Faced with demands for unique experiences and higher return on investment, savvy planners often consider cruise ships for meetings and incentive travel programs. But with hundreds of ships already sailing (and many more in the pipeline), how can they be sure they're choosing the best vessel for their group? For starters, we've compiled five considerations to help planners better decide on a ship fit for their meeting or incentive program.
The inclusive nature of cruise ships makes meeting at sea rather convenient. In most cases, meals, entertainment, activities, meeting space and use of audiovisual equipment are included in customized packages. Regardless, it is imperative to review group rate and package constraints, and to address any discrepancies with the cruise line directly.
If you are working with a flexible budget, we suggest opting for an upscale, all-inclusive ship. Most luxury lines offer complimentary WiFi, all beverages (including wine and spirits), specialty restaurants, excursions and exclusive shore events in their pricing. Gratuities also are included and make for definite budget outlines. Large, resort-style ships -- something like the Norwegian Joy, complete with laser tag and go-kart racetracks and recently named one of the Top Ocean Cruise Mega-Ships by Travel + Leisure -- are ideal for planners with larger multigenerational groups and stricter budgets.
Rates also can swing significantly depending on the season of travel (the same accommodations on the same ship might cost more during peak travel months). Shoulder seasons can offer savings and might be even more appealing than high season: A fall day can be more enjoyable than baking under the August sun in the Bahamas.
Size and Type of Ship
What are your travelers' demographics? What would motivate your sales team to meet their goals? How much will the onboard "wow" factor, innovative technology and first-at-sea experience weigh into your final decision-making? Does the ship's variety of world-class dining and entertainment have an impact on how much your travelers will enjoy the experience? Answer these questions to better determine the size and type of ship that will meet your group's needs and desires.
Cruise ships range from jaw-dropping mega-ships to boutique-sized luxury vessels and everything in between. List out the criteria and space you require. Then start narrowing the prospects.
Number of Nights
Cruise lines are continuing to introduce shorter itineraries that are ideal for meetings and incentives. Many lines are now willing and able to book three, four and five-night voyages to destinations around the globe. Determine the timeline for your group and do some inquiry work. Do not assume that, just because you only see seven and 11-night voyages marketed, other itineraries aren't an option.
What's hot in incentive travel? It's all about unique destination experiences. Not too long ago, most cruises took place in the Caribbean -- and only the Caribbean. These days, however, most lines offer sailings around the globe. Still, not every line goes to every destination, and some lines are stronger than others in particular areas. Decide what your group is looking for in their travel. Determine an ideal destination before choosing a ship.
Locations such as Alaska and the Mediterranean continue to entice, inspire and motivate. These high-energy locales are perfect for the group looking to explore, activate and get hands-on with experiential travel. European river cruises are ideal for those preferring a more intimate and immersive travel experience.
Meeting and Event Space
What are your meeting facility requirements? Many new ships have purpose-built conference centers that can also be converted to smaller rooms, plus boardrooms, lounges and other flexible spaces connecting to the sea. Determine the size requirements for any planned events you will host and be sure that all ships you consider are willing and able to accommodate such demands.
Joyce Landry, CEO, Landry & King Global Cruise Events, cofounded the company in 1982 as the first to specialize in corporate meetings, incentives and events at sea. Landry & Kling manages cruise projects and dockside ship charters around the globe for a diverse group of clients, including corporate meeting planners, event organizers, sports-marketing companies and professional travel organizations. Landry and her business partner, Jo Kling, have been inducted into the Cruise Industry Hall of Fame in recognition of their pioneering role in the use of cruise ships as corporate meeting venues.