Man overboard! What a cruise ship taught me about innovation and failure

It was a trip that should have left me relaxed and refreshed. Instead, it left me feeling like Robinson Crusoe stranded on a desert island. Well, reaching the island was the plan when I boarded the ship for a family cruise to the sunny Portuguese Islands. The seas were so choppy that we never made it to the islands.

Portuguese Islands — We never made it there …

When you’re stuck on a cruise ship in poor weather conditions, you have to find ways to entertain yourself indoors. Easier said than done with the extremely high price of internet access.

In a typical sitcom, my family would have rediscovered the pleasures of the disconnected life — taking the time to smell the roses. In reality, a crowded cruise ship doesn’t have a whole lot of roses to smell.

My wife and I found ourselves trying to keep the kids occupied with simple games. Of course I love quality time with my family. But if you are ever faced with the urge to romanticise the internet-free days of your youth, I recommend you play 30 games of tic tac toe in a row with two small children in a confined space.

Tic-Tac-Toe — Give me a High .. Give me a Low ..

It wasn’t just the repetition that got to me. From booking to boarding to the end of the trip, I couldn’t help but think of all the missed opportunities for digital engagement throughout the entire passenger experience.

There’s no such thing as a disconnected traveller

Is it still acceptable for a service provider in the travel and tourism industry to ignore the internet? Maybe if you’re in a commune in the middle of Nepal and your guests want to disconnect. Otherwise, the internet is part of holiday-goers’ daily lives — whether it’s to check email, share snaps, research where to eat and stay, or escape for a few hours by downloading a new e-book.

Providing reliable connectivity isn’t always easy, particularly on ships or planes, but some companies are getting it done. Thomson Airways’ cabin crew come armed with iPad Minis to offer passengers a superior flight experience. And many cruise liners are upping the game on high-speed, cost effective Wi-Fi coverage.

Call it magic

As the cruise wore on, I found myself daydreaming of how much less chaotic dinnertimes would be if I could let my restless kids skip the queues with the press of a button. How different would it have been if I’d been issued a single RFID/NFC enabled device at the start, with everything I needed to fast-track the bureaucracy and enjoy the trip?

Just look at how Disney has perfected the art of going to one of theme parks through its magic bands. From paying and making reservations, to keeping track of the kids among 2 000-plus passengers, imagine how much more seamless and enjoyable wearables could make the average cruise experience.

It’s sink or swim

Like the tidal wave in the pool on the top deck of the cruise ship during the bad weather, the tourism industry is in a state of change. With millennials and Gen-Z emerging, companies must force themselves to re-imagine their full customer experience or risk being fed to the sharks.

What sounds more appealing? A chocolate on the pillow or the ability to use VR technology to plan an excursion from the comfort of a hotel room? Perhaps the pain of being unable to set foot on the Portuguese Islands would have been made easier if I’d had a virtual balcony in my cabin.

Then there’s the potential of robotics. On the Costa Diadema, passengers are greeted by a robot named Pepper, which can offer them information and recommendations in three languages.

The good news is that MSC Cruises is partnering with Samsung to provide smart tech. So, dear connected would-be cruisers, it might not be time to abandon ship just yet.

What kinds of technology-enabled services do you look for when planning your holidays?