Princess Cruises kicked off the year in grand fashion by gamifying the cruise industry with a quarter-sized wearable pendant.

Dubbed the Ocean Medallion, the next-level platform technology is an engagement method and marketing ploy toward elevating the guest experience and keeping the brand in shipshape.

The innovation tactic was the latest in a series of IoT installations designed to help guests get the most out of their vacations; the moves are set on shaping new ways guests interact on ships—specifically among millennials—who have a perception of placing more value on personalization, customization and simplicity.

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest leisure travel brand and the parent company of Princess Cruises, among nine other cruise lines, is positioning itself with a boatload of marketing strategies to leverage the growing global demand for cruising, which grew 68 percent over the decade through 2014, according to a 2015 report by trade group Cruise Lines International Association.

The cutthroat hospitality industry is always in search of new ways to cater to younger, more tech-savvy consumers and travelers—especially since less than 4 percent of North Americans cruise each year—and the Ocean Medallion from Princess Cruises, which provides personalization through capabilities like streaming analytics, contextual awareness and machine learning, proves that positioning themselves with digital natives is the way the go.

Gordon Ho, senior vice president and head of global marketing for Princess Cruises, joined [a]listdaily to share how they are raising awareness of cruising and tapping into travelers with technology.


How is Princess Cruises catering to maturing millennial travelers who have common misconceptions about cruises? What is your marketing strategy toward this demographic?

The most influential way to convert someone to try a cruise is through word-of-mouth. We work with a variety of influencers, mostly new to cruise, to tell the story authentically and to their trusted audience—such as our work with Cat Greenleaf from New York’s The Stoop for a full series in Cat’s First Cruise.

Carnival Cruise Line also has been using Instagram influencer Zach King with a number of new 360-degree experiences. What is Princess Cruises doing with influencers today? How do you gauge the success of your influencer activations?

We value influencer partnerships as a way to introduce new cruisers to the authentic cruise experience. We work with a diverse group of influencers year-round, including YouTube creators, Instagrammers and bloggers. For example, we recently wrapped a series of Instagram takeovers with notable foodies, including Recipe Girl and Let Me Eat Cake, that showcased must-try dishes both onboard, and in the destinations we sail. We measure the success of our influencer activations through lift in brand awareness and sentiment, website referrals and social engagements. And our favorite measure of success is when a guest books a Princess vacation after seeing her favorite blogger’s adventures on a cruise. And, we know it’s working as referrals and word-of-mouth continue to be the top source for driving new to cruise.

How are you marketing to combat the recent downward trend in attracting new-to-cruise guests on their first vacation at sea?     

I would disagree that there’s a downward trend; our data supports that cruising continues to be the fastest-growing vacation category globally, and new-to-cruise is a big reason for this growth. Again, I think the best way to drive first timers is through positive stories through trusted sources. For example, we know that people want to spend more time experiencing the local cultures, people and cuisines of the ports we visit—so we launched ‘More Ashore’ where we stay later in ports (at least till 9 p.m.) or overnight across many destinations so that guests can experience what the port city has to offer. And with the launch of our Ocean Medallion platform, we can provide better personalized invitations to activities and shore excursions that they will love.

Princess Cruises announced a fourth ship to debut Medallion Class Ocean Vacations
Princess Cruises announced a fourth ship to debut Medallion Class Ocean Vacations

Do you believe cruising is growing faster than land-based vacations? If so, why?

Yes. A 2015 report from the United Nations World Travel Organization shows growth in the cruise market between 2004 and 2014 as percentage-wise the fastest growing segment of the global vacation industry, outpacing land-based vacations by 23 percent. In 2016, nearly 25 million people worldwide are expected to go on a cruise vacation. Why do I think it’s growing?  It’s easy—it’s a great value, and there’s variety and something for everyone. People don’t have a lot of time, but they want to see and do a lot; with cruising, they can visit many ports on one itinerary, sleeping while they get to the next port/adventure. Those traveling with family and friends can find something for everyone—someone wants to try local eats, but the family also has a picky eater—no worries. One person wants to relax and rejuvenate while another wants activities like entertainment, gambling, shopping—we have it all.

How are you bracing for the impact of virtual reality and “virtual tourism” potentially impacting business? On the flipside, how are you using the immersive technology for marketing purposes to connect with consumers?

Virtual reality is actually a great way to better sample cruising and to help debunk the myths of cruising by showing people what it’s really like onboard. That they won’t be bored, that there’s lots of open spaces and comfortable staterooms. We’re using drones, VR and 360-degree footage to showcase Princess moments of family, adventure, relaxation and more in key destinations around the world.

Looking at the current marketing technology landscape and all that is currently available, what sort of tech and services do you think marketers are lacking?

It’s not just about technology, because having the right tools and data won’t go far without the right people. The key is to have the right balance of resources so you’re always able to be continually testing, optimizing and learning.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan