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Q&A: What Does the Vacation of the Future Look Like?

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In travel, technological advances have manifested in countless ways – from shopping for airfares and hotels to wayfinding in a foreign city using a handheld device. But does technology always enhance the experience of travel? How do we make sure that the unexpected or unplanned diversions that add special memories to our vacation can still unfold unimpeded? Does innovation require that we find a new paradigm for serendipity?

Carnival Corporation is betting on the travel innovations consumers will benefit from most in the future. The company believes the key is rethinking how experiences are staged with technology systems that operate behind the scenes. In November 2017, Princess Cruises, one of Carnival Corporation's nine cruise lines, introduced MedallionClass Vacations, which leverages a guest experience platform to streamline the vacation experience, in both tangible and imperceptible ways. The platform uses the quarter-sized OceanMedallion wearable device to not only access your experiences but ensure the experiences are delivered in a more personal way, such as menus that accommodate food allergies, a waiter wishing you a happy birthday, or the ability to order a drink or snack from just about anywhere on board.

To hear about the vacation of the future, I spoke with Carnival Corporation's chief experience and innovation officer, John Padgett. Before joining Carnival Corporation, Padgett was the principal visionary, strategist and developer of The Walt Disney Co.'s virtual ride queuing system, FastPass+, along with MagicBand, a wearable device that connects attendees with information about rides, restaurants and park photographers.

Learn more about Carnival Corporation's MedallionClass Vacations.

Updated August 7, 2019

Technology's Impact?

MedallionClass Cruising On Princess Cruises (photo via Princess Cruises)

*What are some big technological innovations that impact the way we vacation today?

I still believe one of the world's best vacation innovations at-scale is Disney's Magical Express, an integrated arrival experience. You walk right past baggage claim, and themed transportation is sequenced to your arrival at the airport curb, you're entertained while en route to your resort, luggage automatically shows up in your resort room and on your return home, you leave your luggage at the hotel and pick it up at your home airport. That was not a technology innovation. It was an experience innovation. Tremendous technology goes into aligning guests, flights, transportation, luggage and resort rooms, but that is not the point. An experience innovation is enabled by technology, but the technology is not the innovation.*

So, broadly, the overall arrival experience from home all the way to your ultimate destination – without any lines, hassles or frustrations – is amazingly important. Until the friction is removed from the physical world, you run the risk of people balking at vacations because of the sheer logistics and complications associated with travel.

Disney's MagicBand was also game changing; it still is. People think it's about the band, but it's not about the band. It's about creating a holistic vacation experience that doesn't require guests to have tickets, key cards, credit cards and vouchers to get through a vacation. It was about making all the complication go away to allow the guest to remain focused on enjoying their experience.

Many "digital innovations" like mobile check-in are not really innovations. It is just the transition of a process to a different time or place, but it is still a check-in. An innovation would be elimination of the check-in altogether. In the Magical Express example, baggage claim was eliminated from the guest experience, which is the innovation.

At Carnival Corporation, our focus is "GuestCentricityTM" and experience innovation. If technology exists to innovate the experience, we will use it. If it doesn't, we will invent it. The mission is to maximize the guest experience, not to get excited about technology.

What smart technology can travelers look forward to?

I suspect it's largely what you will experience on MedallionClass ships. Experience innovations will increasingly eliminate transactions and increase experience delivery personalization. Concierge level service will be democratized. In my view, the future vacation will be increasingly personalized, increasingly customized, increasingly simplified, allowing guests to remain more immersed and engaged in the experience itself whether that is dining, entertainment, recreation or a shore excursion. Innovation enabled by technology will expose broader audiences to richer experiences at higher service levels at lower price points everywhere in the world in digital, physical and fused experience dimensions.

One of the ironies of the travel industry is that everyone talks tech. If any industry should understand that creating experiences is what creates value for guests, shareholders and stakeholders, it would be the travel industry. However, all too often, travel industry players emphasize tech as a point of differentiation and then compare "product features." A true experience is individual, emotionally engaging, and alters your perspective on life and how you use your time and how you interact with people. So creating a personalized, customized and simplified experience for each and every guest is our ultimate quest to create value for our guests by making the most of their vacation time.

Are Traditional Methods of Info Gathering Disappearing?

Will technology replace guidebooks?

Most travel guidebooks are available online or in an app, eliminating the need to carry a hard copy or even a map. What's the next frontier for travel guidance on vacation?

Travel guidance is all about having better information to make decisions that allow you to maximize your experience with your limited vacation time. MedallionClass Vacations are based on a concept we call "experience intelligence." What that is, is using contextual information from the guest, whether it is sourced from digital, physical or human interactions, to empower the creation of the guest's current experience in real time. Some people call that "artificial intelligence," some people call it "big data." We call it "experience intelligence" because information is used to maximize your experience in real-time, and not necessarily to sell you something in the future.

As it relates specifically to maps and wayfinding, we're integrating navigational wayfinding with any experience you may select. If you selected that experience, integrated in that is the contextual information to navigate to that experience. This is an example of maintaining a Guestcentric view. Historically there's been a functional view – book a reservation, purchase an excursion, get a map, read instructions. Now, when we're manifesting an experience around a guest, everything the guest needs to ultimately experience is wrapped around them. What I think you'll see is well beyond anything that is on the market today as it relates to travel guides.

Are you creating content, and by content we mean it could be a map, a phone number for a restaurant, a story in a newspaper, guidebook, YouTube video or magazine, for all the destinations reached by your ships?

Absolutely ... our strategy engages guests in original content that authentically represents an actual experience – whether a guest is at their home, on a plane or on our ships. Our media model, when you step back, is all about encouraging the world to go on vacation, and expand the market for cruising. We're doing that by increasing the awareness of the incredible diversity of experiences at incredible values associated with cruising to the world. Our original content media portfolio – OceanView – continues to grow in breadth and diversity with broadcast and digital distribution.

In Skagway, Alaska, there are many shore excursions you can take, including a wonderful hike from the port up to a beautiful lake on a public trail – at no charge. Is that going to be part of the Medallion experience?

I'm glad you hit on that. I actually know that specific hike, and if that's what you want, absolutely. Carnival Corporation is a portfolio of vacation experiences with ships, trains, lodges, islands and ports all being key components in staging authentic and immersive guest experiences. We take you to Skagway because there is a purpose for it to be there in your overall experience. Skagway is about the intersection of nature, adventure and commerce, and the MedallionClass experience will enable and amplify the Skagway experience.

Creating Seamless Experiences

Princess Cruises' OceanMedallion Transforms Cruising (via Princess Cruises)

How can a proprietary platform be pulled further into third-party application – such as easing my trip through the airport en route to start of the vacation, or at the pottery shop in Tuscany where I want to buy something but it's miles from a cruise ship or a hotel where I'm staying post cruise? Or will these innovations create "islands" of convenience amid "oceans" of friction?

I feel cruise lines and land-based destinations are approaching limits to experience capabilities until there is a macro move to platform-based experience enablement. When you switch the paradigm to enabling all experiences via a unified platform, one that sits above the traditional reservation and property management systems, you can take complexity out of the experience. This is what I call horizontal experience innovation that seamlessly cuts across all conventional "lines of business" such as lodging, food and beverage, retail, entertainment and recreation. The horizontal experience innovation helps eliminate the guest learning curve and experience gaps associated with guests engaging – in different components of the overall experience – ultimately creating a holistic experience that feels more cohesive and valuable.

A vacation experience should not be a continuous series of highs and lows: logistics-transaction-experience, logistics-transaction-experience. Everything should be accretive to the overall guest experience with an experience that has the feel of a story arch.

Let's use Apple and BlackBerry. A BlackBerry was the ultimate – amazingly functional, high market penetration – the apex of texting efficiency – people were seemingly addicted to their "CrackBerry" – and no one thought they could leave it behind. But as soon as we touched our first iPhone and saw how our overall experience was improved across everything we do in our daily lives and the user interaction was no longer defined by texting speed but an overall experience, the BlackBerry immediately felt outdated and inferior. An experience platform-based vacation that facilitates continuous engagement in a manner that is more personalized, customized and friction-free should make a transaction-based experience feel "last generation."

When we focus on a holistic guest experience, that's the guest in their home, in their transportation, on the airplane, through the airport, onto the motor coach, onto the ship, into their destination, etc. From a guest experience standpoint, they are on a "cruise vacation," so we need to be agnostic to the business operating model. A guest does not care, they just want to consume amazing experiences.

For example, on the ships, virtually all spas are operated by third parties. But from a guest standpoint, the fact that there's a third-party operator on the ship shouldn't make any difference as it relates to the guest's ability to engage in that experience. There shouldn't be a separate reservation, scheduling or sign-up sheets that introduce complication in a guest's mind. The complications exist due to an operation-centric orientation versus guest-centric orientation. We want to make sure all our operations wrap around the guest.


Interested in experiencing MedallionClass cruising on Princess? Currently, Caribbean Princess, Royal Princess, Crown Princess and Regal Princess are offering OceanMedallion. Sky Princess, the line’s newest vessel (October 12), will be MedallionClass equipped upon its debut. In 2020, additions will include Ruby Princess (January 27), Grand Princess (March 29), Enchanted Princess (June 15), Emerald Princess (August 16), Coral Princess (October 16) and Island Princess (December 20).


Curious to learn more about MedallionClass cruising on Princess Cruises? Check out Cruise Critic's latest feature and video releases:

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