tiistai 4. syyskuuta 2012

About social interaction in passenger ships –Economic perspective in multidisciplinary research project conducted in Kaleidoskooppi and Cruise & Ferry Experience Program

Social interaction is part of our everyday lives. Nowadays we even use social medias, smartphones and many other devices to connect with other people without being physically at a same place. However the importance of social interaction especially accentuated when you are in an environment, where there are other people present physically. In the cruise ships, this is usually the case; people are spending their time in a liminal space where there are many other persons.

Figure: Social interaction in simpleton form. (From: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ricke066/architecture/DVP4983141_Veer.JPG)
Recently, the social interaction in the cruise ship context has become a rising topic of research. However the amount of studies is still quite small, when compared to other more matured research fields, such as shipbuilding, consumer behaviour and logistics, just to mention few. Thus the social interaction was deemed to be an interesting research subject.

Our project team
Cruise & Ferry Experience program unites technology, economics and art & design in an innovative way to produce more comprehensive views on issues related to the cruise ship and ferry industries. As you can commonly see from your everyday lives, companies rarely work solely based on one specific scientific area: Design offices hire programmers to deliver together products and services to their customers. Logistics companies need people who understand technology as well as economics to optimise their services. Cruise lines employs shipbuilders, designers and economists to produce superior solutions and ships for the existing as well as future customers. It is then never enough to just employ one science area to solve a problem in contemporary world, where everything is intertwined with each other.

Figure: The Cruise & Ferry program structure. (From program website: http://appmech.aalto.fi/en/research/marine_technology/cruise_ferry_experience/)

The project our group set out to explore was the innovative modular cruise ship concept, the m2cell-concept made by Kauppi (2012)*. Oliver, our engineer studied on the possibilities of building a narrow superstructure. Vesa, our designer brought the concept to contemporary environment and defined a framework for the realisation of the m2cell-concept. I as an economics student investigated the possible customer groups for the m2cell-concept and their preferences on spaces. Together, our researches provides a more detailed view on the possibilities that m2cell-concept can offer.

*Kauppi, A. 2012. m²cell concept -an interchangeable module system for cruise ship hotel space. Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Helsinki. (Thesis can be founded from the Cruise & Ferry Experience web pages research section)

*Wu, Y. 2012. Motivation, social interaction and space experience of individuals in group travel –Case m2cell-concept. Aalto University School of Economics. Helsinki. (Entire thesis will be attached in to the Cruise & Ferry Experience web pages research section in February 2013)

The research process
In the beginning of the research project, two of us did not have much experience about the cruise ships in question, unless you include the ferries that go from Helsinki to near places. Therefore we went on an expedition. One reason for that is to widen our views and familiarise with the current cruise ships in use. Another cause was to gain experiences and knowledge not available otherwise, which included observations and interviews with the workers and managers on board the cruise ship.

Figure: Afternoon view of MSC Fantasia we travelled with.

The cruise trip was very fruitful and interesting, too. We gathered some materials needed for our researches and the environment sparked off some new ideas on what could and/or should be done to improve the overall experience of being on a cruise ship. An additional plus was the possibilities of getting know the other team members better. This was especially helpful when we progressed further with our researches and if problems started to arise. In the end of the cruise trip, we made a report that encased our dairies as well as some analysis.
Of course we also did other researches too. Together with Vesa, we did many expert interviews with persons from key industries, which were mainly related to the cruise industry. By myself, I conducted some expert interviews with the experts from fields related more to my subject. Also I conducted five focus group interviews to gain precious insights on people’s motivations and preferences regarding the space. Secondary information sources were used frequently, too. The data collected were then applied to the m2cell-concept.

Main results from the research
My research area was the three different user groups and their space indications on the m2cell-concept. The groups were chosen based on CLIA’s latest market update in 2012 and the average size of the groups. Since the travel is usually an event, the commonly used words for the people within these groups were event participants. Additionally the group is usually called event group or just event. The events are then following: family friends travel, incentives and conferences.
The focus group interviews were used to generate the results, which focused on the motivation, social interaction and space preferences of event participants. In the end of the research, a connection is found between the three areas, as demonstrated in the graph.

Figure: The connection between the three areas leading to space experience. From Wu’s thesis (2013)

Based on the interviews, it would seem that a pivotal factor common for all three events was the social interaction. Socialising needs were often mentioned as an important motivation factor for participants to consider attending the event. The relationship forming was also deemed as one of the main reasons for initiating the process of participation. Additionally the preferences influenced by the socialisation requirements differed depending on the type of the event.
In family friends travel, spaces for group’s use was not as preferred as in other two. According to the interviewees, the amount of variety was rather the main issue influencing their satisfaction. However the interaction is still one of the most important factors interviewees mentioned for this event. Though specific places were not favoured, semi-private and private services were desired. In other words, the family friends wished for varying amount of services from which they can choose. Furthermore, these services should incorporate spaces that can be more private for the groups. Nevertheless, the cultural preferences can cause some implications on the spaces, as in China the crowd is sometimes more preferred, whereas in Western countries one’s own space is usually more desired.
In incentives the newness and group integrity was important aspects for the event. Newness would mean that the cruise ships should include or at least provide access to services that are novel for the group. In addition to the group events, the socialising needs also imply that common areas should be built for the groups. More clearly, the interviewees desired some nice places where the interaction could happen. However in incentives, the view on these opinions were not united. It could partially due to the nature of incentives in different cultures, which usually involves some features of compel. Also the novelty is not much deployed in these events. If well devised, the cruise lines could utilise this market niche and provide superior solutions for the incentive events.
In conferences, the participants concentrate more on the networking and discussing activities. This would mean that infrastructure should be built to around the socialising needs in the conferences. The view on the factors was very uniform, which on one hand suggests that the practice is quite standardised, but on other hand provides basis for finding new innovative solutions to realise the needs and even explore yet unidentified needs. Overall it would seem sensible to provide private spaces within the conferences for the participants to have conversations and to interact with each other. However this should be done so that it would not influence the experience of other passengers outside the conferences, which would be another challenge.
As the research was relatively large and scientifically interesting, I am currently writing a Master’s Thesis based on the research findings. In the thesis, I’ll try to provide yet deeper view with some theoretical background as well as further managerial implications for the cruise lines. All in all, it have been very joyful and productive to research with our team and within the Cruise & Ferry Experience. Hopefully life won’t become empty now that our research project has come to an end.
Thanks for all the people who have assisted, participated and contributed to our works! Wish you all the best!

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