At the Seatrade cruise trade show and conference earlier this month in Ft. Lauderdale, the top brass of MSC Cruises was on hand to outline an ambitious game plan that doubles the size of its fleet and triples its passenger capacity from the current 1.8 million passengers a year to more than 5 million annual passengers by 2026.
Notably, all of the new ships coming online will be next-generation smartships: The sleek new MSC Meraviglia debuts a new class of 5,714-passenger ships in June, MSC Seaside will launch in Miami in December as the first in a new class of 5,179-passenger ships, followed by a Meraviglia Plus class of 6,297-passenger megaships starting in 2019 and a World class of ships starting in 2022.
What they all have in common is a new set of technologies — rolling out starting in June — that will put MSC Cruises at the forefront of the next generation of smartships. And Swiss-based MSC is betting big that its European stylings, world-class entertainment plus state-of-the-art tech will attract millions of new customers in North America; currently, only 10 percent of MSC’s overall passengers are from North America.
“North America here we come!” MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago declared to the assembled travel writers at Seatrade.
Beyond faster Internet speeds
Disney helped pioneer some of this tech with the MagicBand, a microchip-embedded bracelet that serves as a ticket, credit card, hotel key and FastPass, beginning in 2013 at Disney World. (In 2016 it announced that its billion-dollar MyMagic+ program would lean heavily on smartphones.)
Royal Caribbean ushered in the first generation of smartships with Anthem of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas in 2015, ships that offered faster Internet (thanks to mid-orbiting satellites used by Royal), reliable video streaming and Skype video chat, social sharing, more seamless check-ins and other digital advances. (We could live without the Bionic Bar and its robot bartenders.)
Not to be outdone, Carnival Corp. will debut Ocean Medallion, wearable tech designed to enhance and personalize the guest experience, beginning with Regal Princess this November, followed by Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess in early 2018. All ships in the Princess fleet will eventually follow. The “virtual concierge” medallion can be worn as a pendant, on a wristband, in a clip or simply placed in a pocket to reveal enhanced services and personalized experiences without passengers having to push a button or take any action.
Looks like the smartship wars are on!
Top features of MSC for Me
When she debuts in Europe in June, MSC Meraviglia will be outfitted with 16,000 points of connectivity, 700 digital access points, 114 interactive screens and 2,244 staterooms that open with RFID/NFC technology. To help bring this all together, MSC has been working for the past three years with 11 of the world’s leading digital, tech and behavioral science brands, including Samsung, HP, Bosch and Deloitte.
In addition to its 11 upcoming megaships — to be built under its nearly $10 billion, 10-year investment plan — MSC Cruises announced it would retrofit all 12 of its existing ships with the MSC for Me technology, beginning with MSC Divina in 2019. (Entertainment will be top of mind as well: Cirque du Soleil at Sea will be on all four Meraviglia class ships.)
Here are some of the MSC for Me features you'll find aboard the new MSC smartships:
Navigation: A digital guide provides guests on board with advice, guidance and information about what’s going on. The technology is similar to smart maps and helps them find their way around the 1,000-plus-foot-long ships with precision within 16 feet. It also allows guests to locate their children when needed.
Concierge: This tool allows guests to easily book services, restaurants, excursions and more in real time, 24/7.
Capturing experiences: Through the use of virtual reality glasses from Samsung, guests will be able to have a digitally immersive experience that lets them preview shore excursions along with a gallery with interactive screens showing the unique story of a guest’s trip, which they can share with friends in real time.
Organizer: This planning tool lets passengers check in with their mobile device and book shore excursions, seats for shows or dining reservations before embarking or when on board.
TailorMade: This digital personal advisor that will provide tailored recommendations, based on individuals' preferences, when shopping for fashion or accessories or considering a new hair style. Intelligent facial recognition will help staff take care of guests in a highly personalized way. Interactive bracelets will connect guests to the ship’s services and will activate geo-located suggestions through 3,050 Bluetooth beacons.
In total, MSC for Me will provide passengers with more than 130 smart features intended to enhance the vacation experience. These include a dedicated app to help guests tailor their vacations at any point on their journey, freeing up more time to let you enjoy your vacation at sea.
Better planning, educating, communicating
Why MSC for Me? What was the impetus behind the program? A research study Deloitte Digital carried out at MSC's behest identified these key findings:
- To better serve MSC's guests, technology must enhance crew members' ability to respond to passengers' needs on the fly in a way that enriches human contact.
- With 170 different nationalities sailing with MSC Cruises, the challenge for communicating effectively with guests is complex and the new digital solutions can go a long way toward solving this.
- Travelers increasingly want to simplify and optimize their planning options before and during their cruise, leaving them more time to enjoy their vacation.
- There's more to a cruise than what happens on board: The new tech will address the complete customer journey from months before the ship departs until after it's over.
Cruiseable, of course, was founded in part to help bring the cruise discovery and planning process into the digital age, so we're happy to see such MSC embrace such a wide-ranging initiative. I'm hoping to fly out to Miami for the debut of MSC Seaside so I can get a first-hand look at how MSC Cruises' ambitious new program is unfolding.