Picture the Onboard Gallery ... Digital

March 14, 2008

There are countless companies here at Seatrade looking to get their innovative products on cruise ships. Perhaps we'll see the Robobar or an underwater restaurant sometime in the future. But onto something more pressing for today. Shipboard photography -- nothing digital, everything printed, much of it ultimately trashed -- is laughably outdated and egregiously wasteful. But as one of the major revenue producers, the cruise lines are loath to make any dramatic changes. The ancient system works well enough, so really, why alter it?

Trans-Ocean Photos, who had one of the more popular booths at Seatrade (it helped that the booth had a green screen where you could be superimposed between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at a debate) is trying to convince lines that it's time to move things into the modern era. The company's display showcased a completely digital version of what shipboard photo production could look like -- and will look like sometime this year aboard at least one Norwegian Cruise Line ship (several lines have shown interest in aspects of digital production, but no other deals have been made yet as far as we know).

Here's how it works:

Photographers will still be everywhere snapping shots -- annoying some, pleasing others who want professional-looking photos of themselves on formal night or by the pool. But the physical gallery of printed photos will be replaced with neatly arranged touch-screen displays. (People love looking at photos of people, Trans-Ocean's research found, so they wouldn't dream of nixing a gallery setup altogether.) See a photo you like? Simply hit the screen, input your room card number, and then print out the photo you want, in whatever size/format you want. And when RFID (radio-frequency identification) card swiping arrives onboard -- a technology you may have seen in some form onshore (think Visa) -- accessing and paying for your photos could be as easy as flashing that room card.

If you buy a photo, the service will also allow you to e-mail it to whomever, so you can use the good time you're having to stir up feelings of jealousy in your landlocked friends.

Another feature of the new digitized product might be to include a USB port attached to the gallery screens ... so after you purchase your photos, you can download them to whatever device you've got.

And in a conference that repeatedly brought up the environment, Trans-Ocean noted that the new setup would also result in a dramatic reduction of waste.

Cruise travelers who've sailed with NCL in Hawaii may recall a green screen set up in the terminal, similar to what Trans-Ocean had here at Seatrade. Passengers could customize an embarkation photo with say, a backdrop of their ship in Hawaii. As of now, however, there are no plans to add the green screen onboard. Reps told us that the loud green color would clash with onboard decor.

With everything digital, guests would only print what they want. It would save the lines money on photo paper (where the policy now is to print out basically everything) and benefit the environment, eliminating the need to dispose of high-density photo paper.

Not all of the arrangement, of course, is designed to benefit the customer.

Cruise lines can include customized ads (for shore excursions, jewelry sales) on the flat-screen gallery displays. And one of Trans-Ocean's selling points is that its service "extends the vacation." Digitizing the photo archives will help your line track you down -- on say the one-year anniversary of your cruise -- and send you an e-card suggesting that you rekindle the excitement of the open seas with another voyage. It's built-in marketing. And facial recognition -- which we're certain will find its way onboard in the near future -- may allow lines to take your photos, recognize you immediately, pull up your file, and determine a specific type of advertising that would be most effective for you ... targeting customers while they smile for the camera. Yikes!

Look out later this year for Trans-Ocean's digital photo gallery onboard a still-to-be-determined NCL ship.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor