Travel insights from Travel Weekly

A New Feature at CruiseWorld: TW Tech Talks

"The impact of technology in all of our lives today simply cannot be overstated," said Luke Gibson, director of product for Trisept Solutions and VAX VacationAccess.

Gibson was speaking on stage at CruiseWorld this week, introducing a new facet of the show: TW Tech Talks.

Tech Talks was added to the CruiseWorld lineup, Gibson said, because of the pervasive nature of new and evolving technology. Travel execs were invited on stage at the conference to discuss how their brands are investing in new technology, and how agents can harness that technology to grow their own businesses.

VAX VacationAccess launched in 2000, and to put that into perspective, Gibson offered a snapshot of what technology looked like 20 years ago: the VHS format ruled in the home-entertainment realm and the first iPod (which just played music, offline) had not yet debuted.

The world has come a long way in that time, and so has the travel industry, Gibson said. Companies like Trisept are investing a good deal of money in the industry, especially in agent-facing technology that will help strengthen their businesses; for instance, he pointed to Trisept's Compass, a resource center full of curated content at agents' disposal.

Gibson on Thursday welcomed on stage Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, and Dondra Ritzenthaler, who holds the same position at Celebrity Cruises, to discuss how their brands are innovating through technology.

Investing in agent-facing technology is important because it helps agents (and, in turn, suppliers) be profitable, Freed said, but she emphasized that Royal Caribbean never wants to lose the human touch.

"You need to know the high tech, but you also need to have the high touch," she said.

Ritzenthaler said cruise lines have invested "millions" in agent-facing technology, like marketing hubs and booking engines. The tools help boost agents' efficiency; for instance, an e-quote tool enables agents to send clients a quote with a personalized itinerary. Those personalized quotes are opened 32% more than regular quotes, she said.

Customer experience is also at the forefront for Royal Caribbean brands. In the new Terminal A at PortMiami, Freed said everything is designed to make the guest's trip from land to ship quick and easy. Instead of check-in stations, customers are encouraged to check in online via Royal's app and enter their credit card and passport information early; passenger screening technology is also high tech and automated to make it go faster.

Boarding, she said, "is going to be a pretty seamless, frictionless experience."

Ritzenthaler encouraged agents to tell their clients about the new process so they can complete the necessary components before traveling, ensuring they will benefit from the new experience.

On Friday, Gibson again took to the stage to speak with Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales at Norwegian Cruise Line.

When it comes to technology, Olivere said, "we're very committed to investing in the travel agency channel."

She pointed to Norwegian Central, which houses a booking engine, marketing capabilities and Norwegian's agent education program, NCL University, all available in one place.

Gibson asked Olivere what kind of technology agents need most.

"I think what the agents are looking for, a lot of it we have," she said. "I think one of the things, that if I could recommend to you, is to make sure you really understand all the technology that we already have, because frankly it's underutilized."

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