Cruise Info on the Go

Neil Kutchera of Port Everglades created the CruiseSchedule app by combining two of his interests: technology and ports

By Sarah Sain

Port of Everglades employee Neil Kutchera has created a new app, CruiseSchedule, to give cruise passengers departing from five ports a comprehensive guide to their ships and schedules. In this Q&A, Kutchera explains how he came up with the idea for the app and the benefits of the technology that even he didn’t foresee.

How did the idea for CruiseSchedule come about?

I have always been interested in technology. The advances in smartphones and mobile computing have been nothing short of amazing. My first reaction to seeing apps running on an iPhone was: “I want to learn how to do that!” Since I have a background in software development, I began looking into educational opportunities in iPhone programming. At the same time, I am advancing my education and knowledge of port management as a member of the AAPA’s Port Professional Manager (PPM®) Class of 2014. A requirement of PPM program is the completion of a final project. What if I could combine these studies by creating a mobile app to meet a port industry need?

I wanted an app with broad appeal, focusing on a growth business line that would lend itself to incorporating eye-catching graphics. Focusing on my employer, Port Everglades, I began to research the cruise industry and then more specifically our Cruise Guide. As one of the world’s busiest cruise ship homeports, we have a popular printed guide and an online version in PDF format. It contains a lot of pretty cruise ship pictures and information that lends itself to being manipulated through a computerized database. I could create an interactive cruise guide app for the iPhone and incorporate features and information not available, or not even possible, in the printed form.

That’s how the idea for CruiseSchedule was born.

What are main features of the app?

CruiseSchedule is a family of free, searchable cruise guides for the iPhone and iPad. Separate versions are available for the homeports of Port Everglades, PortMiami, Port Canaveral, Port of Tampa and Port of Seattle. The opening screen displays a list of cruise ship departures organized by date. The app’s main feature is to provide an easy way to view specific cruises and then drill down to see the selected ship’s itinerary, deck plans and detailed specifications. A cruise is located by either scrolling through a list of all cruises or using the search screen to query by details such as month, port, cruise line, ship name, etc. Tapping on the desired cruise can show a text listing of the ship’s itinerary, an interactive map highlighting each port of call or a graphical representation of the deck plans. Other features include a photograph of each vessel with detailed ship specifications, a driving map of the port and contact information for the cruise lines. The high-resolution deck plans and maps support zooming and panning down to an individual cabin or road.

The app takes advantage of the larger screen area available on the iPad and displays the schedule on the left-hand side of the screen while showing the selected detail information on the right. Since all information, with the exception of the itinerary map, is stored locally the app responds quickly to user input and does not require a data connection.

What kind of response have you gotten so far from users?

Approximately 1,000 copies of CruiseSchedule are downloaded each month. The feedback I have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Comments always mention the app’s convenience and ease of use. The favorite features have been the interactive itinerary maps and deck plans. If someone has booked a cruise they always want to open the deck plans to zoom in and see their cabin. There also appears to be a level of wonder at the sheer amount of information that is available.

Has the app been used at the ports in ways that have surprised you?

I recently learned of two novel uses in the Port Everglades community. Contractors have used the app to check berth availability to aide it scheduling work dockside. And one of the parking garage operators projects business activity by checking the number of ships in port on a given day.

You’ve created versions of the app for four Florida ports. Do you have plans to expand to other ports?

A version was recently made available for the Port of Seattle in conjunction with the start of the Alaskan cruise season.

What is unique about the CruiseSchedule App?

As the customer interacts with the application anonymous usage information is being tracked and saved in a central location. From this information reports can be produced which reveal top markets by geographical location, ship and/or cruise line. So while the traveler benefits from an easy to user, full featured app a port can analyze, in real-time, customer demographics to enhance their cruise marketing effectiveness.

What additional features are envisioned for the app that you’d like to share with AAPA Seaports readers?

I am working on incorporating user analytics. Currently the statistics indicate approximately 65 percent of the downloads are from the United States and a 55 percent of the users run the app on an iPad versus 45 percent on the iPhone. The new analytics will report the most popular cruise lines, ships and destinations based on views within the app. Through this data collection, I hope to evaluate the use of mobile technology in cruise marketing.

Under consideration is producing an internationalized version translated into several foreign languages. Is the market for the app limited by a lack of local language support or a relatively small number of Apple devices in these countries?

What challenges do you face going forward?

In the short term, the ongoing maintenance and upgrades to the underlying data is my biggest challenge. In the long term, it’s marketing for greater awareness. Very few people know this app is available.

Where can I find CruiseSchedule?

CruiseSchedule is available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. All versions can be downloaded for free from the App Store.