Where meetings become memorableCruises make meetings-cum-incentives into memorable occasions
World’s waters are becoming almost crowded with the increasing number of giant cruise ships that have been launched in the last few years. The most recent was the introduction in July of Norwegian Epic, NCL’s largest ever. It can carry 4,200 passengers and features five new nightlife concepts, including the first ice-bar at sea, curved cabins, and the highest proportion of outside cabins on a cruise ship.
The cruise lines are also ensuring that the new ships have ample facilities for holding events on board. They are also building shorter itineraries into their schedules, so that organisers can choose 3-day, 4-day or 7-day itineraries to fit in with their plans.
However, events at sea are not growing at the same rate as the size of the ships, so the cruise lines still have some way to go to convincing organisers of the special value of using a cruise ship as a venue.
A cruise ship has many advantages over land-based venues. Once on board, delegates can enjoy a series of different destinations without the hassle of packing and unpacking. On most itineraries, the ship sails from one fascinating port to another during the night. Passengers have dinner, then enjoy onboard entertainment before retiring to their stateroom for the night. They wake up to have breakfast in a totally different destination.
Technology is now highly sophisticated and it makes an organiser’s work much easier. On boarding a ship, each passenger is automatically photographed digitally and then issued with a smart ‘credit’ card that embodies their image. The cards are simply swiped each time the passenger leaves or boards the vessel, so it is easy to keep track of people’s whereabouts and at the same time avoid any interlopers getting on board with someone else’s card. The cards for members of a group can be fed with data so that the user is able to purchase agreed ranges of drinks or attend various functions with the minimum of checking. On Norwegian Epic computers match photographs taken during the voyage with the images held of passengers and then informs passengers via the televisions in their cabins that there are photographs of them waiting to be collected.
Under sail, cruising is even more special
Andy Lovering, Director of Sales & Marketing of Star Clippers, headquartered in Monaco, tells of one client who, at the end of a cruise with a corporate group, said: ‘Andy, when we first met to discuss this group incentive, I insisted on having something that would impress my award winners and make them feel special. I must say that sailing in and out of the ports of call satisfied that requirement completely.’
Groups are always very pleasantly surprised at the high quality and sophistication of the food served for meals and snacks. ‘About 30% of our passengers are on corporate cruises’, says Andy. ‘The top three markets for these are the USA, Germany and the UK in that order. There is still a lot of work to do in getting the UK corporates to appreciate what we can do for their groups, but cruising is catching on as a whole. Last year it is estimated that 1.5m passengers went on cruises from the UK. We find that once a group has been on board for a conference and/or incentive, many of the delegates and award winners come back again for their own family holidays.’
The Star Clippers method of pricing is always welcomed by corporate clients. The line quotes for seven nights full board and separately for gratuities, the bar, wine at meals and excursions at the ports of call. The clients can then choose what to cover on behalf of their groups and what to leave to the individual delegates to pay for themselves. ‘We quote for seven days’, Andy points out, ‘but a group doesn’t have to stay on board for the whole duration if time is more important than the cost. It can still be overall cheaper to use, say, only four of the seven days. Alternatively, a client can bring on two groups for four days and three days to make up the seven.’
The clippers are small enough to be chartered, if the plans are made long enough ahead. ‘So long as the ship uses the scheduled port of departure and return, then the rest of the itinerary is up to the client. Bear in mind that Star Clippers can go where most big conventional cruise liners can’t because of the size of berth and depth of water required.’
Star Clippers have various means of making space available for meetings and award ceremonies on board, even if a group is sharing the ship with ordinary holidaymakers. ‘We have pull-down screens and space for exhibitions’, says Andy. ‘We have had films made of groups, the library used as an editing room and then the day’s activities shown on screen after dinner each evening.’