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Company: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Event: Sea Beyond Objectives: Solidify RCL's position as an innovator and visionary in the competitive cruise-line industry. Strategy: Host a tech-infused media event that garners substantial press coverage and social-media mentions. Tactics: Create the three-day Sea Beyond experience at the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Duggal Greenhouse. Offer tech influencers and media reps a comprehensive and engaging look at how RCL uses cutting-edge technologies to enhance passengers' experiences. Results: Attracted more than 600 attendees and immersed them in the brand for a full hour and a half, generating more than 1,000 media posts and 58 placements in print and online publications. Achieved 538.3 million media impressions and an engagement rate of more than 10 percent, six times the industry average. Creative/Production Agency: Jack Morton Worldwide Inc., www.jackmorton.com Budget: $6 million or more

photos: Nathan Dale Studios LLC
Cruise Control
To anchor its reputation as the innovative whale of the industry, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. produces a tech-rich media extravaganza that nets more than 530 million print, online, and social-media impressions and achieves an engagement rate six times higher than the industry benchmark. By Ben Barclay
The Seven Seas are becoming a crowded place, one in which maritime companies must constantly innovate or risk being left in the wake of more seaworthy competitors. This is particularly true for the cruise-line industry, whose consumers are expecting more technology, more personalized experiences, and more jaw-dropping entertainment.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL), the second largest cruise corporation in the world, has worked hard to position itself as the cruise experience innovator, laying claim to many "first at seas" offerings onboard its ships, including a rock-climbing wall, an ice-skating rink, and a robotic bartender. However, in 2017, rival Carnival Corp. made waves at the International Consumer Electronics Show by unveiling its Ocean Medallion, a new technology platform that it promised would offer unprecedented customization of passengers' cruise experiences. RCL decided to answer Carnival's splash in the pond with a tsunami of its own that would clearly reestablish it as the indisputable thought leader of the cruise-line industry.

"The pace of change is relentless – and so are we," says Richard Fain, RCL's chairman and CEO. "We are harnessing a range of technologies to enhance every face of our business, every minute of our guests' vacations, and every inch of the ships we build." RCL just needed to find a foghorn loud enough to broadcast that message to its tech-enthused consumers who may have been distracted by Carnival's shiny trinket. So the cruise line set out to create another industry first: a media extravaganza that would convert a boatload of tech influencers, personalities, and media reps into a teeming school of brand enthusiasts who would amplify the company's high-tech innovations and offerings by publishing articles and pushing videos and social-media content out to their audiences.

RCL knew from the outset that a traditional press event featuring a fleet of C-suite executives preaching its attributes would not energize this already seasick group of cynics that tends to treat every "next big thing" with a healthy dose of skepticism. Instead, the cruising company sought to pull off a spectacle that would make "Titanic" seem like an indie film. And to ensure the media event didn't hit any icebergs, RCL reached out to Jack Morton Worldwide Inc. to helm the affair. "The Royal team came to Jack Morton with one major request: bring all of its technology to life in an environment that makes the guests feel like they are on an actual cruise ship," says Jim Cavanaugh, senior vice president and managing director at Jack Morton. "Plus, we had to make the experience authentic, even though some of Royal's innovations were still in the development phase."

Together, the two firms dreamed up a tech-centric experience to introduce attendees to "the new, the next, and the never before" RCL technologies at a media event aptly named Sea Beyond. "Every year, millions of guests are entrusting us with something very precious: their vacation time," Fain says. "To merit that trust, we work to surpass guests' expectations at every opportunity, from planning their trips to boarding our ships, whether on sea days or shore excursions, and in every dining, recreation, and entertainment venue. Sea Beyond was a preview of how we are bringing those aspirations to life in a stem-to-stern transformation of our entire company."

Recognizing that taking hundreds of media members on a full-blown cruise was probably a bit overboard, RCL and Jack Morton decided the best way forward was to create a cruise-like experience that never left dry land – except for a planned activity to transport attendees to and from the event. But selecting the optimal shore-bound venue was no easy task. "We needed a venue in which we had pretty much full control," Cavanaugh says. "The space needed to be large enough to house all the tech experiences we would be offering, and the ceilings needed to be high enough and strong enough for some large structures that would be built inside." The site also needed to be in proximity of the ocean, the company's natural habitat, as well as easily accessible to a high volume of tech media and influencers. In the end, RCL and Jack Morton settled on the Duggal Greenhouse in New York's Brooklyn Navy Yard. With 35,000 square feet of uninterrupted space and a ceiling that could handle a 12-ton load, the site could accommodate RCL's oceanic vision.

In the ensuing months, RCL and Jack Morton developed a plan that would both introduce attendees to the range of RCL's offerings and immerse them in a story-doing event that mimicked a passenger experience on one of its ships of the future, with a particular focus on how its technologies deliver an unparalleled personalized vacation. The final schedule was a three-day, eight-event affair that would run an average of 75 influencers and members of the media at a time through the Sea Beyond experience.

While the attendees would primarily be tech media reps, influencers, and pop-culture personalities, RCL's ultimate target was future passengers. In order to gauge the event's success, RCL set out to surpass the influencer industry's social, print, and online viewer engagement benchmark of 1.84 percent, which is calculated by the total number of likes, shares, comments, views, etc.

Sea-zing the Opportunity
Once RCL felt it had a seaworthy event ready to roll out, it needed to ensure its skeptical audience was willing to come aboard. The company decided a traditional phone and email blitz wouldn't likely start attendees off on the right foot for the tech-heavy experience RCL had prepared. Instead, a couple weeks prior to the event, the company baited its hook with a direct-mail video invite that was nearly impossible to ignore. Opening the 8-by-5-inch card launched a brief video on an embedded LCD screen in which Fain lauded the by-invitation-only event. Key influencers received personalized videos, ensuring they understood just how much the company valued their presence. The invite prompted recipients to download RCL's proprietary Sea Beyond app that allowed them to register for the event. Once registered, users were prompted to upload a selfie that would identify them upon arrival.

To guarantee the event shone like a lighthouse through the dense tech fog, RCL recruited three well-known, paid tech influencers (Jessica Naziri, founder of the lifestyle-tech digital magazine TechSesh; Astute Attire blogger Mustafa Kacar; and YouTube personality Linus Sebastian of Linus Tech Tips). Three tech-savvy celebrities were also contracted to make an appearance: actress Ashley Benson, musician Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, and professional football player Victor Cruz.


Uncharted Waters
While some guests opted to drive themselves to Sea Beyond or use a provided car service, many earned their sea legs by boarding water taxis – rented high-end yachts that collected registered attendees at Midtown and downtown Manhattan locales. The water taxis transported them across the East River to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where a driverless shuttle waited to transport up to 10 guests at a time to the venue. The autonomous vehicle was the first tech-flavored taste of what passengers could soon expect from RCL. Built by Navya SA, the shuttle is expected to be RCL's delivery vehicle of the future that will convey passengers and their luggage directly to their waiting ships.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. wanted to immerse attendees in a story-doing event that mimicked a passenger experience on one of its ships of the future.
After the brief ride, attendees arrived at the Duggal Greenhouse, which glowed with RCL's corporate blue and sported its white crest. Then the fun really began. As they approached the entrance, beacon technology contained in their downloaded RCL app automatically signed guests in. The tech triggered welcome graphics that greeted guests by name on a fog wall they passed through as they entered the greenhouse.

Guests then stepped into a large circular theater, much like the ones that provide RCL's seafaring passengers daily entertainment, topped by a massive 360-degree LED screen. Comfortable white chairs and couches arranged in a scallop-shell formation faced a stage where executives delivered multimedia keynotes highlighting the company's latest and soon-to-be-seen technologies aboard its 48-ship fleet. During one portion of the presentation, the circular LED screen provided a fish's-eye-view of RCL's advanced micro-bubble air lubrication system that allows its newest ships to ride on a blanket of tiny bubbles, reducing drag and improving energy efficiency by more than 5 percent.

The presentation segment avoided the mundane, however, as the true stars of the theater – six 100-inch monitors mounted on robotic arms – quite literally swung into action. The articulated screens rotated, pivoted, and merged in a memorable bit of robotic choreography as they delivered two high-energy multimedia shows the company already performs aboard one of its ships.

Following the 30-minute theater stay, guests moved deeper into the venue by passing through a 13-foot-long, 270-degree tunnel comprising 42 curved OLED monitors displaying stunning depictions of underwater scenery, as well a cosmic journey through outer space, thereby representing both parts of the Sea Beyond moniker. The next stage of the experience brought attendees to an area arranged like a living room in prospective passengers' homes. Here eventgoers tested out the company's virtual-reality shore excursions by donning Oculus Rift VR headsets that transported them to any of three excursions offered by RCL cruises: riding in a Venetian gondola, soaring in a hot-air balloon over Alaska, and splashing through the waterfalls of Haiti. When they returned to reality, attendees clearly understood how RCL conveniently allows passengers to take a dry run of its offerings in their own homes before deciding whether to open their wallets.

Welcome Aboard
Next, it was time to board the ship. Guests left the confines of the living room and headed for the gangway to experience RCL's new frictionless boarding process that allows passengers to avoid tiresome check-in lines. Attendees watched themselves approach a faux gangway via a video monitor loaded with facial-recognition software that framed their faces, matched them with their check-in selfies, and tagged their names. Once the software confirmed their identities, the monitor welcomed them aboard as they passed through to the sundeck.

Jack Morton designed this next space to resemble a real-life cruise deck. The brightly lit area featured vinyl flooring printed to mimic a wooden deck, wall graphics that appeared to be looking past a ship's railings to the open sea, and suspended cumulus clouds made of cotton. Staffers invited "passengers" to visit the safety center for demonstrations of crew-facing technologies, such as the ships' safety sensors and VR navigation technology that ensures safe passage through even the dankest fogs.

Following the demos, some guests tried out VR games utilizing the Sea Beyond app, while others relaxed on deck chairs and enjoyed complimentary beverages. Using the event app, attendees ordered cocktails from an assortment of alcoholic and nonalcoholic offerings with a couple taps of their fingers. And quicker than Gilligan could upset Skipper, crew members received the orders on their own devices and delivered the drinks by using the app's beacon technology to pinpoint guests' locations. A quick peek at the provided selfie on a server's device ensured accurate deliveries. Attendees loved the hassle-free service, which was available throughout the event, and were impressed to learn that it's one RCL already offers on its ships.

Once attendees were done lounging on the sundeck, staffers ushered them into one of two dining rooms for a not-of-this-world VR dining experience. The spaces were fashioned as Japanese tearooms, each with a pair of matte black tables where visitors grabbed a seat. Staffers helped guests don HTC Vive headsets with forward-facing cameras that monitored users' hand movements, then provided diners with three bite-sized morsels that included a crispy tuna tartare and a chocolate truffle coated with Pop Rocks. Each devoured food item triggered a video reaction in their virtual worlds. For instance, when guests ate the tartare, the virtual tearoom walls exploded into a flock of origami cranes. A bite of the truffle elicited a nightscape with flickering fireflies that complemented the bursting sensations in guests' mouths. "The dining experience became a story of its own where the senses were able to interact – from what guests were tasting and feeling in their mouths to what they were experiencing in the virtual world," says Lisa Slama, a producer at Jack Morton.

"This event was on brand and on point, but also disruptive. They blew the doors off what a cruise can be and appealed directly to the next generation of passengers."
Next, small groups of guests were guided out the rear of the Duggal Greenhouse to where the Stateroom of the Future was set up. The regal cabin featured a full LCD ceiling and a faux balcony with an ocean view provided by an LCD wall. Staffers demonstrated how future guests would be able to adjust the cabin's temperature and ambiance using either in-room voice commands or the cruising app from anywhere on the ship. Additionally, the ceiling and balcony views could be altered to suit occupants' moods. For instance, guests could sleep beneath a starry sky with a full moon seemingly right outside their "window." And instead of a blaring alarm, they could wake up to a beautiful, albeit virtual, sunrise over the ocean. The interactive cabin turned out to be one of the eventgoers' highlights, according to Slama. "People loved how the technology could bring passengers in interior cabins even closer to the water," she says.

Once attendees were about ready to shove off, the autonomous shuttle waited to whisk them back to the front of the venue, where they could view and learn about RCL's emission-free hydrogen fuel cell system that was powering all of the event's video screens. It's the same system the cruise line is testing on some ships and hopes to roll out more fully by 2022. Finally, guests departed for home the same way they arrived while pondering their newfound knowledge of how RCL is redefining the personalized cruise experience with its high-sea technologies.


Full Speed Ahead
RCL's deep-dive tech extravaganza left Corporate Event Awards judges amazed – so much so they accorded it the competition's top honor, the Judges' Choice Award. "This event was on brand and on point, but also disruptive. They blew the doors off what a cruise can be and appealed directly to the next generation of passengers," one judge raved. Another loved how the event "made every attendee feel like a VIP from start to finish."

Given the results the Sea Beyond media event achieved, it's no wonder RCL felt like it had just won the America's Cup. The immersive event ran eight times across three days and attracted more than 600 tech personalities, influencers, and media members. Plus, each event ensured the captive audience spent a full 90 minutes soaking up RCL's messaging. And based on the amount of reporting on the event, the cruise line managed to convert the jaded masses into advocates.

In the month following Sea Beyond, RCL tracked more than 1,000 social-media posts using #RCLSeaBeyond, as well as 58 placements via print and online media – 39 of which came from personalities RCL identified as key tech influencers, including the paid influencers and celebrities that pumped out event content to their ardent followers. And with 538.3 million total impressions in the form of views, likes, shares, etc., prospective cruisegoers were getting the message loud and clear. Most impressively, RCL blew its 1.8-percent media interaction target rate out of the water and achieved an engagement rate of more than 10 percent – six times the industry benchmark.

The results set a new high-water mark for media events and demonstrated RCL's relentless pursuit of innovation. In the process, Sea Beyond reestablished, or perhaps further established, RCL as the leviathan of high-seas tech and left the competition listing in its wake. E

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