Cruising Has ArrivedFebruary 1, 2014

Cost Factors and Bottom-Line Value Make Meeting at Sea an Attractive Corporate Choice By
February 1, 2014

Cruising Has Arrived

Cost Factors and Bottom-Line Value Make Meeting at Sea an Attractive Corporate Choice
Celebrity Cruises

Beginning in April on Celebrity Cruises, Canyon Ranch SpaClub will offer spa, beauty salon, wellness and fitness amenities presenting signature Canyon Ranch offerings. Credit: Celebrity Cruises

Although meetings and incentive programs aboard cruise ships have been popular with many planners and their attendees for more than a decade, since the Great Recession the bottom-line value and other practical benefits of a cruise program have prompted many more planners to take a second look.

As a result, a landmark survey conducted by Site, in cooperation with the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA), and released last November, reported that 72.6 percent of respondents said they expected to book a cruise for an IT program over the next three years, while 52.8 percent said they planned to book a business meeting on a cruise ship.

“That report, and the fact that CLIA made a presentation at the last Site annual meeting, really tells you that cruising has arrived as a corporate choice,” says Jo Kling, president of Miami-based Landry & Kling Events at Sea, which specializes in helping meeting planners create cruise programs.

Although cruise ships have traditionally been used more for incentive programs, Kling says, “meetings are coming on strong now. And that has been especially true since the recession.”

The primary reason, Kling says is the bottom-line value.

“Cost is a very important factor for planners now,” she says. “Everybody is paying attention to budgets now. And being able to host a meeting in a way that costs less than most hotels, but actually provides more, is something that is becoming more and more attractive.”

“Cost is a very important factor. And being able to host a meeting in a way that costs less than most hotels, but actually provides more, is something that is becoming more and more attractive.”

— Jo Kling, President, Landry & Kling Events at Sea, Miami, FL

Tom Koenigsberg, chief brand officer at Irving, TX-based restaurant chain Cheddar’s, has used cruises for more than a decade at three different companies.

One of the reasons he favors cruises, for both incentive programs and serious business meetings, is that “cruises are very economical,” Koenigsberg says. “So from an enterprise standpoint, as we look at our costs and what it costs to do a land-based program, we realize that with a land-based program, you have F&B minimums, and you are also paying out of pocket for things like coffee and doughnuts. Those things tend to add up very, very quickly. Then, you also have the cost of the hotel rooms. A cruise is all-inclusive, and it is an incredible value. And a much better value than a land-based program.”

Koenigsberg estimated that in an apples-to-apples comparison to a land-based program, a cruise is 30–40 percent less expensive.

Mark Bosworth, CEO of Doral, FL-based SwissJust, a direct sales company for essential oils and wellness products, corroborated Koenigsberg’s assertion that cruises offer dramatic bang for the buck.

“When we ran the numbers, the cost of a cruise was about the same or even cheaper than a land-based program,” says Bosworth, who — after using cruise ships for five years for his incentive program — hosted his first cruise meeting in January 2013 on a Royal Caribbean ship and used a Carnival ship for this year’s meeting. “And part of the reason for that was that we always ended up spending a lot of F&B costs in a hotel,” he says. “And on a cruise, you pay an all-inclusive price.”

In addition, Bosworth says, Swiss­Just got a four-day meeting for the same cost of a three-day weekend meeting in Miami.

The all-inclusive pricing model of a cruise program also translates to practical ease and convenience for a planner, Kling says.

Helen Wylie, corporate administrator at Bridgeville, PA-based HR consulting firm Development Dimensions International Inc., first used a buyout of a Silversea luxury ship in 2009 for the company’s annual incentive program, which draws between 200 and 250 domestic and international attendees.

She and her attendees like the experience so much that they used a Silversea ship again last year.

Wylie agreed that not only is the all-inclusive pricing model of a cruise a critical component in its value proposition, but also is a convenience factor for planners. “You only have to write one check to pay in full for everything, with no variations or add-ons as you have in a land-based program,” Wylie says. “If you do a land-based program, you’re writing checks for the hotel, the DMC, the transportation company. And you have to reconcile and pay all of those invoices. There’s just a lot more involved. A cruise is easy.”

Koenigsberg said that convenience as a planner also is a key benefit for Cheddar’s, especially since he has many other responsibilities as an executive at the company.

“You only have to write one check to pay in full for everything, with no variations or add-ons as you have in a land-based program. A cruise is easy.”

— Helen Wylie, Corporate Administrator
Development Dimensions International Inc., Bridgeville, PA

Food and Beverage

Another key benefit of a cruise ship is that virtually unlimited F&B services are included in the all-inclusive price.

“The food service aspect is definitely another thing that makes cruises attractive,” says Koenigsberg, whose very successful restaurant company has built its longstanding reputation on quality. The F&B benefit of cruises is now being rendered even more valuable as costs at hotels are rising sharply in top destinations as the pendulum swings back to a seller’s market.

“What really makes cruises attractive from an F&B perspective is having all of the food you want — as much as you want whenever you want,” he says. “That is very appealing to us and our people.”

And with a cruise, Kling says, “there is also the issue of the quality of the food and the range of options. You definitely get more variety and better value on a cruise.”

And many cruise ships are now offering top-quality specialty restaurants, such as sushi bars and Italian restaurants, as well as addressing consumer demand for more healthful fare including vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free options, Kling says.

The latest innovation, she says, features more flexibility in packages that allow dining every night at a specialty food venue rather than the main dining room.

And on its Royal Princess ship, Prin­cess Cruises has introduced a “Chef’s Table VIP Experience,” which is a perfect way to give high-profile recognition and reward to top-gun incentive qualifiers.

In December, Carnival Cruise Lines announced the inception of two new main dining room concepts, American Table and American Feast. The former, to be offered on “Cruise Casual” nights, starting on the Carnival Glory, is designed to evoke a world-class restaurant experience with a focus on exceptional American cuisine.

American Feast also will be offered once or twice per voyage in the main dining room on “Cruise Elegant” nights. It has been designed to evoke the feel of an elegant, elaborate celebration with a sophisticated multi-course menu.

Carnival also has raised the bar for 2014 when it comes to onboard entertainment, booking major stars such as Jennifer Hudson, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride and Jewel.

“And on a cruise ship, you’re getting that kind of Las Vegas-quality entertainment for free,” Kling says, “because it, too, is included in the all-inclusive price. And as a planner, you don’t have to think about it or have to arrange anything. It’s all done for you.”

Other Benefits

Yet another important benefit of cruises, Koenigsberg says, is the camaraderie and sense of shared experience that is unique to cruises.

“On a cruise, the group is really together all of the time,” Koenigsberg says. “And that gives a cruise meeting a certain kind of camaraderie that you don’t necessarily get in a land-based program. In a land-based destination, when the day’s meeting is done, people are spread out all over the city, so there is no shared experience. And camaraderie is very important to us as a benefit, particularly for the type of general manager meetings that we do on cruise ships because they are the people who really drive our business.”

He noted that spouses also like cruises very much, “because their husbands or wives work very hard and a cruise gives them time together without their kids around.”

Related to that benefit, Bosworth says, is that cell phones do not always work on a cruise ship at sea. “And the fact that people weren’t using cell phones also meant they had more time to chat with each other and network,” he says. “And for us, that is a great benefit.”

Another benefit is that cruises are a unique experience for most attendees.

“It’s something different,” Wylie says. “Land-based programs are wonderful, too, and there are beautiful resorts out there. But a cruise is just different. It’s just something new to do. And if you choose just the right cruise line for your group, that makes the experience all that much better.”

Koenigsberg and his attendees also value the special nature of a cruise.

“There is an exotic element and in some cases that is an element that people would normally not have the opportunity to get,” he says. “For example, a cruise ship that stops in the Bahamas and a number of exotic destinations like that along the way is not a vacation package that many people could string together on their own or afford. So that allows for a very exotic itinerary.”

As far as the overall experience goes, for both attendees and planners, Koenigsberg has high praise for Celebrity Cruises, which he has used at three different employers, most recently two years ago.

One of the things that sets Celebrity apart, he says, is its exemplary service.

“When you’re trying to do a meeting on a ship with a contained group, the customer service you get around things like setting up meeting rooms is very important,” he says. “Or storing things you’ve brought onboard for different things you’re doing. And in those ways, Celebrity was very helpful. For example, they assigned a dedicated person to us and gave us walkie-talkies so we had instant and constant access to our customer service rep. And things come up all time, so that for us is a very big benefit, especially because we tend to have a lot of issues that come up. But we got awesome service from Celebrity.”

New Ships

Based on ever-increasing consumer demand for cruises — especially among repeat passengers — the cruise lines regularly introduce new ships, often eclipsing the previous standard for excellence.

Carnival’s newest ship is the Carnival Sunshine. Because Carnival is highly focused on being the market leader in incentive programs, the ship features an enhanced array of dining and entertainment venues aimed at attracting companies that want to reward their employees with a truly exceptional cruise experience.

Kling cites another three new ships as representative of how the bar is constantly being raised.

In November, Royal Ca­ribbean will launch its Quantum of the Seas. “It has a big wow factor,” Kling says, because it has been talked about a lot. And if you’re offering a program on a new ship that has already gotten a lot of attention, it gives you bragging rights to be one of the first groups to go on it.”

Another high-profile new ship is the Getaway from Norwegian Cruise Lines, which debuted in January in New York and provided supplemental housing for the Super Bowl before heading south to Miami, where it will be based year-round for Caribbean itineraries.

The Cruise Web Inc. notes that “The Getaway is the sister ship to the Norwegian Breakaway and while it will be similar in size and shape, the Getaway will have a personality all its own. Because it is based out of Miami, it will feature some of that beach city’s key aspects. For example, she will have a lot of Latin flavor at the Flamingo Bar & Grill and the Sugarcane Mojito Bar.”

The Divina from MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) also is creating a lot of buzz, Kling says. “It will also be sailing out of Miami to the eastern and western Caribbean year-round. It’s also MSC’s first year-round commitment to the U.S. market.”

Other new ships garnering a lot of attention and interest include the Regal Princess, which will be introduced in May as sister ship to the Royal Princess, according to The Cruise Web Inc.

Get Expert Help

Two things virtually all meeting planners who have used cruises agree on, in terms of practical tips that will ensure the best possible experience, are to work with a cruise professional such as Florida-based companies Landry & Kling and Buy the Sea to select the right line and ship for a program. Also, it’s vitally important to make a site visit to be absolutely sure that you know what you’re buying and why.

For the last five years, Bosworth has worked with Buy the Sea, operated by cruise veteran Shari Wallack. “Buy the Sea gives us very good service,” Bosworth says. “They’re very easy to work with and they make doing a cruise meeting very easy. And they’re just good people.”

Bosworth also strongly suggests a site visit before a booking. There is no standard cruise, he says. Every line is different and every ship is different, so the only way to have confidence that a planner has made an informed choice is to see the product first-hand to make sure the ship has exactly the facilities and amenities that are most prized.

As an interim step to that process, Landry & Kling Events at Sea offers the popular Internet portal, which allows planners to investigate ships, check available cruise dates, and collect information on all other aspects of a particular ship. C&IT

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