|CyberShips - Cruising into the 21st Century
Conference speech presented at the Seatrade Asia Pacific Cruise Convention (Singapore, 4-7 December 1996)
By John Kimbrough, CruisePhone Inc. (03-06-97)
The short history of marittime telecomunications
A mere 100 years ago, Marconi trasmitted the first signal without wires.
In 1903, the first ship to send a wireless message was the Lucania. In 1907, the first voice message was heard via radio from a ferry boat operating on the Hudson River in New York.
And just 17 years ago, satellite communication began for the cruise industry with the formation of INMARSAT. Those changes took all of 100 years.
What we have seen in those 100 years is just a blink on the eyelash compared to all that we will see by the year two thousand.
Since 1979 alone, we have seen the arrival of satellite voice, fax and data applications with INMARSAT A and more recently INMARSAT M and B, plus C Band, GSM cellular and more regional satellite systems.
That's a lot in 17 years. But - we ain't seen nothing yet. And the future is much closer than 17 years.
Even today, cruise ships need more than voice, fax and data
Look at what we can do today - what this satellite and digital technology is already allowing us to do on ships.
Today, cruise ship passengers are able to make telephone calls home from the middle of the Pacific merely by picking up their cabin phone and dialing.
And the ship's crew can do the same, not to mention fax comunication and the ability to send megabytes of data flying through the air at speeds that were unheard of just a few years ago.
This has created the opportunity for ships to go "cashless" through the use of multi-purpose magnetic stripe cards by passengers. These cards are used to pay for everything on the ship - gift from the gift shop, chips for the casino, shore tours, drinks from the bar, messages, hair cuts - whatever can be purchased on the ship.
This card is backed-up by a credit amount against the passengers Visa, Master Card, or American Express at a pre-approved amount. And, should the credit limit initially authorized be exceeded by the passenger, via a data link, the credit amount can be instantly extended.
So far, nothing dramatically new. The fact that it can be used to open the cabin door or even identify the person returning to the ship from a shore tour is not that new anymore. And this is all within the past two years.
Technology that was unheard of five years ago has become common place today.
Around the world in an istant
We're always talking about the "next" generation.
Well, take the "x" out of "next" and you have the "net" generation - tomorrow's generation that is computer literate. The generation that has grown up with "the Net" - what some call the information super highway.
It is not just a different way of life. It is a new way of life.
Today's culture, around the world, in profound and fundamental ways, learns, works, plays communicates, shops and creates communities very differently then those of just a few years ago.
This age of computers and the Internet is changing lifestyles around the world. There is not one issue more important to cruise ship marketers and cruise ship builders than understanding that this is not just a new generation, but is a new way of life - and is becoming so the world over.
Marketers need to understand this if they are to design the products and itineraries that will appeal to this new way of life with ships that will allow passengers to bring their lifestyle with them.
Remember just a few years ago, you couldn't find a cruise ship with a television in the cabin. Now you can't find a new ship without them. The same is true of telephones.
Passengers need to vacation with their lifestyle. They need to take their lifestyle with them.
I'm sure all of you are aware of the announcement Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines made just 4 days ago about its commitment to spend one billion dollars to build two new "eagle" class ships.
In making that announcement, Richard Fain, RCCL's chairman said, and I quote, "the new ships will offer passengers a total lifestyle experience". RCCL recognized this need of lifestyle.
So who is this cruise passenger of tomorrow, those that are in reality, here already - this internet generation?
In a way, they are already cruising. It's a different kind of cruising though - it's called cruising the net. And soon, those cruise lines that see that future, will have those net cruisers cruising the seven seas as well.
Already, two year old children are talking the mouse out of their parent's hands to manipulate it through colorful CD-ROM programs. On ships, we now have video games with more and more ships making it easy for their passengers to either bring their own computers or use those on the ship.
And the most unique aspect of all of this is that these things are now part of everyday life - part of one's lifestyle. Just as is the internet.
If you have a computer, you have internet. If you use a computer, you use internet. In fact, it is no longer new technology. It is not even viewed as technology.
It, quite simply, is like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how, you don't forget. And it is all that easy. And it becomes a part of every day life, easily.
So who is the Internet?
Today, more than 7 million North American children under the age of 18 are using the Internet. Around the world, usage is doubling every six months.
Further, over 90% of students at public universities and community colleges have the potential to access the internet either through the school library or at home.
In fact, the Alliance for Converging Technologies estimates this number will reach close to 100% by the 1998 school year. in the US., with the rest of the world not far behind.
This net or "N" Generation is different from its precedessor's in that they are searching for information rather than awaiting it or merely being entertained.
As words like cyberspace, World Wide Web and Internet started entering the world lexicon a few years ago, cyber experts said enterainment would drive the world to the information super highaway - or waterway, which ever the case may be.
And what are most people logging on for - information, communication and research - much more than for entertainment - 82% to gather information and news, 80.5% to use e-mail and 69.1% to conduct research.
In fact, a recent survey indicated that 82% of consumers said they had heard of the internet compared with only 44% last year. Overall, 37 million people in North American over 16 years of age enjoy net access.
They are better educated, have higher incomes than the general population - just like cruise passengers. The average user spends 5.5 hours a week on-line, with males (those hardest to convince to go on a cruise) representing 66% of the net users are the new first time cruisers of tomorrow.
Will travel providers need to appeal to this net generation?
Don't make the mistake of thinking this phenomenon is not important, that is not growing, or that it will not continue to grow at an ever increasing rate.
Other travel industry leaders are already appealing to this new lifestyle. In the airline business alone, new passenger services keep passengers in touch.
The latest news and information is available instantly on TV screens on airplanes. The airlines know that passengers can no longer afford to be out of touch while flying. Being on an airplane is no longer being away from home.
The story here is who's watching it - passengers on board a 767 of Delta Airlines.
The same planes that bring passengers to cruise ships. Ready or not, Fliers soon may grasp yet another umbilical cord to Mother Earth. Just like they must on cruise ships.
Fading fast is an era when passengers could be out of touch with the boss, loved ones and the latest news because you were in a plane or on a ship.
Communication services already common on omost domestic flights - seat phone, ground to air paging and fax services - are killing excuses for being out of the loop.
Delta is also testing electrical outlets in first class seats so fliers can plug laptops in and save their batteries. On Continental, passengers will soon be able to choose up to 24 channels of television.
American Airlines is installing power ports while yet others are testing an interactive entertainment system that will let fliers gamble, play trivia games with other passengers, shop and track the progress of a flight.
And, passengers can receive calls forwarded from a home or office phone - the callers number even appearing on the handset at the passenger's seat.
Most far reaching of all - Delta soon will offer its passengers access to the Internet from an in-seat video system. Now, a passenger with the right software in their lap top can tap the internet by connecting a laptop int a jack on the seat phone while flying at 500 miles per hour at 40,000 feet. Amazing.
Can cruise ship technology be far behind?
While Cruise ship design is producing bigger and grander ships, setting new trends in ship's profiles, dining rooms with grand entrances, main lobbies with multi storied atria, some even including golf courses and tennis courts, this new market - the Net Generation - is not going unnoticed.
On the ships being designed and built today, you can find everything from business centers for the adults to cyber zones for the kids - as well as the adults.
According to one of today's major cruise ship designers, one thing will always lead ship design - and this will always be true - each new design is searching for something different.
Repeating past successes is not acceptable. The traditional is history.
Open eyes, open minds with a view to the future are now at the forefront of today's ship designs. And it is this outlook that helps ensure that tomorrow's ships will service tomorrow's cruise passengers.
Some of the examples we see today are video bars from the Sony Corporation which entertain passengers with over 200 hours of video images.
Also from Sony are Playstations - allowing passengers to play table top games in interactive television booths. Interactive television will grow, allowing passengers to order things such as shore tours, room service, movies, shopping and even more cruises directly from the television in their cabin.
One such company, SeaVision, has developed an interactive television system that while improving passenger services and delivering more entertainment options, will create the opportunity for generating incremental revenue and raising onboard productivity.
Soon, this interactive television will need to provide such "adult" toys as email and Internet access.
The new Disney Cruise company is on the cutting edge of the future, providing a computer and space age technology center for teens, along with the video game arcade, a room no self-respecting cruise ship serving the family market would today be without.
That wasn't the case 6 or 7 years ago. Passenger needs do change, and today are changing, at an aver more rapid pace, just as a ship design must change if they are to convince more people around the world to be come cruise passengers.
The father can not only instantly check the market price of his stocks, but he can also buy and sell stocks; the kids can get the latest homework assignment from their teacher and then use the internet to help do it and mom can check on the house and her father who's in the hospital.
All while on the cruise and without interrupting it. And best of all, they can even share the experiences of the day with family and friends any place around the world - through the internet.
Innovation is the key - just like one ship which is offering what's called a blue screen room where passengers can put themselves into pre-existing movie scenes using the technique everyone's seen in the movie Forest Gump.
It will take innovation, following understanding. Entertainment, information and global communication can no longer be every place but cruise ships.
But as this need grows, innovative ways must be developed to build this new technology into the cruise ships.
As it is now with most of us, we are already feel mired rather then wired. Already, to most of us, using internet takes too much time as it is so slow.
We are experiencing digital rage in this digital age. Speed to most users is now slower than ever - from 300 bits per second moderm in 1982, we are now to 28000 - yet we are slower .
It's like an automobile. While at its invention, it was faster than a horse, the more one used it, the faster one wanted it to go.
The same is true with the net generation. The more it's used, the slower it seems to be because most of us using it don't have enough band width to make it really easty to use and entertaining.
If you work through a university, government agency or high-tech company, you probably do it at ultra fast speed. But if you are like most of us, it's as slow as a river flowing up hill.
So, when cruise ships are being designed with this new N generarion in mind, some issues become critical. First, designers must understand who is using what and why they are using it.
What they will leave at home, and what they will leave home for. From Interactive Television, to email.
From research to entertainment. From the outer space to the Internet. But as I said earlier, if it's there but we can't use it because it is too slow, in reality, it's not there. To make sure it works sure it works, particularly on a ship, the issue will be bandwidth.
Graphics laden presentation for cruising business group, studio quality sound, picture-phone teleconferencing with the envious ones back home, full motion video on demand, browseable and searchable television - they all need broadband connection to make them work at speeds that make them easy to use.
Soon, for successful Internet and Web access, a speed of 2 million bits per second will be needed.
Imagine if you will a cruise passenger taking a video of his day's activities and sending it home over the Internet - in essence, their own private television network - sharing the vacation with those still at home or at work.
I wonder how many cruises that would sell. But, without bandwidth, even from a ship, it won't happen.
Fiber optics or sail into the past
The world is being converted to fiber optics. Fiber opctis is becoming a way of communicating life. The need for speed I mentioned earlier.
Fiber optics carry data at the speed of light, and can provide virtually unlimited bandwidth. A single fiber the size of a human hair can deliver every issue of the Wall Street Journal that's ever been printed within a second. Need more bandwidth? Make more fiber.
Currently, new ships are being wired with fiber optics - for internal, onboard entertainment and information services. But, even these ships are connected to the outside world with the antiquated "twisted-pair" copper wiring. This means that the digital computer connections are analog, narrowband rather than broadband, slow rather than fast.
As someone once described how a ship is wired today to interface with the digital world outside the hull, it's as though the Internet is a torrential ocean of information rushing past us outside the ship's hull, but with twisted pair, analog connections, I'm sticking my head out the porthole with a straw.
The ship needs fiber connection to the outside world to let the data run through it. So, study the Net generation and its trends, design ships to appeal to the needs of this coming generation, and then install the ship with fiber optics for all communication not just on the ship but to and from the ship as well.
You will then be setting sail cybernetically into the 21st century - and you will more than likely be full.