Times have changed and so have cruise ships. I would hope this is industry-wide. But I can only speak for Holland America Line, since that is the line I experienced in both 2009 and 2010.
For the past 20 years, cruise ships in general have been ideal for incentive programs; and because I’ve participated in and arranged numerous incentive and sales conventions, I can attest to that first hand. I can also say that in past years cruise ships were not completely ideal for general meetings. Now, I sing a different tune.
In 2008, the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) began looking for a venue that could host a small meeting and keep costs reasonable and fully budgeted ahead of time. The venue we wanted had to provide exceptional dining alternatives, good meeting rooms, and audio-visual needs – without unplanned extra charges.
Holland America Line (HAL) was our answer. We received a group rate, meeting rooms, and audio-visual equipment at no extra charge. Continental breakfasts and break refreshers were also included. Our meeting rooms were comfortable, efficient, and well-equipped.
We scheduled our meetings on sea days and it worked like a charm. On port days, we planned numerous excursions including team-building events. In our case, we contacted local tourism offices and public relations firms and planned our shore events with their expertise. HAL’s shore excursion experts were also available to assist us if needed.
I was delighted and relieved with the support I received in the planning stages. My HAL contact helped me work out every detail, including the shipping of support material to the ship.
HAL personnel arranged for my work team to board early and sort seminar material, welcome bags, and pillow gifts. Another bonus was no charge for delivering packages and pillow gifts daily to staterooms.
Our pre-conference meetings with cruise line department-heads enabled us to check details and clear anything that had been inadvertently left out. Department-head personnel also provided us with names and extension numbers of those to call for assistance. The support service was impeccable.
It most cases, and especially in today’s economy, keeping costs in control and within budget is imperative. There were no unplanned surprises on HAL.
You may wonder how you can justify an international cruise for your company sales meeting. I’m not a tax expert, but here are some suggestions that worked for some of my clients when I planned meetings and incentives on a full time basis.
- Pick two or three venues that provide the services you want. Then narrow down to your final choice.
- Plan a breakfast meeting and evening get-together on port days, if you choose a cruise, and if you feel it’s necessary for compliance.
- Price the cost for your meeting and be sure to include taxes and all fees, including:
- Meeting room rental;
- Audio-visual charges, podiums, white boards, and any other necessities unique to your event;
- The number of meals you choose to include;
- Coffee breaks and refreshers;
- Room delivery for welcome bags, pillow gifts, and other niceties;
- Gratuities for meals, housekeeping, and other appropriate personnel;
- Air transportation and transfers to destinations you’re considering, as well as any cruise ports;
- All entertainment costs.
It is my own belief, as well as that of some of my clients, that the actual cost of a cruise is less expensive than holding a similar meeting on land. That alone can justify a cruise event.
A most import benefit is the perceived value. Time after time, in my experience, cruises provided a higher level of attendee satisfaction.
You may feel a cruise is perfect for one time. But how do you not go back to the same destination on a second cruise? IFWTWA found duplication not necessary. The first year, we sailed down the West Coast of Mexico on the ms Oosterdam. For our 2010 conference, we sailed the ms Eurodam to the Eastern Caribbean. For 2011, we are planning an Alaskan cruise.
Our 2010 meeting was small with 40 conferees, but we discovered another group of 150 participants on board which successfully holds an annual cruise.
IFWTWA members have traveled the world and cruised many lines. However, the unanimous agreement was to repeat our Conference at Sea on Holland America Line in 2011. Writers do not earn a lot of money. Yet all the organization members who have attended our conferences believe the value of our effort, which combined professional development sessions with time for networking, provided an investment that became a top opportunity for them to expand their writing careers.
As IFWTWA President, along with my team, we are delighted to have developed a good working relationship with the HAL team in Seattle. We can change our destination and not have to reinvent the communications wheel.
In summary, you can plan and accurately budget cruise ship meetings that result in a fine Return on Investment (ROI).
One last tip: Be sure to know and verify meeting room sizes before you book. It’s fact: Some cruise lines are not set up to handle meetings as well as others, and you want to provide the best opportunity you can for those attendees who’ve place their trust in you.
May your cruise conferences be as successful as ours.