Christine Duffy is president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association. She formerly served as president and CEO of Maritz Travel, one of the world’s largest M&I travel management companies. www.cruising.org
With a growing cruise industry (Cruise Lines International Association projects 21.7 million travelers will cruise in 2014) and exciting new ships and itineraries to the most interesting places in the world, it is no wonder that more businesses are realizing that meetings and incentives at sea are a viable option for corporate gatherings.
When I stepped into my role at CLIA, coming from Maritz Travel, I immediately saw the potential for the cruise industry and the M&I market to work more closely together and mutually grow their market segments. This is a big focus area for me, and I’m pleased that there is more recognition than ever before that a cruise ship is the perfect venue for business meetings and events — large and small.
I’m also excited to see that the cruise industry is actively cultivating the meetings and incentive market with new onboard amenities, conference facilities designed specifically for meetings and events, and new and advanced technological capabilities. The cruise ships of today — and tomorrow — have become dynamic facilities for companies to reward and enrich their meeting programs and incentive offerings. It’s hard to imagine other locations or facilities that can offer such a superior experience — one that helps to build camaraderie among attendees as well as company loyalty.
What I’ve also seen is that when it comes to planning a meeting at sea, customization is a big factor, with cruise lines, including small luxury ships and river cruise companies, working closely with meeting and incentive planners to create highly personalized programs to meet their needs.
And, at a time when more companies are expanding globally, so too is the cruise industry with more cruise lines catering to the global market and easily meeting the demands of multilingual and multinational planning and accommodation for incentive and meetings-incentive hybrid programs.
Key among the reasons why cruises stand out with corporate groups is the incomparable value they offer and the ability to create a meeting or event that is truly distinctive. A cruise is generally less expensive and more inclusive than a land-based program — an important factor in a recovering economy. One rate covers meals, onboard activities, taxes, gratuities and entertainment. This allows planners to have a firm grasp on their budgets, and makes planning a sea-based M&I program much easier and less time-consuming — especially for larger groups.
Depending on the line, planning group programs is a one-stop process with group sales departments, dedicated group planners and onboard meeting and incentive staff to handle all group needs. Options for cruises are extensive, with cruises available in every part of the world, of every length (from two days to two weeks or more), and in every price category.
This is an exciting time for the cruise industry with the debut of cruise ships that rival the imagination. More and more cruise lines are creating revolutionary experiences with new, state-of-the-art spaces, adrenaline-rushing onboard activities, elegantly appointed and newly designed staterooms, game-changing technology, groundbreaking venues, gourmet dining options and Broadway-style entertainment. River cruising, specialty cruising and luxury cruising are also growing in popularity for executive retreats and incentives. Most important is passenger satisfaction, which at 96 percent is the highest in the travel industry.
The M&I market is so important to CLIA that we have established a Meetings, Events & Incentives (ME&I) Task Force made up of the major cruise line members focused on developing a strong relationship with the meetings and incentive industry. Some 24 MPI Chapters in the U.S. and Canada are aligned with CLIA cruise line members to help their planners have a better understanding of what the cruise industry can offer them. We are also assisting our cruise line members in being more active with other trade associations, such as PCMA and SITE, and in having a presence at incentive industry functions and trade shows such EIBTM, IMEX and ITE.
When I first started at CLIA I saw that there were clearly many meeting planners and meeting professionals who had no idea what the cruise industry was all about. I believe we’ve changed that view with increased numbers of meeting and incentive events being held on cruise ships, and I’m confident that this trend will continue to grow. 2015 will be an exciting year for the cruise industry and a wonderful opportunity for the meetings industry to take advantage of the incomparable value and excitement that can only be experienced on a cruise. C&IT