Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s Richard Fain

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) wants to be at the forefront of technology in the cruise industry. At an evening event held at a business incubator in the former Brooklyn Naval Yard last week, the company demonstrated some of its projects, including facial recognition for embarkation and a dining concept that has virtual reality screens for walls. RCCL's Excalibur personal digital app for shipboard services was also on display, and cruise editor Tom Stieghorst talked with RCCL chairman Richard Fain about it.

Q: What are some of the benefits of Excalibur?

Richard Fain
Richard Fain

A: Time is more valuable to people than it ever used to be. They treasure their vacations. And when people take a cruise they spend their first days organizing themselves: What do I do then, what reservation do I need to make? And so what we think the digital side of this will help us do is really help people organize themselves, to plan themselves, so that in fact when they get onboard they can go right into their vacation instead of right into organizing their vacation.

Q: That means fewer lines, less friction, as you might say?

A: And frictionless is the key term. It's not that people would like to have fewer queues. It's not that people would like to have things easier to do. They simply expect them.

Q: I heard that going forward, the device that will be used on the ships to activate digital services will be your smartphone?

A: If you think back to our Wow Bands, they were dependent on a wearable, a wristband, and the other thing was that it was a proprietary system. We wrote all our own software for it. So now we've evolved, and we think we ought to change both of those.

Q: How?

A: The advantage of proprietary software is that you get everything you want. It's a lot more expensive, but you get precisely what you want, and for that nanosecond in time you have exactly what you wanted. Now unfortunately, in the next instant it's out of date. And because it's proprietary, it's prohibitively expensive to keep upgrading every day.

So the first thing we decided is we should be using mostly nonproprietary stuff so that, as so-and-so upgrades their systems, ours automatically move up to the next incarnation.

The other change is coming back to the device-dependent. It shows how fast things are changing. A couple of years ago, wearables seemed to be a good way to go, but now there's confusion. So we want to be device-agnostic. You want to use your iPhone? You want to use your Android? You want to use a wearable? You want to use an iPad or other tablet? We'll accommodate any of those things. And if next year the belt buckle becomes the technology of the day, you can use your belt buckle.

Q: Is this designed to attract millennials?

A: People tend to think that only millennials care about technology, and that simply isn't right. Virtually everybody would like to have a hassle-free, frictionless arrival at the ship. While I think the millennials may be a little more insistent on having it, I think everybody will benefit from it. But we all know there are technophobes out there. If you are a total technophobe, then we'll accommodate that, too. One of the aspects of being device-independent is, if you want it on paper, we'll give it to you on paper.

Q: Why hold Sea Beyond, this Brooklyn event?

A: It is a way of bringing together so many disparate areas of technology -- not just digital -- and communicating that to the public and also to our own people. There's a culture in the company that shipbuidling innovation is just a part of who we are and what we do. When it comes to technology, it's important to follow the same pattern. You need ways of energizing the workforce to make sure everybody is pulling together in the same direction. Later in the week, we're bringing up 160 thought leaders from our company from all over the world, and it's really to make sure that they all understand why we think this is so important, that we really think this is an existential requirement of a business like ours.

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