Commentary

Carnival Betting Big On IoT Wearable Concierge

Carnival Cruise Lines yesterday took the media embargo off a new smart device that CEO Arnold Donald officially will take the wraps off in a keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas tomorrow. In short, the Ocean Medallion is a wearable concierge that will not only open passengers’ stateroom doors as they approach but also track their gustatory desires and locate missing partners who are doing some cardio on the treadmill (or indulging in a Carnival Cosmo at the Red Frog Pub).

“What makes this medallion so special? Think of it as a GPS, Apple Pay and a digital concierge that connects you to crew members instantly,” writes Tim Wood for Travel Pulse.

“The quarter-sized, 1.8-ounce disc can be accessorized with jewelry, clips, key chains and bands or simply carried in a pocket or pocketbook,” according to a news release. “Powered by proprietary technology … that features an Internet of Things (IoT) network of intelligent sensors and experiential computing devices, the Ocean Medallion revolutionizes guest service not only for the cruise industry, but the broader vacation industry.” 

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It pairs with an optional personalized digital concierge called the Ocean Compass on smart devices, on kiosks in home ports, on stateroom TVs and on interactive surfaces located throughout the ship. It will roll out on Princess Cruises' Regal Princess in November 2017, followed by Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess in 2018, and then rolled out over years on the entire Princess Cruises fleet.

“The fascinating aspect here is that, unlike other smart bands such as Disney's (DIS) MagicBand or Royal Caribbean's (RCL) Wow Bands, Carnival's medallion doesn't have to touch another device to work. It could be worn as a necklace or simply left in the pocket and the near field communication and Bluetooth technology embedded inside communicate with sensors and readers positioned around the ship,” writes Brian Sozzi for The Street

“Unlike Royal Caribbean's Wow Bands that launched in 2014, which are optional purchases and haven't completely done away with annoying door keys and paperwork, Carnival's medallions will be given to everyone on board and totally removes layers of friction.”  

According to the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes, the two former Walt Disney Co. executives, toiling “inside a clandestine Carnival Corporation complex” in Doral, Fla. … have been plotting [the] drastic cruise industry overhaul” since 2014 at a cost that will reach into the “hundreds of millions of dollars, and, over time, more than that,” according to CEO Donald.

The mission of John Padgett, who is now Carnival’s chief experience and innovation officer, and Michael G. Jungen, its VP for design and technology: “Take lessons learned at Walt Disney World, where they helped bring about a $1 billion vacation management system involving Fitbit-style bracelets that link to personal information, and apply them to cruises,” Barnes writes.

Writing for USA Today, Jennifer Jolly says she “had the exclusive first hands-on test-run with this new gadget … in a 14-thousand-square-foot virtual cruise ship that Carnival built on the CES showroom floor. The way it works is this: When you sign up for a cruise and establish your likes and dislikes — your basic vacation profile — you can opt-in for the Ocean Medallion free of charge. The company mails you the laser-etched disc with your name engraved on it, equipped with the latest Bluetooth and NFC technology.”

“Two things strike me right away about all of this: It shows how the latest technology is expanding to the world around us in new and surprising ways,” Jolly writes. “… The other big takeaway? This isn’t a new gadget for techies. There’s no screen, no buttons, and nothing to get confused by. It just works without you even having to think about it.”

But it is thinking about you. All the time. And that, admittedly, may be a problem for some people.

“Whether anticipating guests' needs will feel useful or creepy remains to be seen. Those who might be spooked don't have to use the medallion or can limit how much they want to participate,” writes the AP’s Anne D'Innocenzio. 

“In the end, the guests will tell us,” CEO Donald tells D'Innocenzio. “If it doesn't [resonate], it's back to the drawing board.”

Carnival officials say there are protections built into the first-gen devices. 

“Each guest's profile is tied to a security picture, so a crew member can compare a passenger's photo on a portable device. Carnival also says the medallion doesn't contain sensitive information such as the stateroom number, much like a hotel room key,” as well as “additional authentication” that it declined to elaborate on, D'Innocenzio reports

There’s one other feature that makes this “hundreds of millions of dollars” bet a smart one. It will, the NYT’s Barnes tells us, “also power a new, shipwide gambling platform.”

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