Cruising continues to reward groups on a multitude of levels, from creative shore excursions in a variety of destinations to expanding onboard entertainment to ever-improving cuisine. Even the cabins themselves, particularly those with panoramic oceanic views, can inspire attendees and motivate them in the workplace as potential incentive qualifiers.
That’s what Kate Guimbellot discovered when she planned a 900-qualifier incentive charter of the Norwegian Dawn as vice president of field development and training for the direct jewelry sales company Silpada Designs Inc.
Attendees “can have discussions in an intimate setting, cocktail bar or out on the deck. It gives them the opportunity to foster communication.”
— Peggy Cunningham
The company’s representatives strove not only to qualify for the cruise, but also to qualify sooner rather than later, as that would guarantee them a better cabin. “We had to figure out how to divvy up the cabins because there are so many different categories. And so we did it on a first come, first serve basis,” Guimbellot explains. “So for the first time ever, it wasn’t just about achieving (the sales quota) in that 12-month period, it was about achieving it as fast as possible, because the first person to achieve it got a penthouse suite, then the balcony cabins, and it went down from there. It was actually a very healthy competition and drove my sales very well because they frontloaded everything to hit their numbers sooner.”
Despite the potential for such robust ROI, the cruise meeting industry as a whole still has to persuade many planners as to its value proposition. “Although it is picking up momentum, we feel that cruising really is underutilized” among meeting groups, says Lisa Vogt, associate vice president, corporate meetings, incentives and charter sales with Celebrity Cruises. “So I think from a cruise industry perspective we all need to band together and build awareness of cruising as an amazing venue for meeting and incentive groups.”
Celebrity, she says, has been hosting not only incentives, but also annual conferences and product launches. “Cruising creates such a fantastic backdrop for any one of those types of events,” Vogt adds.
Indeed, a cruise is not just a backdrop for diversion that rewards performance, but also for networking. As Peggy Cunningham, executive vice president of Afflink Business Services, a division of Afflink LLC, observes, attendees “can have discussions in an intimate setting, cocktail bar or out on the deck. It gives them the opportunity to foster communication and share best practices in a casual environment. We have that same opportunity at the ground events, except it’s just in the organized evening events or excursions.”
Afflink, which manages all incentive and meeting programs internally for Afflink as well as for outside companies, partners with Silversea for its New Latitudes incentive program. For more than 12 years, New Latitudes has taken qualifiers to destinations as diverse as Italy and the Windward Islands. Next spring, the group will sail to Greece. The Windward Islands are part of what remains the most popular cruise destination in the world, the Caribbean, while Italy and Greece are part of the also-popular Mediterranean. But continually motivating potential qualifiers requires a variety of experiences, and a very different kind of milieu is found in Alaska. “We’re seeing an uptick in our Alaska business,” says Vogt. “I think that’s because it’s a beautiful destination and people are looking for new experiences.” Along those lines, Celebrity is growing its offerings in the exotic Galapagos Islands, where the company now offers the 48-capacity Xperience and 16-capacity Xploration to complement its 100-capacity Xpedition.
Along with variety in destinations, the cruise industry continues to diversify its onboard entertainment, with the most prominent examples coming from the megaships. “The ships that have come out in the last four to five years are a new generation in a lot of ways because they take into account so much more of the onboard experience,” observes Mark Faldmo, CTC, president, Columbus Travel. “Sometimes I think you could take some of these ships, particularly Royal Caribbean’s new megaships, and go 50 miles offshore, drop anchor for a week and have a great vacation,” he observes. “They are like cities at sea.”
And those “cities” are growing. Royal Caribbean’s 3,835-capacity Adventure of the Seas, for example, will debut numerous recreational amenities this November, including new dual racer waterslides, Cyclone and Typhoon, the popular FlowRider surf simulator, and a children’s aquapark, Splashaway Bay. In addition, a new lineup of culinary and entertainment venues will be introduced, including Izumi Japanese Cuisine, Chops Grille and Boleros Latin Lounge.
Celebrity, meanwhile, recently launched an initiative called “18 shows in 18 months.” “We’ve revamped 18 of our production shows across our fleet, and it’s really modernizing our entertainment with rich visuals and a lot of flying and acrobatics,” says Vogt. Recreational opportunities aboard Celebrity ships also can have a teambuilding value, such as bocce ball on its Solstice class ships at the Lawn Club, pool volleyball and casino game tournaments.
Regarding Norwegian’s onboard entertainment, “there are just so many options,” says Guimbellot. “They’ve made sure to put in a really good blend of public spaces that allow that. So they’ll have a (musical) trio playing in one area and then upstairs they’ll have one of the comedy shows going on. Then they’ll have a headliner in the main theater, a big production show such as the Blue Man Group. So there’s always a multitude of choices for what you’re going to do that night, and I know that our (sales reps) loved that.”
In addition, Guimbellot found the Norwegian Dawn staff to be very flexible in accommodating her entertainment goals for the incentive program, including a “white party” for Sterling Soar, a group of about 400 upper-echelon achievers. “We totally converted the club on the top of the ship and brought in an onshore production company,” she relates. “The vessel really worked with us to bring all that scenery on, the lasers and special effects. And for our farewell event we took over the entire central atrium, which is very tall, and brought in these massive lit balls, hanging them everywhere. I also brought in a famous DJ from South Beach and she cruised with us the entire time.”
Per Guimbellot’s request, Norwegian also brought in people she personally knew in order to fill the positions of hotel director, cabaret artist, stager and choreographer. “I didn’t think that (request) was going to fly, but it did. And to me that just indicated that the sales team were really accommodating,” she says.
The top cruise lines not only offer groups diverse and customizable entertainment, but in-depth cultural education as well, via shore excursions. For instance, on the Windward Islands, the Afflink group enjoyed catamaran cruises in St. Lucia to the mainland, where the 300 participants had lunch on a plantation. Cunningham also recalls a visit to Pompeii during the Italy cruise: “Every docent on the bus was extremely knowledgeable in the area, and they divided up our group so that we were able to have real (intimate) tours of Pompeii.”
These tours can extend to the nearby Isle of Capri, “which is really beautiful,” comments Faldmo, who brought a TV station group on a cruise to the area. “They get to learn a lot of Roman history. The Isle of Capri has been a vacation spot since the Caesars really.”
In the Galapagos, Celebrity offers “naturalist guides that take people ashore for tours,” Vogt relates. “These are locals that live and study the Galapagos ecosystem and they sail with us, giving talks. So it’s a very unique opportunity.”
On a Norwegian cruise to Alaska for a 40-attendee retail client of Columbus Travel, a shore excursion in Skagway included a train ride up to the Yukon to a miner’s camp dating from the Gold Rush era.
These kinds of immersive experiences are what it takes to incentivize many of today’s well-traveled salespeople, and, thankfully, the cruise industry is adding more every year.
Carnival Cruise Line
The 3,934-passenger Carnival Horizon is scheduled to enter service in March 2018. The second in Carnival’s Vista class, the ship will offer many signature onboard activities, such as the SkyRide, Imax Theatre, WaterWorks aqua park, Seuss at Sea program and Alchemy Bar. A wide range of accommodation categories will be available, including the popular Havana staterooms.
Carnival recently announced that in 2020 and 2022 it will launch two new 5,200-passenger ships powered by liquefied natural gas. They’re the first-ever “green cruising” design ships to be based in North America and will be the largest ships in Carnival’s fleet.
Royal Caribbean Cruises
The company recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the STX France shipyard for a fifth Oasis-class ship. A fourth Oasis-class ship is currently under construction at the shipyard in Saint Nazaire, France, and is planned for delivery in spring 2018. The fifth is pending for spring 2021.
This summer, the brand revamped RoyalCaribbeanIncentives.com in order to deliver an interactive experience that includes a fresh look, streamlined site navigation, rich content and exclusive planning tools such as a destination search widget, Event Customization Guide and RFP function.
Celebrity’s new “A Taste of the Caribbean” package features interactive cooking demos, wine-tasting events and sail-away parties at its unique lawn club on the top deck of the Solstice class ships. The overarching program is Chef’s Market Discoveries, which offers culinary-themed shore excursions complemented by a locally inspired onboard meal.
“What’s unique to Celebrity — and this is great for meeting planners to know — is that we’re really more of an adult-oriented brand,” says Vogt. “So we’re really focusing on dining; cuisine is a big pillar of ours. The fellow who runs our culinary division is a Michelin Star chef.” Faldmo appreciates not only the brand’s F&B quality, but the value as well: “I find Celebrity for the mid-level price does a great job with food.”
An especially creative culinary idea is Celebrity’s “Taste of Film” special event, which is ideal for corporate groups. On the Millennium class ships, “we have added a rooftop terrace with a big screen that becomes this really cool evening party type venue,” Vogt explains. “We pair cocktails that will be introduced in the movie, and serve appetizers and drinks at these poignant moments during the film.”
Looking to the future, “We’re in the design phase for a brand new class of ships called Edge,” Vogt says. “It’s revolutionary and will introduce things that have never been done in the cruise industry before. There will be four ships, and they will feature spaces for private functions that we’ve never offered before.” Two Edge-class ships are planned for fall 2018 and early 2020, and another two potentially for fall 2021 and fall 2022. They will be sized between the line’s existing Millennium-class and Solstice-class, at 2,900 capacity each.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Two of NCL’s ships have recently undergone renovations: The Norwegian Dawn and Pride of America. The former vessel’s enhancements include two new restaurants, and three new bars and lounges, updated design and décor in all public spaces, and a refurbishment of all staterooms including a complete makeover of the ship’s signature Garden Villas, some of the largest suites at sea. The Pride of America’s renovations include newly designed public spaces, new venues and refreshed décor in all staterooms. Both projects are part of The Norwegian Edge program, a $400 million investment launched in January that encompasses the entire guest experience. Another upgrade, completed in June, is the quadrupling of internet bandwidth across the company’s 23 ships, including the Oceania and Regent Seven Seas brands.
Through next summer The Norwegian Edge initiative will be revolutionizing the company’s 250-acre private island oasis in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay, adding luxurious amenities, new adventure activities and expanded dining options. The company also is developing its Western Caribbean destination experience, Harvest Caye, Belize. It will be the country’s only cruise ship pier, allowing groups to easily depart to mainland Belize for an excursion.
“Norwegian reminds me a little of the old Avis commercial ‘We try harder,’ ” Faldmo comments. “I find all the cruise lines do a great job; I love working with every one of them. But I do find Norwegian hustles a little bit more on pricing and value.”
Similar to Celebrity’s Chef’s Market Discoveries, Oceania’s Culinary Discovery Tours enable guests to experience the cultures of the world through their cuisines. A master chef instructor from the ship’s hands-on cooking school, The Culinary Center, accompanies participants. The tours are being expanded to include some of the Mediterranean’s most intriguing destinations for the 2016 season: Antibes, France; Bandol, France; Casablanca, Morocco; Catania on Sicily, Italy; Heraklion (Iraklion) on Crete, Greece; and Palamos, Spain.
Launched this summer, Global Partners + Local Experts partners Princess with Cruise Europe, Cruise Baltic and MedCruise. The goal is to provide guests with authentic and exclusive onshore experiences in key regional cruise destinations.
The line’s new 3,560-capacity Majestic Princess, sister ship to the Regal Princess and Royal Princess, sets sail next April. Features include Princess’ largest top deck pool, 12,000 sf of high-end retail space and balconies on all outside staterooms.
Regent Seven Seas
The Regent Seven Seas Explorer, touted as the most luxurious ship ever built, was christened in July. The all-suite, all-balcony 750-guest ship calls on iconic destinations throughout the Mediterranean from Saint-Tropez and Ibiza to alluring Venice and Cinque Terre.
Regent Seven Seas has begun a $125 million refurbishment program to extend the Explorer’s luxury standards to all ships in Regent’s fleet. In addition, a sister ship to the Explorer will debut in 2020.
Due for completion in April 2017, the brand’s new ultra-upscale vessel Silver Muse will launch from Monte Carlo and spend the spring and summer months around the Mediterranean. A total of 52 UNESCO World Heritage Sites will be featured in Silver Muse’s 2017 itinerary, from ancient Greek temples to historic Caribbean fortresses. The ship houses 286 suites, with a capacity of 596 guests, and will essentially be a larger, more luxurious version of the Silver Spirit, built in 2009.
Cunningham selected Silversea for Afflink’s last three incentive programs “because of their quality, ownership, the level and the class of their ships, the quality of their food and the attention to detail,” she explains. “We’ve been on either the Silver Wind or the Silver Cloud. It’s easy for us to have a group session, let’s say after breakfast in the theater area. They have private boardrooms, as well as a library where people can meet. There may be a group of top-level owners and they want to get together with a couple of owners on the membership side or the distributors side, and they may set up a table for 14 for breakfast. So they will do whatever they need to do as far as accommodating any type of meeting.” C&IT