AWS for Industries

Technology rewrites the guest experience

John Padgett, Chief Experience and Innovation Officer for Carnival Corporation, has spent the past 15 years working to ensure we all get the most out of our valuable vacation time. With the theme “Technology Rewrites the Guest Experience”, John joined David Peller, Managing Director, Travel and Hospitality, Amazon Web Services (AWS) ‘on stage’ at the WiT Experience Week virtual/physical hybrid event – the first of its kind hosted at the impressive Broadcasting Studio at the iconic Marina Bay Sands, in downtown Singapore. Here are some of the excerpts from their conversation.

David Peller (DP): Undoubtedly, one of the most intriguing tech-related developments in the travel industry in the past five years has been the creation and deployment of the connected guest experience platform and OceanMedallion wearable on ships from Princess Cruises. Tell us a little bit more about the Medallion, and how it’s been received by your passengers.

John Padgett (JP): Vacations are the ideal space to optimize our time – our scarcest resource. Every minute you wait in a line or are otherwise inconvenienced is a minute you can’t enjoy elsewhere. Given that many of us spend months planning for vacations – we want the best experience imaginable while we’re off the clock. Now, innovation – specifically our OCEAN platform – is taking guests there.

With the OCEAN Platform, we’re using IoT to remove friction from the vacation experience and increasing personalization, including TrulyTouchless payment, dynamic wayfinding, shipmate locator and personalized itineraries; it speeds up embarkation; facilitates on-demand service; powers anywhere wagering – even keyless access to your stateroom.

To do that, we’ve created what is fundamentally the first smart city – at sea, on board ships from Princess Cruises.

And it’s all enabled by a small wearable device we call the OceanMedallion.

The Ocean Medallion communicates with our xIoT network – thousands of sensors (~7,000) that recognize guests as they engage in our experiential environments including ship venues, cruise terminals, motor coaches, trains, airports and select ports of call, and provides crew members with information about each guest to help them provide better service.

A ship is the ideal stage for IoT. Onboard our cruise ships you’ll find a lodging, food and beverage, entertainment, recreation, gaming, navigation, banking, transportation, telecommunications, which means the entire guest experience is uniquely within our control and our ability to connect these elements together.

Think about a ship as just a couple of hundred thousand ton mobile device that can stage unlimited experiences in every dimension.  Our Ocean network wraps the ship with a digital platform to enable any and all experiences in a ubiquitous way to the guest.  This eliminates experience engagement challenges, eliminates friction and maximizes engagement.

And because we’ve made the entire experience more personalized and effortless, guests absolutely love it.  Our adoption rate is 99.7 percent with guest feedback, net promoter scores and intent to return at incredibly high levels.

DP: Why did you opt for a wearable vs a mobile device?

JP: Because the universe of mobile devices presents a spider’s web of bad connections, competing protocols, crazy interfaces, and hardware and operating system variations, there’s absolutely no way you can provide a ubiquitous experience to all guests using a mobile device strategy.

The Medallion wearable, on the other hand, is personalized to the guest. You don’t have to charge it or configure it.  There aren’t any settings and no on/off button.

It can be worn as a pendant, on a wristband, in a clip or simply placed in a pocket to provide enhanced services and personalized experiences without guests having to push a button or take any action.

In addition, the Medallion is waterproof, sunproof, sandproof – which are pretty critical elements in the hospitality industry, not to mention that there are still some people refuse to use their device on holiday.

Even though the entire MedallionClass experience involves one of the most advanced combination of technologies, our goal is for our guests to completely forget about it…all they need to do is have it to enjoy an effortless vacation.

DP: I know this level of technology transformation was a tremendous undertaking … can you tell us about the incredible work required involved in equipping these floating cities, as well as the human transformations involved on both the crew and guest side.

JP: Creating a smart city is not for the faint of heart.

During a 10- to 12-day drydock, ships are outfitted with:

  • 72 miles of cable
  • 4,000 sensors
  • 650 readers
  • 500 edge computing devices
  • And more than 4,000 interactive portals

Interestingly enough, though, that was the easiest part.

While everyone loves to talk tech, the biggest part of any digital transformation is human transformation that has to go along with. It’s harder because it involves people.  I like to call it change leadership, and it affects all aspects of your training and service delivery. Those are very, very important and require just as much, if not more focus than the innovation

DP Sounds like there’s a significant amount of data you’re generating…how are you managing the data volume and leveraging those insights?

JP: The OCEAN platform is always learning and getting smarter, and we’re only scratching the surface on its potential.  We’re creating 100M intelligence events a day. The uses of that intelligence become infinite and we’re barely scratching the surface today. The secret is ensuring that the intelligence benefits the guest – and that’s the whole purpose of the Ocean platform.

Guests are not static profiles in a CRM database, so we want to make sure our intelligence is real-time, which is key. We believe perfect intelligence equals the perfect guest experience, and we’re using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to enable this capability.

The system doesn’t just learn what customers want, it informs our crew to deliver more of what our guests want with fewer unwanted interruptions.

We’re creating an entirely new level of intelligence that is continuously being reinvested directly back into that specific guest’s experience.

Instead of providing suggestions or information based on your previous recommendations or what people like you tend to do, the Medallion adapts and evolves to inform you about nearby entertainment opportunities and show times. Its output changes based on your actual actions, rather than your pre-specified preferences. We call this the Guest Genome, and it evolves three to ten times per second. Instead of data-mining your historical preferences, the Guest Genome provides a real-time feedback loop that adjusts to your current situation and preferences.

DP: What role has the Medallion and your OCEAN Platform played in supporting your return to service plans?

JP: What used to be conveniences — like the expedited arrival, touchless payment, contactless embarkation and disembarkation, even having the Medallion unlock their stateroom door – take on even more significance in 2020.

And now, in addition to an effortless cruise, our Medallion technology has allowed us to:

      • Tap historical guest intelligence to understand guest patterns and flows throughout ships
      • Improve guest flows to promote and support physical distancing
      • Optimize venue utilization
      • And make other meaningful operational changes that will help mitigate risk by truly optimizing social distancing and reduce contact

DP: Where do you see these types of technologies most improving both the brand and guest experience in the near future?

JP: Because MedallionClass really does deliver an effortless guest experience, it creates a direct benefit for the brand because our guests realize they can’t get a similar experience anywhere else. That not only generates incredible NPS scores it translates into intent to return – two of the most powerful metrics in business.


DP: How should someone in our audience today be thinking about these types of technologies and how might they pursue deploying a similar solution within their own company or operation?  What might be the first one or two steps you could recommend be taken?

JP:  You have a have a clear vision. And while it will probably seem a bit incongruent, for us, innovation has never been the goal. Innovation has simply been a tool to deliver on strategy.

Technology is normally presumed to replace people and face-to-face connections. But the Medallion does something different. Instead of replacing personal connections between passengers and crew, the technology is being used to turbo charge those connections. Our goal is for technology to disappear from the entire equation and empower next level human interactions.

That is the key — staying true to your principles – which we know in the hospitality industry means keeping the guest in the center of all of your strategic business decisions.

Once you identify what your guests want, think about how technology can help you deliver it to them. In many cases these innovations are cutting-edge and may involve skills your company may not have. If your existing skillset is not up to standard, consider tapping into a wider ecosystem.

DP: Reflecting on our discussion today makes me think of the 2002 Spielberg movie, “Minority Report” where John Anderton – Tom Cruise – was identified and targeted with personalized advertisements as he walked through a shopping mall … Why has it taken us almost 20 years to deliver on this vision and what can we expect over the next 3-5 years?

JP: Changing enterprises is hard. It takes time because innovation of that magnitude requires commitment and resources.

When you don’t have to change, human nature is to keep the status quo. But when you have to fight for your survival, change accelerates.

And so you’re likely to see significant change and innovation in the years ahead due to the pandemic.

But actually, the concept of a digital clone is not foreign to us. The matrix is real. It exists. No longer is it a concept of the future. We’ve achieved it.

When our guests are connected to us, they understand that we’re creating intelligence, and they’re happy to share their data because they realize we’re using it in real time to make their guest experience great.

Initially the pundits told us that guests would not be willing to share their data.

But guests are seeing first-hand how sharing insights about their likes, wants and preferences, both stated and gleaned based on their location, can improve their experience and maximize their vacation time.

The opportunities afforded through troves of guest data that we can re-invest in real time is priceless. Over the long-term, we’ll be able to better anticipate and address guest challenges, as well as continuously improve the guest experience.

Some organizations might totally dismiss the concept of leveraging a connected guest experience platform like OCEAN, but when you break it down, for the per guest cost of a cheeseburger, organizations could dynamically transform their operation and create a truly differentiated experience that guests may soon actually come to expect.

Learn more about AWS Travel and Hospitality as well as watch an overview on the Princess MedallionClass

David Peller

David Peller

David Peller serves as Managing Director, Travel and Hospitality for AWS, the global industry practice with a charter to support customers as they accelerate cloud adoption. Before joining AWS, David held various leadership roles in Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom, in travel and hospitality technology businesses. He has been both an entrepreneur and founder, as well as being part of the launch team of a restaurant business in the UK. He is a qualified Solicitor in the UK, holds a Bachelor in Legal Studies from King’s College, University of London, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Studies from the London College of Law.