Why broadband is vital to growth of the cruise industryNews / OnlineBy Viewpoints | April 17, 2015Share This article was originally published on Executives at the major cruise lines all seem to have one question on their mind."How can we convince people who have never cruised before to try a cruise?"NB: This is an analysis by Faraz Qureshi, general manager at Cruiseline.While cruises have grown in popularity, they are still only a sliver of the vacation market.CLIA reports about 3% of North Americans took a cruise last year and only about 20% have ever taken a cruise.The potential market of cruise rookies is vastly larger than that of experienced cruisers.Additionally, executives know that once rookies experience a cruise, they will come back. Our own research bears this out.We analyzed 14,000 cruise reviews submitted on Cruiseline and discovered two facts. First - new cruisers are easier to please and, on the whole, they rate their cruises higher (especially for service and dining) than any other demographic.Second - in a stunning display of brand loyalty, 81% of first-time cruisers booked their second cruise with same line. But how can the cruise lines convince people to take their first cruise, and why is it so difficult to get them on board in the first place?The marketplaceWhen it comes to shopping for a cruise, customers have a dizzying amount of decisions to make.Let’s say a potential guest wants to go to the Caribbean in June. In just one month, there are 167 itinerary options on 33 different ships.Shoppers can begin to narrow down their options by choosing a line, but even this initial decision can be difficult.A customer that is right for Carnival will likely not be right for Holland America, as each line attracts different demographics.When you add in the difficulty of figuring out what’s included in the cruise fare and choosing between as many as 35 different cabin categories, you can see why first timers often become inflicted with decision paralysis.Many will instead opt for familiar, and simple to book, land-based vacations. Guests simply select a city, hotel, and one of a handful of room choices.Potential cruisers also have many questions about the cruise experience itself. Will I catch the norovirus?Can I fall off the ship?Are cruises cheesy?Will everyone be old/young/loud/boring? These are actual questions we regularly receive.Since the majority of people have never taken a cruise, their perceptions of cruising come from the mainstream media, where the majority of coverage focuses on negative, isolated events.Taking the technological leapSo here is the opportunity for broadband. Instead of allowing the mainstream media to form perceptions, the industry should let their current guests share the real cruise experience.High-speed internet on ships can help show potential cruisers what a cruise is really like, not with a slick marketing video, but by actual friends and family sharing their vacation experience in real-time. Enjoying a scrumptious lobster? Instagram it.Liked the Blue Man Group show? Give it a thumbs up and share it on Facebook.Zip lining in Belize? Upload a video and make your friends jealous. Collectively, these social media posts can show potential customers the broad appeal of a cruise vacation.There is a second benefit for deploying broadband - the technology could also reduce friction in the booking process.For example, cruise rookies often ask us about cabins. How big are they?What are the views like?Are the bathrooms tiny? This is an opportunity to help persuade prospective buyers by showing them real, unaltered photos of their specific cabin.In our own Ship Mate app, we launched an experimental feature that lets users upload cabin photos directly on the app. Today, we receive 100+ real cabin photos every day.The underlying technology that must be in place for this sharing to occur is high-speed broadband.Some cruise lines understand this and are outfitting their newest ships with "boatloads" of bandwidth.Gradual moves in the right directionRoyal Caribbean uses low orbital satellite technology (O3B) originally designed to connect the rest of the world that is not yet online.Carnival is testing a new "smart hybrid" technology promising connections ten times faster than today’s typical internet on ships.This is a great start, but these ships only represent about 2% of the global cruise ship fleet. Hundreds more ships need to be upgraded, and sooner rather than later.Why is this such a great opportunity? Lets look at the broader consumer technology trends: Smart phones have put a computer in everyone's pocket and mobile usage continues to increase.People expect to have high-speed access everywhere, especially millennials. A recent Pew study showed 24% of teens are "online constantly".Wifi is increasingly available, including on flights and in NYC subway stations, causing consumers expectations to increase. TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer report found free in room wifi is a top factor for consumers picking a hotel.People expect to share their vacation experience with their community and followers in real-time, not a week later.On-demand apps such as Uber, Seamless, Hotel Tonight are conditioning people to get what they want, when they want it, simply by clicking a button on an app.Mobile devices are blurring the lines between our professional and personal lives. Today’s professionals monitor their work email on evenings and weekends, and check social media (or their March Madness brackets) during the work day. If these are not good enough reasons to invest in broadband, then perhaps competition will be the catalyst.Viking Ocean Cruises, a new entrant in the market, is offering free wifi included in the base cruise fare.In the next few years, the industry will also see the entrance of the popular Virgin brand. Given the innovation Virgin brought to the flying experience, it would be surprising if similar, cutting-edge technology is not deployed on their ships.The industry doesn’t need Super Bowl ads. Fast and affordable broadband is the key to getting out the real story about cruising.Overjoyed cruisers (especially first timers) will do the marketing for the industry one post at a time, each one letting potential cruisers see what a real cruise experience is like and bridging the gap between perception and reality.New cruisers will start jumping on board, and not just once, but again and again.NB: This is an analysis by Faraz Qureshi, general manager at Cruiseline.NB2:Cruise ships and wifi sign images via Shuttersatock.