On the banks of the Adriatic sea, with views across the bay to neighbouring Italy, you can’t get a much better location than Split in Croatia. So, when I found out that Interferry would be held there this year, I was only too happy to volunteer to attend. Of course, the fact that Interferry is also the event for the ferry industry, meant great networking and the chance to hear about the industry’s challenges.
AI, robotics and new thinking
AI was a theme that ran right through the conference, with many speakers claiming it is the way forward and needs to be adopted by ferry companies. I couldn’t agree more, as AI truly does open up a number of rather unique opportunities. However, I believe that one of the biggest stumbling blocks is knowing how and when to apply it. Companies shouldn’t be just using AI for the sake of AI, they should instead be evaluating their own challenges, those of their customers, and determine whether AI could make a difference to any of those. My colleague, Ian Richardson, gathered a few great examples of AI use at the recent World Summit AI, which you can learn about from his blog post.
All that aside, AI does have a role to play for the ferry industry and we will see that increase. David Rowan of Wired made that point, saying that the ferry industry needs to wake up, shake up, and start looking at the wider picture, i.e. the large topics being discussed across every industry right now. His presentation was very much focused on changing mindsets and he has a great point. The ferry experience is no longer just about getting from a to b, the industry should be considering how new technology can enhance the customer journey. By improving on board experience and really engaging each passenger on a very personal level, they are much more likely to travel by ferry again next time.
The customer journey was also discussed in terms of how to make it more unified. Travel has become so much more fragmented due to a number of factors, including the demise of travel agencies, and the wide range of options for getting from a to b, sometimes via c and d. The result: multiple silos and a disjointed experience.
An EU Directive is currently under discussion, which seeks to unify the different transport methods, making for a more holistic journey experience, regardless of how many modes of transport are used in one trip. This has great potential, but I imagine it will take a considerable amount of effort and planning before it can take effect.
Socialising and Mobile Comms
Social media of course made an appearance too with some interesting discussions around why ferry companies should use social and how to use it effectively. One thing that struck a chord is that consumers don’t trust brands anymore, it is all about people. On the one hand that means a bad review on social media can be detrimental, but if handled well and quickly, that really helps you keep credibility. At the same time of course, a good review or someone sharing things from a great experience, really leverages your brand much better than you could yourself. Therefore, enabling consumers to post whilst on board can be really beneficial, but that of course relies on connectivity.
We all know that connectivity is one of the biggest challenges for ferries and cruise ships alike. Moving across oceans, you can naturally not guarantee constant and reliable connectivity. However, consumers are now expecting constant connectivity and often don’t consider the practical elements of this. There is a balancing act of ensuring the best connectivity possible but at the same time managing expectations and educating passengers that connectivity will be more reliable at certain points in the journey.
Are you secure?
Security is a massive topic of conversation…always. Even more so as we become more and more connected and especially since a number of very high profile cyber attacks. Too many companies across all sectors still ignore the security risks and adopt a “won’t be me” sort of attitude.
The very last session at InterFerry was about the risks of cyber attack and it really struck a chord with the entire audience. In fact, as the presenter talked he put a USB key into his laptop and we could actually see a hack happening in real time on the screen, and the whole audience audibly gasped as they realised.
If you haven’t already had an audit take place to check your systems, I strongly urge you to do so. Companies, such as our sister company, Cribb, can really make a massive difference to evaluating your processes and protocols and ultimately keeping you secure.
A worthwhile trip
Aside from the beautiful views and fine food, I’m really glad I went. It was an extremely worthwhile event with some interesting discussions around a plethora of subjects. I also had the opportunity of meeting a great deal of people, all of whom were very receptive to ICE and what we do for the travel industry as a whole. I will definitely be packing my bag for next year’s event.