Travel

Princess Cruises’ John Padgett talks technology and creating value

Princess Cruises' John Padgett talks technology and creating value


Princess
Cruises
president John Padgett was credited with leading the development of the MagicBand,
one of the travel industry’s first wearables, when he worked for Disney. 

Similarly,
he drove the creation of Princess’ Ocean Medallion when he was chief
experience and innovation officer at Carnival Corp.

But
he told an audience of travel technologists attending The Phocuswright
Conference in Florida last week that his focus has never been on technology but about
finding new ways to address guest experience. 

“It’s
not about finding a better gimmick, it’s about business strategy,” he
said. “It’s about truly getting to personalization at scale. When people
talk about personalization, they think about putting your name on an email, but
that experience is not unique to you. It doesn’t consider your needs, wants and
desires in real time.”

But
if you do that, he said, you create value. “It’s about the experience that
the technology enables, not about technology. That’s one of the most
misunderstood things.”

Padgett
said more data is captured on a single cruise today than had been created
during most of the existence of the cruise industry. “But capturing a lot
of data doesn’t make you any smarter,” he continued. The key, he said, is
to convert that data into real-time intelligence and action. “That’s what
we’re currently focused on. We’re really good at it but need to become better
at it.”

And
that’s where machine learning and artificial intelligence come in, he said.
“Those technologies accelerate your progression through data, information,
intelligence and action. The key is to get to that action at the right moment
in time.”

Where
traditional customer relationship management models get it wrong, he said, is
that they want to create a profile and then market to the profile.

“They
want to stick you in a box,” he said. “But in travel, every
individual has many personas, based on who they’re traveling with at any point
in time. You’re a much different person when you’re traveling with your
children than when you’re with your husband, or alone or with college
friends.” That, he said, is why it’s critical to get information that reflects
the person in real time.

As
for the nature of innovation, Padgett said that “a lot of times people
think about innovation as a project. They do the project, it’s innovative, and
they think they can check innovation off their list and move on. The way I see
it, the world is very dynamic. Consumers are very dynamic. The market is very
dynamic. Technology is always changing.

“And
you have to have the mindset that you’re constantly aware that you’re never
quite there with innovation in all these aspects and with the brand as a
whole.”

Direct versus travel
advisors

Asked
by interviewer Mitra Sorrells, editor in chief of PhocusWire, whether he
provides incentives to guests who book direct rather than through a travel
advisor, Padgett said he seeks “balance” among channels.

“I
hear about optimization of channels all the time. I don’t worry about that at
all. I worry about maximization of throughput of all the channels,” he
said. “Basically, I want my product and experiences and opportunities to
be available in any way anyone wants to engage with them. If a client wants to
work with a travel advisor, great. If direct or through a loyalty program,
great. It’s all good with me.”

Overtourism and
sustainability

On
the topic of cruise ships contributing to overtourism, Padgett conceded
“that’s a tough one.”

“There
are certainly instances where you see that,” he said. “But overall,
were talking about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of destinations around
the world. So the antithesis is also true. Princess ships call at some South
Pacific islands where cruise ships would represent 90% of their gross domestic
product. You have to think about both extremes, and I think the cruise industry
does.”

But
when it comes to sustainability, he made no concessions.

“From
a sustainability standpoint, if there is any municipality in this country that
could come remotely close to what a cruise ship does, I’d like to see
’em,” he said. “And I’m talking about recycling. I’m talking about
food waste. I’m talking about chemical management. I mean, across the board,
we’re as good as it gets. No one’s perfect, and we’re dealing with massive
machines. Internal combustion is still a thing. But I think that from a
sustainability standpoint, the world has a lot to learn from us.”

A lightning round

To
close the interview, Sorrells asked Padgett some fill-in-the-blank questions:

“If I were running an airline …”

Padgett: “I’d
be relentless, relentless, relentless to get rid of the hassle. It’s a tough
space, an intense space, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to take the
hassle out of the experience.”

“If I were running a hotel …”

Padgett: “…
I’d re-engage with consumers. You can automate any function, but if you’re not
conveying a real experience, then what’s the difference between your brand and
other brands? I travel and stay in a lot of hotels. Who’s engaging with me?
What is their mission and purpose?”

“If I were running an” online travel agency …

Padgett: “I’d sell a lot more Princess cruises!”

Watch the full discussion below.

*This story originally appeared in Travel Weekly.

A Sea Change – Technology & the Cruise Experience – The Phocuswright Conference 2023



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