Cruise Technology: How It Could Look After COVID-19
Speculations on the Future of Cruise Health and Safety
As cruise lines prepare to reopen, we are starting to see some emerging technology trends that are being considered to reduce the risk of exposure to pathogens and reestablish guest and crew confidence in preserving their health and safety while onboard. Technology is going to play a crucial role in helping cruise lines provide a safer environment onboard ships and rebuilding customer confidence in cruising.
Low-Touch Tech and BYOD
The less physical contact guests and crew have with each other and with potentially contaminated surfaces, the lower the risk for exposure to pathogens. Touchless technology for payment has long been used by cruise lines when swiping guests’ magnetic stripe reader (MSR) cards, and in some cases, cruise lines have utilized radio-frequency identification (RFID), near-field communication (NFC), or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons with wearable tech and mobile applications. Efforts to make these technologies more widespread are already underway and will be ramped up to help protect guests.
Mobile apps and websites are offering an increasing number of options for guests before they even board the ship, and this practice will become standard. The more paperwork, bookings, and purchases guests can complete before the cruise begins, the less of a need there will be for interactions at physical booking areas in cruise terminals and onboard.
During the boarding process, touchless check-in technology will serve to confirm identification, check passports, and verify any required medical forms. This tech will also speed up the boarding process, thereby eliminating crowds and lowering passenger proximity.
Reducing reusable paper onboard will also be a critical step toward surface hygiene. Paperless receipts are an option on many cruises already, but there will be a move to paperless daily newsletters, activity announcements, waivers, food and beverage menus, tent cards, and stateroom compendiums. Messaging on digital displays, interactive TVs, and apps running on personal mobile devices will become the main method of conveying this information. Paperless menus in particular will become ubiquitous, with a stopgap of single-use paper menus.
Passenger-facing mobile apps will play a critical role in creating a low-touch environment. Not only will guests be able to access important information that would typically be printed, but mobile apps will interface with ship technology to allow passengers to sign forms and choose options on their own mobile devices to avoid sharing pens or using fingers to sign on shared digital screens. The trend of controlling cabin environments (i.e., lighting, curtains, temperature, TVs) through passenger apps will continue to grow, especially on luxury-branded cruise ships.
To ensure guest safety, communication with passengers and staff will be even more critical on cruise ships, and technology that enables frequent messaging with a minimal amount of in-person interaction will become more widespread. Reminders about what passengers need to bring, instructions on how they need to wear masks, and highlights of best practices for physical distancing will be incorporated into passenger mobile apps, wearable tech, and digital displays.
Not all guests are familiar or comfortable with using digital tickets, newsletters, or menus. Incentives to choose these lower-risk options will take on an important role as cruise lines begin to sail again. Loyalty points, drinks tickets, and other rewards will encourage passengers to choose behaviors that are more likely to protect their health. Gamification would allow guests to follow best practices for physical behavior as well. For example, if passengers use touch-free hand sanitizer stations while wearing their wristbands, they would be rewarded with safety points to use toward shore excursion special offers.
Operational Safety and Contact Tracing
Wearable tech and guest-facing apps will open up possibilities for contact tracing and sanitation scheduling. Combined with BLE, these technologies allow for a level of monitoring guest movement that has not been fully tapped into yet. Cruise lines will build dashboards, showing passenger movement and locations, to ensure no area of the ship is overpopulated. This will also allow staff to know when they can clean a passenger’s cabin with UV lighting, medical-grade cleaners, or electrostatic foggers. Guests will be notified when it is safe to return to their rooms, on the status of the cleaning, or even about when the last time their air filters were changed.
Wearables and mobile apps will also improve cruise lines’ ability to contact trace and enact rapid-response epidemiological models. Beacons and access points can track an individual device’s MAC address through the ship, allowing operational and medical staff to locate a guest who has tested positive for COVID-19. Passengers who may have had contact with infected guests would then receive a request to take a quick antibody test in their cabins.
Linking medical, menu, and supply chain systems will also open up opportunities for rapid operational responses. Cruise lines with blockchain systems for supply management will trace contaminated food to the guests who ordered it and respond appropriately.
Physical distancing can be encouraged by using better crowd management technology throughout a voyage for limiting group sizes and staggering usage of bottlenecked areas. For example, cruise event management software capabilities can be extended to stagger gangway usage at peak times and to provide better control over often-crowded public spaces onboard.
Hardware suppliers will innovate new ways to keep passengers safe and reduce their risk of contamination. As cruise lines begin to upgrade HVAC systems and ducting to address air quality shipboard, more immediate solutions will be put into place. Cruise companies will deploy far-UVC light bulbs with tracking software that can kill 99.99% of pathogens in less than 20 seconds of exposure while not harming human skin or eyes. Monitoring of this and other ship sanitation will all be fed to dashboards monitored by cruise line staff.
Most cruise lines and port terminals will immediately adopt temperature scanning for everyone boarding a ship. Touchless thermal imaging technology that uses infrared to detect elevated skin temperatures will also begin to be tested on ships at embarkation and for monitoring throughout the cruise.
Technology will be critical in helping cruise lines provide a safer environment onboard and to rebuild customer confidence. Guests will expect higher safety and sanitation precautions, and cruise lines that can do this successfully will earn cruisers’ loyalty. At some point in a post-COVID-19 world, the shipboard operational restrictions needed to reopen cruising will be gradually eliminated. However, the technology enabling healthier and safer cruise vacations for guests and work environments for crew will be here to stay.