Just as Princess aims to personalize the onboard experience to unmatched levels using Ocean Medallion, Holland America Line is aiming to personalize the destination experience with its new onboard Explorations Central (EXC).
EXC's hub will be located in the Crow's Nest, providing pax an onboard venue for gathering information about upcoming ports.
It's a logical follow up to HAL’s partnership with Utrip, launched last year. The Utrip platform on the HAL website delivers personalized content about destinations, as supplied by AFAR Media. EXC extends that personalization experience, enabling further research opportunities onboard.
When Holland America Line first made the announcement about EXC in November, it sounded promising, but it wasn't until we saw the mock up in the Crow's Nest onboard Koningsdam this month that we understood the depth of Holland's commitment.
Bill Prince, VP of Entertainment Enrichment walked Cruise Week through the renderings.
"Destinations are a huge part of who we are," he said. "So we looked for ways to uniquely enhance the experience. As we wanted to have an experience on the ship that helps with that discovery, we are building a world-class physical manifestation of the discovery of the ports to which we sail."
EXC will be on all of the larger ships (in terms of age, from the Zuiderdam, built in 2002, and newer). "The bulk of the fleet will have EXC by the early part of 2019," said Prince. "The first will be on Westerdam in May."
Personalized Service & Future Cruises
Pointing to the service counter, Prince noted: "This is where our EXC team is going to be available from early in the morning until the middle of the evening to address any questions you have about where you'd like to go.
Guests can also make decisions based on knowledge gained from EXC Guides. "We're going to sell what we call EXC Tours, formerly known as shore excursions, from this service counter," said Prince.
He also reported the Future Cruise program [commissionable] will be moved into this space: "We're happy to get them on their next cruise right there in this space; we're getting them excited about it here."
A series of "discovery tables" will be located throughout the space. "What these tables do is feature curated stories around every port," said Prince. "It's about things you may not know about that are interesting to a casual traveller."
There will be several hundred such stories, covering every itinerary HAL sails.
Digital EXC screens will show stories about the destinations, as well as arrival date, the language, the currency, the weather forecast, and how things are going to unfold in the next port. EXC Talks will teach some of the local customs and features of each port of call.
Most importantly, customers are not losing the best aspects of the Crow's Nest.
There are still going to be the gorgeous views; there's still going to be the partnership with the New York Times, where pax can sit at a terminal and delve into archives online or do the crossword puzzle. The coffee bar is being expanded and moved into the center of the room.
Another comfortable aspect, the library, remains, but books in the future will be more destination-oriented as opposed to a broad choice of literature.
Tools For Exploration
In a sense, EXC is similar to what Holland America has done for years with its enrichment program, in which destination specialists spoke about upcoming ports, but now it's going to be supplemented with books, videos, and other tools.
The EXC experience is multifaceted, extending well beyond the Crow's Nest. As one example, through EXC Encounters, local cultural representatives will come on board before the ship reaches the next destination and share cultural traditions. Examples include lei making on the pool deck, steel drum lessons in the Main stage theatre and local cooking demonstrations in America’s Test Kitchen.
HAL President Orlando Ashford summed up the EXC experience neatly: "EXC will profoundly change how our guests are immersed in the history, culture, and cuisine of the places we visit."