Inside the Innovation Lab
There were tears of joy (and exhaustion) that rolled down the face of Laura Hodges Bethge, vice president of product development at Royal Caribbean International, when Perfect Day CocoCay opened on May 4. The former dancer turned educator—who got into the cruise line industry by providing renovation strategies to Royal Caribbean for passengers with disabilities—scouts the IAAPA Expo trade show floor for new products and scours guest research when creating new attractions.
“We always go out to our guests and say, ‘What is it that you want? How do you want it?’ And then we always layer on what we call ‘The Wow Factor’ on top.”
On the second floor of Royal Caribbean’s headquarters overlooking the Port of Miami awaits The Cave. The innovation lab features massive screens and a 3D space where Hodges Bethge and her teams will enlarge renderings to gain new perspectives.
“Your hotel model doesn’t have that anymore. Your airline model doesn’t have that anymore. All of the big operators are on dynamic pricing now, so we have that model now—it’s very similar to our cruise ships.” — Chris Perry, on not offering a static-price ticket in favor of dynamic pricing admission
“It really helps with the spatial aspects of it because when you’re looking at something in a flat render, you have a certain experience,” she says.
Royal Caribbean’s design group is divided into two teams: one focusing on ships and the other on land experiences, like Perfect Day islands. Hodges Bethge says it’s important to give dreamers flexible deadlines.
“I’ve found if you put constraints around people like that, then they’re not as creative, because they’re inside a box.” She also suggests empowering a group like Royal Caribbean’s guest experience team to protect ideas from other internal stakeholders who mean well.
“The operating team always wants to make it efficient, and the architects want to put their own spin on it,” she says. “You can operationalize all of the fun out of it for a passenger. You can also design all of the fun out if it for a customer.”
Sometimes, guests are brought into the innovation lab depending on how secretive a project is. And sometimes, Hodges Bethge makes a decision using her gut instinct.
“You have to take some bigger risks. If they don’t work out, you learn from them,” she concludes.