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Maritime meetings
Event planners are swapping land-locked conference halls and exhibition centres for luxury cruise liners to deliver effective meetings and incentive packages rolled into one, writes Helen Dalley

31 Jul 2013

Cruising has long been viewed as a form of incentive travel but luxury liners are increasingly being used as venues for meetings and conferences. There’s no denying the lure of life on the ocean waves, and with room hire, meals, accommodation and entertainment usually bundled in, it can be exceptional value in comparison to landlocked hotels. Another key advantage is that once delegates board a ship, they can immediately start to enjoy the onboard programme rather than having to worry about group travel logistics and day-to-day movements. 

Despite such advantages, cruise-based business events are still in their infancy. This, though, is partly due to lack of awareness. A 2012 US survey from travel trade technology company Amadeus and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) found that 48 per cent of travel professionals are “not familiar” with meeting and incentive offerings on cruise ships. Only nine per cent felt they were “very familiar”. Nevertheless, the same survey found that nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of 1,400 travel respondents reported they are likely to book an onboard meeting or event at some point in the next year. 

With larger terminals now available in Asia, cruising as a business event is becoming more of a reality as luxury cruise liners can berth at major economic hubs. Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, for example, debuted this June with the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. The facility will be able to accommodate two mega cruise ships of up to 220,000 tonnes once fully complete. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Marina Bay Cruise Centre, which opened last year, is a large two-berth facility that can also accommodate cruise ships of the same size.  

Boutique solutions

Smaller corporate groups that don’t have the resources to book a large cruise ship can still be catered for by many Asian cruise companies. Vietnam-based Refine Asia, for instance, offers meeting and event packages aboard river cruisers and junks, transporting corporate groups to remote isles and candlelit limestone caves. Germany’s MySeaEvent, one of Europe’s leading cruise ship brokers, which specialises in unique cruise ship concepts, can arrange similar events in Southeast Asia. Owner Ulrike Kappeler says the company can arrange everything from visits to the elephant camps in Chiang Mai to beach parties in Hué, and the entire ship can be customised with company branding. 

Kappeler says: “A cruise ship charter is often cheaper than an incentive or an event on land with all the extras. Once a company has chartered a cruise ship, so many things can be done onboard, so it’s not so important to create special excursions.” He also points out that boutique cruisers have the advantage of being able to access ports not suitable for larger cruise ships. “This delivers a chance to explore parts of an island other people can’t see, and can lead to unforgettable moments if a dolphin or penguin swims next to your ship.”

Kappeler says he receives regular requests from Asian companies to charter cruise ships for special events, and those who send charter requests are mainly from the pharmaceutical, automobile and finance sectors. He says: “Right now, the Arctic and Antarctic are very popular, as are cruises along the French coast, Greek islands, Croatia and Montenegro.”

Raising awareness

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, owns Princess Cruises and P&O cruises, both of which offer onboard meeting facilities. Carnival Australia’s business development manager, Rebecca Mutanen says: “Our meeting and incentive business is gaining great momentum, particularly since our first attendance at Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings (AIME) this year. While it is still a small part of our overall cruise business, we’ve been very pleased to see the conversion rate for events and incentive groups virtually double in the past year.”

P&O offers a choice of departure cities, with cruises from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Fremantle and Auckland from two to 16 nights. Mutanen says: “One of our biggest challenges is a lack of familiarity with the cruise product, but once a client, PCO or event planner has actually seen a ship, they quickly realise what a great option cruising is for meetings and incentives and their perception changes dramatically.”

Mutanen adds that Carnival’s partnerships with DMCs and PCOs are growing rapidly due to its programme of events at Sea Business Luncheons on board local P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises ships. “We’ve now hosted more than a dozen of these events in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and they’ve proved a great way to give DMCs and PCOs a chance to experience a ship and gain a clear insight into what we can offer the market.”

P&O Cruises has recently introduced racing car simulators and shows, which are very popular among corporate groups. “We’ve also launched a new movie-making programme for kids called Broad Shorts in partnership with Sony and Stop Motion Pro, which is great for meetings with a spouse or family programme attached,” says Mutanen.

Bespoke journeys

Melvyn Yap, regional director Asia for Silversea, says the business events sector makes up 15-25 per cent of Silversea’s overall business, and about 10 per cent of billings in Asia. For exclusive ship charters, Silversea offers the flexibility to customise voyage itinerary, including ports of call, duration of time in port and daily scheduling. Yap says: “Special events and tours can be arranged, and menus can be created to include favourite dishes. We pride ourselves on offering personalised small-ship service with luxury resort amenities.” Indeed, 10 is the smallest group number that the vessel can accommodate whilst the capacity is for up to 540. 

In Asia, shorter voyages of between five and seven days are preferred and Silversea offers the chance to customise the voyage itinerary and design tailor-made tours if the whole cruise is chartered. Silversea’s latest itinerary, the Galapagos Islands, will be introduced this September and its 100-guest Silver Galapagos will be the only luxury expedition ship offering itineraries to the Unesco World Heritage Site. 

Untapped potential

Since the introduction of Costa Cruises’ Asian routings in 2006, the number of business groups that have joined the company’s ships has grown significantly. Whilst the cruise market in Asia is registering strong growth, it is still a relatively untapped market, says Budhy Bok, vice president Pacific Asia & China, Costa Crociere. “We see enormous potential in the Asia-Pacific region and have deployed Costa Victoria [capacity 2,394 passengers] and Costa Atlantica [capacity 2,680] this year. Thanks to the double positioning, Costa Cruises will offer 125 cruises in Asia in 2013, with a total capacity of around 220,000 guests,” says Bok.

This winter, guests can choose from a three- to seven-night Singapore sailing on Costa Victoria in November and December to new destinations such as Samarang. In October 2014, Costa Diadema, which can accommodate almost 5,000 passengers, will also be entered into service. “The Costa Diadema will offer guests even more hospitality: it’s not only more spacious, but also more modern in terms of the services offered and the organisation of public areas,” adds Bok. 

Forward planning

Before booking a business cruise, having the right information at your fingertips is crucial. The revised Royal Caribbean online portal has launched a search engine that connects in real time to the company’s inventory system, enabling planners to check ships’ availability based on criteria such as their group’s size, travel dates, destination, length of meeting, departure port and level of accommodation. The new website also enables meeting planners to create a user account, save searches and send a request for proposal to one of Royal Caribbean’s 20-plus cruise ships.

Kelvin Tan, regional director, Asia-Pacific of Caribbean Cruises, says it has been experiencing around 10-15 per cent year-on-year growth in its meeting and incentive business in Singapore. “With the opening of the new cruise terminal in Singapore last year, we are able to deploy larger ships here such as the 138,000 GRT Voyager of the Seas last year, and her sister ship Mariner of the Seas this June. These bigger ships come with more onboard meeting and entertainment facilities, such as a three-tier main dining room, 700-seater ice skating rink, 1,300-seater theatre and a full-sized sports court. These added advantages definitely appeal to larger and more discerning corporate clients,” says Tan.

Its top business event markets in the region include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and India. “In markets like Indonesia and Thailand, the meeting business is growing from year-to-year and makes up almost 50 per cent of our total sales, and we expect this to grow further. Groups mostly choose our short three- to five-night Southeast Asian cruises from Singapore due to geographical proximity and logistics.”

 Like Carnival’s Mutanen, Tan says the operator still has to deal with outdated misconceptions concerning cruising. “People think it’s very expensive, that there’s nothing to do on board and something for seniors and retirees only. We have recently been changing people’s mindset with ships that feature multiple innovative onboard amenities for guests of all ages, a number of which are industry firsts, such as the rock wall, mini-golf, ice-skating rink, surf simulator and, more recently, a zip line and even a living park.” 

P&O Cruises tour to Moreton Island 
(Departing from various Australian ports)

Day 1

• Afternoon: Priority group embarkation.

• Evening: Private “sailaway” and sunset reception followed by welcome dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant.

Day 2

• Morning: Early-morning bootcamp, buffet breakfast at Plantation. Restaurant, registration and arrival coffee. Morning conference at the Marquee Theatre with address by keynote speaker.

• Afternoon: Sit-down lunch at the Waterfront Restaurant followed by an afternoon conference session at the Marquee Theatre.

• Evening: Pre-dinner drinks at MIX bar and executive dinner at Salt Grill by 
Luke Mangan. 

Day 3

• Morning: Breakfast at leisure as ship arrives at Moreton Island. Team-building events on Moreton Island: sand-dune toboggan racing and wreck snorkelling.

• Afternoon: BBQ lunch on island and afternoon and dinner at leisure.

• Evening: Showtime – live musical production in the theatre, then Live at Charlie’s jam session.

Day 4

• Morning: Breakfast at leisure. Morning conference in the Marquee.

• Afternoon: Lunch at leisure followed by spa treatments for VIPs then team-building activity: ship scavenger hunt. High tea at Salt Grill by Luke Mangan.

• Evening: Short awards ceremony and short film. Farewell cocktail reception on exterior deck. Group dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant.

 

Silversea tour from Athens to Istanbul 

Day 1 

Piraeus (Athens), Greece

Embark on the 540-guest Silver Spirit, the newest vessel in the Silversea family. Upon arrival to your suite, choose your preferred pillow from a choice of nine pillow types while your butler unpacks your luggage.

 

Day 2 

Mykonos, Greece

• Morning: Explore the whitewashed port town of Mykonos and spend half a day visiting museums or churches, or relaxing on the sandy beaches. 

• Evening: Enjoy dinner in the onboard Italian restaurant, La Terrazza.

 

Day 2 
Rhodes, Greece

• Morning: Explore Rhodes Town’s Orthodox and Catholic churches and go souvenir shopping in the labyrinth of narrow alleyways in the old Turkish quarter. 

• Evening: Sample a set tasting menu of regionally inspired dishes complemented by fine wines in an intimate, elegant setting at Le Champagne, the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea. 

 

Day 4

Santorini, Greece

• Morning: Explore the dramatic volcanic beaches of Santorini.

• Evening: Dinner at The Restaurant, Silversea’s main dining room, which serves contemporary, international cuisine. Those tired from the day’s sightseeing can opt for complementary room service.

 

Day 5 

Kusadasi, Turkey

• Morning: Wander through historic ruins, or go boating and scuba diving. 

• Afternoon: Head to The Spa at Silversea for a relaxing deep tissue massage or visit the sauna and steam rooms. 

• Evening: Asian fusion cuisine at Seishin Restaurant for Kobe beef and spider lobster. Sake pairings are also available. 

 

Day 6

Chios, Greece

• Morning: Explore medieval villages on Chios, the fifth largest of the Greek islands, including the 11th century monastery of Nea Moni, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

• Afternoon: Lunch at the alfresco Pool Bar. 

• Evening: Cocktails at the Stars Supper Club followed by live music, dancing and jazz club-style entertainment.

 

Day 7 

Istanbul, Turkey 
(the ship docks overnight) 

• Day: Spend the day on the ship. 

• Evening: Cruise into the port of Istanbul at sunset and enjoy an evening in the city. 

 


Tags :
corporate cruises   Cruises  

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