Convention at Sea
For the incentive planner, organising a cruise has a high perceived value. When researchers ask people what sort of holiday they would most like to take if they had unlimited budgets, cruises always rank as a top choice.
Cruising retains an image of glamour, of a privilege enjoyed only by the rich and famous. However, an incentive planner’s target group, be it salespeople, suppliers or an international delegation, will be highly motivated by the prospect of a cruise incentive.
Taking the strain from organisers
The mechanics of organising a cruise are simple. Most cruise lines offer ‘one-stop-shops’ for incentive buyers, whereby the client pays a pre-arranged price per head, inclusive of return flights and transfers.
The package will be all meals and accommodation, all the entertainment, leisure facilities and meeting space aboard, and whatever the organiser wishes to add on in advance. Unexpected last-minute changes are extremely rare.
Once aboard, the group does not need to negotiate dozens of coach trips or flights. The cruise personnel take care of all housekeeping, food and entertainment as a matter of course, and can also take over the provision of extras such as exclusive shore excursions, presentations and private parties.
Many cruise lines have now invested in personnel who are actively marketing their ships to group and incentive planners, and others aboard whose responsibility is to make sure that the specific needs of groups are catered for. There is no extra cost to the organiser of having night-and-day in-house expertise and support.
Take it from me
As one incentive organiser recently commented: “In comparison with all the pre-planning, planning, budgeting and re-budgeting of an equivalent land-based programme, a cruise makes my life a lot easier.
I don’t usually enjoy incentive trips because of the stress involved, but I never want to come home from a cruise.”
Value for money
For the budget conscious organisation, cruises offer very good value for money - not least because of the all-inclusive nature of the product.
As a ball-part figure, a seven-day Alaska cruise on a five star product such as Celebrity Cruises starts at around $600 per head.
The ‘extras’ are available at much more reasonable prices than organisers may first expect. For example, a private cocktail party, with an open bar for an hour and hot and cold canapés would be about $25 a head.
One would be hard pushed to match these prices, and the quality of service, in a land-based resort. The scenery is generally better, too. Despite this, the notion of a cruise as ‘exclusive’ and ‘expensive’ still remains, ensuring that incentive qualifiers will assume that their organisation has really gone to town in providing their reward - whatever their final bill.
Opportunities for unusual or exclusive meeting venues abound aboard ship. Groups can lay claim to the ship’s theatre and transform it by day into a lecture hall or presentation venue, or use a selection of the ship’s smaller public rooms for meetings.
As more ships are built to satisfy demand, so organisers are provided with a greater choice of purpose-built meeting facilities, complete with state-of-the-art audio visual equipment. Many of the ‘new build’ projects are being done with the needs of the MC&I market in mind.
Just one example is Royal Caribbean’s new ship, the MS Enchantment of the Seas, which has a dedicated conference centre, seating up to 180 delegates. Features include flexible break-out rooms, electronic partitioning, a 42 decibel level of privacy, and an on-board convention services co-ordinator.
Whatever the extent or modernity of the facilities, the real selling point of a cruise will always be its itinerary - the notion that a group can go to sleep overlooking St Tropez, and wake up to breakfast in Portofino. Cruise lines are broaching more and more of the globe in an attempt to provide something different.
Destinations as glamorous as Alaska, the Amazon and French Polynesia are well within reach for incentive groups.
There are more than 500 destinations visited by cruise ships. A cruise can take incentive qualifiers to places inaccessible by any other means, such as Antarctica or the North Cape - or lay claim to a quieter Caribbean island than those ‘on the beaten track’.
For organisations with limited time, there are short ex-UK cruises in northern Europe, or river cruises along rivers such as the Rhine, Moselle, Elbe or Danube.
Companies that encourage conference or incentive business include the following:
Carnival and Holland America Line’s large modern ships provide ideal venues for conference and incentive groups. They are “floating hotels” that cater for the organiser’s many needs, while cruising in exotic climates. There is a wide choice of venues for meetings and presentations and organisers can use one TV channel to broadcast to delegates in their cabins.
Celebrity Cruises’ Century series vessels, Century and Galaxy, feature a cinema and conference centre complete with audio/visual support, multi-lingual translation services, speaker support facilities and interactive audience keypads. Meeting rooms feature video monitors and public address systems. The television studio can transmit customised programmes into staterooms.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a number of Scandinavian cruises during the summer, onboard Norwegian Dream. Ports of call include St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo. Explore the capital cities of the old Hanseatic League of seafaring nations, or look for treasures of art and artifact in fine museums and galleries such as The Hermitage in St Petersberg.
Princess Cruises’ ship’s ranges from ‘Grand Class’ superliners which offer big ship choice and small ship intimacy in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Alaska, through to classic vessels specialising in exotic and varied itineraries. From seven to 23 nights. Meeting rooms, business centres, audio-visual and speaker support material are available throughout the fleet. Grand Princess offers audience response facilities.
Royal Caribbean International’s superships all feature extensive conference facilities - designed to accommodate business conferences, executive retreats and corporate cruise incentives. Onboard there is a dedicated on-site convention services co-ordinator. There is also a conference and incentive sales manger at the UK head office.