AI is making a splash in the cruise industry, helping companies reduce food waste and maximize onboard efficiencies, and giving customers the ability to enhance their vacation experience through apps and high-tech devices.

Anyone who has taken a cruise knows that food abounds. It’s part of the cruising experience, and there are lots of dining options, including all-you-can eat buffets, and dessert tables with bubbling chocolate volcanoes and carts stacked with mountains of cookies and cakes. Tons of food gets consumed, but tons of it also ends up in the trash.

AI is helping companies such as Royal Caribbean shrink the amount of food that is discarded. That company is looking to reduce food waste across its fleet by 50% by 2025, primarily by using AI to adjust food production in real time. The AI system uses predictive analytics, taking into account historical data and specific demographics of customers. Information such as how much food is put out is literally weighed against how much food is not consumed. Because of health code restrictions, anything that is put out at those buffets, or served, cannot go back into the kitchen and must be discarded. Reducing food waste can save cruise companies millions of dollars annually.

There are other areas where AI is being applied in cruising. For example, it is also shaping the overall cruising experience of Royal Caribbean customers, with an artificial intelligence-driven mobile app that acts as a digital assistant on board, to tailor each person’s experience to their preferences in dining, entertainment and shopping. A customer can simply input their preferences into a high-tech gadget or kiosk, which will provide a customized itinerary throughout the ship.

On the cooler side, Royal Caribbean has a “Bionic Bar” with AI-powered robotic bartenders to prepare and serve drinks. The robotic arms can “create an almost endless combination of cocktails, from classic cosmos to custom-crafted sips designed by you,” according to Royal Caribbean. On the more practical side, AI is being used to chart best courses that avoid bad weather and currents, which stretch fuel and make for a safer journey.

Royal Caribbean’s 2023 Environmental, Social and Governance Report shows how much AI has had an impact, from bow to stern and port to starboard. The report states that although data analysis has been a part of its efficiency innovations over the past 15 years, accessing that data for the purposes of analyzing it and make the necessary adjustments, is akin to a hard rudder turn aboard a heavy ship- it takes a lot of time. But the process is being streamlined, and AI plays the central role, according to the company.

“In Fall 2023, we launched an initiative to take charge of our data by bringing the collection process in house. Using our new open-source platform, we control all data collection and flow, and share it with approved partners when needed. Currently deployed on four ships, the platform collects an average of 50,000 data points per ship including HVAC energy consumption, engine efficiency and freshwater production efficiency. The platform uses AI analytics tools to create a digital twin of our ships’ energy systems, empowering our people and partners with the right data at the right time to make the right decision. We expect to deploy the platform on 28 total ships by the end of Q2 in 2025.”

Virgin Voyages launched in 2021, and it did not take long for that company to evaluate how it could use AI to enhance the customer experience. Virgin Voyages launched at a tough time for the industry, after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was crucial for the company to get out a positive message and increase awareness of the brand. After six weeks of experimentation with chatbots, the company, in collaboration with Slalom, a global management consultancy focused on strategy, technology and business transformation, came up with a version suitable to Virgin Voyages’ goals.

“In just six weeks, this experimentation proved successful, laying the groundwork for a revolutionary new chatbot. Together, Slalom and Virgin Voyages developed Vivi, one of the first generative AI—powered digital humans built on Salesforce,” states Slalom.

“Vivi leverages Salesforce Einstein and Slalom’s generative AI framework to derive information from Virgin Voyages’ internal database. Using semantic knowledge retrieval and model training, Vivi can then respond naturally to customer queries. In fact, customers can talk to Vivi like they talk to a human being. Vivi answers multi-faceted, complex questions knowledgeably and empathetically, mirroring Virgin Voyages’ tone and language to create a more realistic customer service chat experience.

Internally, since response mapping is no longer needed, Vivi also optimizes efficiency and minimizes management costs. Additionally, because Vivi only retrieves information from a private knowledge base, rather than scanning the web, Virgin Voyages can ensure privacy, reduce inaccuracies, and eliminate intellectual property concerns associated with other generative AI technologies.”