Event planning is a difficult business. Not only does it require the utmost precision and incredible attention to detail, it also requires originality, creativity and flair.
At the core of every events manager’s vision is the hope of producing an event that is truly memorable for both clients and employees; one that is spectacular in its execution, with a wow factor that stays with guests for years to come. Undoubtedly, achieving such feats on a regular basis becomes exponentially difficult.
For this reason, one relatively new option on the MICE scene has stepped up to provide novelty and amazement once more: cruise ships.
The cruise industry offers the kind of flexibility and versatility that all event managers dream of. Increasingly resembling microcities, offering the kind of luxury enjoyed in world-class hotels, cruise ships offer space and comfort for any type of event, with the added bonus of the most incredible view this planet has to offer: the big blue sea.
Over the past few years, the expansion and evolution of the cruise industry has been nothing short of remarkable. Gone are the days in which cruises were seen as a pastime for pensioners. Instead, more and more families and young couples are choosing to spend their precious vacation days at sea, surrounded by almost every amenity and type of entertainment that they could ask for.
As popular as MICE cruises have become, many in the industry are still not aware of the potential these vessels hold
For those seeking adventure and discovery in their travels, cruises offer them the opportunity to visit a new destination almost every day, but without the hassle of constantly repacking and waiting in tiresome airport queues.
Business Destinations spoke to Cindy D’Aoust, CEO of the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA), about the industry’s growth in recent years. She said: “We have seen intergenerational cruising becoming more popular, with family reunions and family vacations becoming a growing segment of the industry.” This rising popularity among young people and families is partly explained by recent advances in technology and a growing ability to stay connected, even in the heart of a vast ocean.
Illustrating this trend is the growing popularity of river cruising. Last year alone saw 18 new river cruise ships placed on order – an increase of more than 10 percent from 2015. D’Aoust said: “The progression of the Asia cruise market has also been exciting to watch. In fact, 2015 was a record-breaking year for Asia. There are now more cruises and itineraries being offered in the region, and we [have seen] that trend continue into 2016 with cruise lines moving and building new ships within Asia”.
Another rising trend – one growing with increasing fervour – is customisation, which has now become a key theme in the industry. “From using technology to innovative food offerings, cruise lines are really adapting to today’s modern traveller.”
The extraordinary level of accommodation available on a cruise liner combined with the power of new technology has seen a growing number of companies take to the seas as well. D’Aoust said: “The cruise and meeting industries share the common goal of bringing people together to create meaningful and memorable experiences. Meeting and event options on cruise ships have evolved. The variety of new cruise products, unique itineraries, venue options and sophisticated technology enable planners to create productive and effective meetings and events at sea that will truly deliver against clients’ meeting objectives.”
In response, big players in the industry are adapting their facilities and ships specifically for their growing list of MICE clients: “By creating rooms that can transform into various meeting spaces and offering a plethora of group options, the possibilities are becoming endless.”
As well as flexible meeting and breakout spaces, new ships also offer comfortable seating, high-end production capabilities and world-class food services. In such an environment, corporate clients boast of the engaging atmosphere it invokes, as well as the experience of something new and different. D’Aoust noted: “Cruising offers a wow factor to attendees, and the all-inclusive pricing helps planners maximise their dollars, with customisable and unique experiences.”
Naturally, as with any industry – particularly one that is in the process of expanding and evolving – challenges do persist. Many of these challenges stem from general misconceptions and misinformation about cruises and the ships themselves.
“Planners who do not understand the simplicity of planning a meeting or event can become overwhelmed by the choices in products, itineraries and customisation”, D’Aoust explained. “Fortunately, [with cruises] planners have a ready-made resource for full programming, meals and entertainment, enabling them to plan their days around the ship’s existing schedule.”
Furthermore, the costs themselves are often less than many presume: “A meeting or event on a cruise ship generally provides a greater return on experience than land-based venues, with savings on ground transportation, entertainment, audiovisual [equipment], and food and beverages.”
Making businesses aware
As popular as MICE cruises have become, many in the industry are still not aware of the potential these vessels hold. However, CLIA – the official trade body for the cruise industry in North America – is uniquely equipped to promote the MICE cruise sector. For example, in 2015, CLIA partnered with membership organisation Meeting Professionals International to introduce the Meetings and Events at Sea certificate programme. The aim of the course is to help travel agents and event planners to better understand the benefits that cruising can offer to their business clients.
D’Aoust explained: “The sessions highlight how to work with different types of ships, new onboard venues and embarkation processes, as well as helping planners locate the right type of ship experience for their event.” Part of this promotional work involves highlighting the numerous advantages of cruises over more traditional venues for business gathering and events.
“Meeting planners organising land-based events generally have to start from scratch. They have to find the venue, set the programme, identify activities, and search for food and beverage options. When you work with a cruise line, a lot of that legwork is done for you. Many items are turnkey. Plus, attendees are also less likely to wander off on their own, creating a more engaged meeting atmosphere.
“Additionally, cruise ships often offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as skydiving in a wind tunnel, surfing on a FlowRider machine, or cooking with a celebrity chef. These can be big draws when hosting events.”
Offering everything in a single package is a great appeal for event managers who are pressed to fine-tune every possible detail for their clients and colleagues.
With so many options and such ease in terms of planning, the future of the MICE cruise sector has untold promise. D’Aoust concluded: “I have worked in the meeting industry for more than 20 years. Now that I am part of the cruise industry, I’m excited to see the potential for more collaboration between our industries. I also look forward to seeing more and more companies take advantage of all that cruise ships have to offer, because there are unprecedented opportunities within the MICE sector.”