identify guests, know their preferences and assist them more easily, and makes muster drills and locating passengers in cases of emergency far easier. As the line announces its longest ever season in Europe and a nine per cent increase in ex-UK capacity in 2021, we speak to UK boss Tony Roberts about technology, the travel trade and future builds.

You’re rolling out Ocean Medallion across the fleet. How is the technology evolving and how is it being embraced?
“It’s really changing all the time, and each new ship brings the next stage of the development, so it’s a really exciting project to be working on. The guest response has been really positive; for each guest it means something different. Guests are telling us they love the cabin door in particular, which when you talk about it doesn’t seem like a big thing, but when you use it it’s really great, as well as the find-your-party feature, which really stops you from wasting time. You’re no longer sitting around waiting for people and wondering where they are. It is helping the guests to have a better time on holiday and enjoy more of their time. You can see guests thinking, ‘OK, my wife and daughter are back in the cabin, I’ll go meet them there,’ rather than wondering where they are. The food and drink ordering, people love the fact that you can just sit on your sunbed and order what you want without having to get up and go queue somewhere. There is also the diary, where you can build your personal schedule, that’s very new. It allows guests to make the most of their time on board and not miss anything.

“I was talking to some guests recently who have booked seven more cruises on Caribbean Princess. I was asking about Ocean Medallion, what they like about it, and whether it was a factor in booking and they said it wasn’t the reason they booked, but if they didn’t have it now, they would miss it. When you go to a hotel and have to find your room key, then queue at the bar for a drink, you think, ‘It was so much easier when I was on Princess’.”

How will data from the technology be used to plan future ships?
“There are things we don’t understand about the flow of guests around the ship because we’ve never had that information, but now, all of a sudden, we have all of that available to us. And you can tap into that rich information, about how long people stay in certain places, what do they do when they are there. So, for example, an interesting thing is that most restaurants empty out into stairwells. Does that drive the behaviour of what people do next? What if you had something else outside restaurants? Would they be more likely to stop and engage with entertainment? It helps you understand the guest experience, even if that just means more signposting so they know what’s available.”

You’ve just announced your 2021 programme. Why so early?
“Last year, we launched 2020 in November. Over the past few years, we’ve seen people booking earlier and earlier, particularly with Europe dates. It’s the confidence we’ve got in the European market and the fact we’ve got five ships here in 2021. We think there’s strong demand for it. We’ve also put it on sale during our onboard credit campaign we’ve got running at the moment. It’s about removing barriers, perceived or real, to engaging with the feature season – there are guests out there who know what they are going to be doing in 2021. There are some stunning cruises in there, such as a 24-night Canada cruise; these have an earlier booking pattern, it’s something they are thinking about a long time before the trip.”

How important is the travel trade to Princess?
“One of the most important areas of our business is how we partner with travel agents. We’ve done a bit of work on this recently, making sure we’re explaining why you would choose Princess, and also providing easy-to-use campaigns, selling tools and engaging commercial programmes, offering phone and web chat. Travel agents are such a huge and important part of what we’re doing – it’s key that we continue to communicate and share with them the opportunity we’ve got. There are a lot of travel agents who have been able to grow with Princess Cruises over the past four years. We’ve got Sky Princess joining the fleet in October and we have got 300 travel agents joining us on a preview sailing. We’ll fly them out to Trieste, where they’ll join the ship and sail to Athens. It’s the biggest agent fam we have ever done. They will be able to experience the newest ship in the fleet as well as Ocean Medallion.”