A personal touch:

The role of personalization in the cruise industry

In a highly competitive cruise market, personalization of cruise guests experience is a key differentiator for travelers when choosing a particular cruise line. The journey is shifting to a digitalized and guest-centric approach. Cruise lines that prepare already today for the competitive travel world of tomorrow, will outperform the market and will gain all the benefits of personalization and digital transformation.

As digitalization defines the path across all travel industries, cruise guest expectations for unique experiences have increased from pre-pandemic levels. Cruise guests expect a tailored service, just as they expect high-end cousine and modern onboard amenities. A customized journey empowers the traveler to enjoy the most of their vacation marking long lasting mermories to share with relatives and friends. The personalization strategy contributes to address concerns at the moment of need, ensuring a higher customer satisfaction, positively impacting their loyalty as well as the Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Whether cruise lines integrate state of the art solutions internally or rely on a strong IT partner, it is fundamental to align these developments to a smooth and seamless guest experience throughout the cruise journey.


Personalized cruise experience is about overcoming commodity and positively surprising guests

A personalized cruise experience is characterized by a unique and highly specialized experience for each individual guest. It is based on guest-specific offers, recommendations and travel-related messages. Tailored offers, activity bundles, and shore excursion recommendations are examples of customization at different stages of the journey. Each cruise guest is treated as an individual with unique preferences and interests. This allows each guest to make the most of their cruise vacation by getting the right information at the right time and place.


A micro-segmentation approach enables personalized communications.

A truly customized cruise experience goes beyond guest segmentation approaches. This approach is based on comparing cruise guests to basic parameters such as demographics, travel time, and location. A micro-segmentation approach provides a more detailed look at each guest. It considers previous bookings, account information, browsing history, and any available external information about each guest. Instead of "people like you also booked this "a micro-segmentation approach enables personalized communications like "you might be interested in this activity because you were curious about this".
A personalized cruise experience starts with the cruise search. Based on search history and device location, personalized web content will provide the most valuable information for each potential guest. Travelers looking for an Alaska adventure are motivated by pictures of glaciers, volcanoes, geohazards, and permafrost, while sun seekers surf the web to discover crystal water beaches and clear sand. After the user books his trip and before it starts, the passenger receives relevant information and offers for onboard activities and shore excursions, based on previous experiences. If it is their first time on board, those suggestions are influenced by AI engines.
Embarkation day is key to create major impact on cruisers' first and long lasting memories. A location/context specific targeted message, such as check-in confirmation, cabin and luggage readiness notification, allergy confirmation, or verification of booked activities, blows winds in favor a positive start to the vacations. If the crew is aware that a guest would like the table size to match their travel group, this should be considered when assigning seats. If allergies or food preferances are known, the Chef de Cuisine should automatically take this information into account. This personalization approach allows the guests to careless enjoy their time on the ship, being assured that they will be well taken care of.
A customized list of activities will boost the engagement and will lead to a higher conversion rate and guest acceptance than a list of hundreds of options printed in the daily newsletter. A family can be invited to a particular kid-friendly event because it is nearby, and conveniently, a single traveler can be alerted to it. With so many options, the number of activities on board can be overwhelming. A custom approach brings the right activities to the attention of the appropriate guest at the right time and place.
Any feedback obtained during or after the cruise provides valuable information for targeted communication. Promoting the next cruise offering to a guest with known complaints will not only be unfruitful, but will be perceived as not taking the request seriously. On the other hand, if a cruise guest was excited about a specialty restaurant or activity, the aftersales communication should include a package deal with those options. The aftersales communications is the opportunity to hook customers to a new adventure and and reduce the negative aftermath with cruise guests who were not fully satisfied.
Those guests who have experienced a personalized touch during their journey, will feel empowered because they were able to make the most of their vacation. They feel considered because their options were taken into account when the decisions were needed to be made. Finally, an authentic experience is a key differentiator from cruise lines with one-size fits all cruises and a story to share with their loved ones.


Cruise lines are defining their strategy based on the incrasing demand for personalization

The maritime industry has seen significant changes in recent years. It has been shaped not only by the COVID pandemic but also by technological advances accompanied by digital trends. One of the main game changers has been the demand for personalization. The benefits extend beyond the guest experience, enables the optimization of the operations, finances, and brand appeal to outperform the competition.
At its core, personalization increases guest satisfaction by customizing itineraries, menus, activities, and loyalty programs. Guests with personalized cruise experiences feel more valued, and will likely become repeating customers.
Itinerary planning: When guests can select their preferred destinations and activities, cruise lines can use this data to suggest itineraries that match their interests. In addition, in-depth analysis of this data allows for more precise segmentation and design of popular itineraries based on age, season, and location.
Dining experience: Knowing guests' dietary habits in advance also impacts the areas of sustainability and finance, which are discussed in later sections of this paper.
Guest activities and guest services: With various technologies, guest greetings, room preferences, and amenities can be better personalized, impacting customer satisfaction and operational optimization.
Marketing and loyalty programs: Those cruise lines that can identify loyal guests can offer customized rewards and have an additional tool to increase customer satisfaction and feelings of being valued and recognized. Revenue forecasts will more accurately support financial planning.
Sustainability: By analyzing guest preferences, cruise lines can reduce food waste by offering personalized menus tailored to guests' dietary restrictions without loading too much quantity onto the ship before it embarks. In addition, customized itineraries can reduce crowding at popular destinations and disperse tourist flows to less popular destinations, reducing environmental impact. Ultimately, personalization can lead to more sustainable operations, benefiting the environment and the industry as a whole.
Personalization provides multimodular benefits for cruise lines. Guest and staff empowerment are reflected in positive cruise evaluations and operations.


The way to personalization may be shorter than you think with technology

Creating a tailored cruise experience requires knowing the guest, its preference, and interests. Every click on the cruise line's website and app, every interaction with customer service, and participation in onboard activities are valuable sources of information about their preferences. Organizing and transforming these data points across the guest journey into actionable insights is an overwhelming task and requires a data analytics environment that goes beyond rule-based systems.


AI is key to accelerate the process of personalization

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications are capable of processing the vast amounts of data generated by customers. Based on real-time analysis, ML tools provide the insights needed to deliver a targeted experience. ML models process the data instantly, looking for patterns and running thousands of experiments within milliseconds to create the best recommendation for each guest at the moment it would be valued the most.
Implementing a robust ML environment for customized offers throughout the journey requires a reliable database and initial setup of ML tools for data cleaning, training, application, and evaluation of models. The intelligence provided by ML-based recommendations enables cruise lines to enage with customers in a closer way.


Face recognition

A sophisticated personalized cruise experience is based on recognizing each cruise guest using their face without any ID cards, smartphones, or wearables. Their face is the ID to enter areas of interest, be recognized at retail shops, and pay on the go.
Face recognition applications are feasible to recognize several hundred persons in almost real-time. This information is safely secured and can be used with guest’s permission. Access, payment, and localization-based services can be applied based on their input.


Video analytics solutions provide people flow and crowds insights

Most cruise ships are equipped with thousands of CCTV cameras, primarily for security purposes. Without compromising quality, these video streams can be used for guest flow analysis and staff notification. Guest waiting time, seating opportunities, or emergencies can be identified with out-of-box solutions.


Guest feedback to amend and interpret all the other sources of data

Onboard guest feedback analytics tools enable cruise lines to understand and respond to guests' complaints while they are still on the cruise, rather than two weeks later.
Natural language processing applications distinguish between complaints and compliments and assigns scores feedback to a different department on the ship.
Technology enabling personalization is guest focused. Whether this is tracking customers’ digital behavior on the website and app or physically onboard the ship, all guest touchpoints with the cruise line and its personnel need to be stored, analyzed, and used for any face to face communication.


The path to success

The way forward for cruise companies is to adapt to the personalization trend, define a starting point, develop initiatives to sustain custom activities and measure their impact to manage activities accordingly.
Defining a personalization strategy is the first important step. Clarifying the vision of the cruise guest's future journey will narrow down the specific goals. This is the basis for deriving applications and technologies that must first be implemented and tested. However, as new insights and technologies emerge, the approach will constantly change throughout the guest's journey.
A solid data strategy with clean data structures and reliable pipelines is the foundation for any AI-based execution. Insightful data to start collecting can include demographics, preferences, behaviors, and feedback. This data can be gathered across multiple touchpoints, including booking channels, onboard systems, sensors, as well as surveys.
Measures of impact can include guest satisfaction, loyalty, and revenue. These metrics can be assessed using various methods, such as A/B testing to compare the impact of personalized vs. non-personalized activities and services. Feedback loops should be built in to optimize the different approaches.
Data collection and analysis should be a continuous process, as should feedback loops to improve and refine personalization initiatives. An important condition for maintaining these practices is training and incentivizing employees to use these personalization technologies and innovate on an ongoing basis.
The track to successfully implementing a personalized cruise experience requires an alignment of business strategy and technological innovation. Some new technologies on board will replace older ones. Some existing processes will need to be adapted to enable a seamless experience. Staff on board will need to be convinced and trained on the new insights and information. All of this, contributes to that one experience that each and every cruise guest will enjoy the most and appreciate while on board.


Experienced IT and AI professionals will ensure a smooth and reliable implementation

Lufthansa Industry Solutions is a service company for IT consulting and system integration with a long-standing business relationship and trajectory in the cruise industry. The Lufthansa subsidiary supports its customers in their digital transformation. The customer base includes companies within the Lufthansa Group, as well, as more than 200 companies in different industries and countries. Headquartered in Norderstedt, Germany, the company employs more than 2,100 people at several offices in Germany, Albania, Switzerland, and the United States.