Why should an organization take a conference, an event that requires a high volume of planning and organization, on the high seas? The benefits of cruise ship conferences are too good to resist just because they are unconventional.
Between 2013 and 2014, $7.2 billion was invested in the global cruise industry, creating more cruise ships, new ports and enhanced onboard technologies. In 2014, 29 new cruise ships will be built to increase the current Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) fleet of 410 by 7 percent. As the North American cruise industry continues to grow, more ports have opened to make cruises more accessible to the current 70 percent of people that live within a five-hour drive of a cruise port. In North America, there are 30 embarking ports, 15 of which are in the United States. Heightening investments also contribute to the increase in technology, demonstrated by the upsurge of cruise ship mobile apps, stronger Wi-Fi, and ability to video conference call while onboard.
CRUISE SHIPS OFFER SERVICES THAT HOTELS DO NOT “Education vacations” are used to train or educate conference attendees on industry matters. The cruise ship creates an environment where the conference attendees actually pay attention and are rewarded with the various forms of entertainment on board during the off hours.
Conferences on cruise ships have high attendance as well as high satisfaction rates from conference attendees. Cruise ships also provide services, such as 24/7 room service, spas and gyms. The staff-to-passenger ratio is better on a cruise ship than at a hotel. A cruise has a crew-to-passenger ratio that is three times higher than a resort, meaning that cruise ships provide superior service compared to land-based hotels by sheer numbers. Cruise ships offer a plethora of activities and services to make conferences effective and enjoyable. It is a win-win situation.
VALUE FOR YOUR SPEND Cruise ship conferences are not only efficient and fun, but can also be less expensive when compared to hotel conferences. Cruise ship conferences save organizations 30-40 percent in costs while still providing more services such as on-board entertainment and food and beverage minimums. At hotels, the cost of renting conference rooms and equipment can be as much as $2,000 in addition to the initial price which doesn’t include food or entertainment. International programs may also be purchased using US currency no matter what the nationality of the cruise ship’s port. This financial option removes currency risk from the equation, thus lowering potential costs. Cruise ship conferences eliminate hidden fees and provide financial options that hotels cannot thereby increasing the value of the conference while reducing the price.
ATTENDEES ATTEND Overall, cruise ship conferences win over hotel conferences in every way. 85 percent of Americans would like to take a cruise in the next five years, which means there is a high probability many organizations would benefit from the trend of cruise ship conferences. Organizations that have utilized conferences on the high seas have had increased attendance, attention and organization cohesion. A common fear of meeting planners within the traditional concept of hotel room blocks is that attendance will be low and therefore cause financial stress on the conference. Since cruise ship attendance is high, room block contracts are fulfilled rather than lacking reservations.
GET FLEXIBLE With cruise ships, there are various itinerary options so that all attendees can create the optimal cruise experience. Cruise ships offer many different types of trips, varying location, ship size and day length, so that meeting planners can choose the ideal cruise for the conference. If a conference requires countless meetings, a seven-night cruise or longer would serve well. While a three-day cruise would suffice for a brief conference. Depending on expected attendance, planners have the option of reserving a block of rooms of a large cruise ship or a partial or full buyout of a smaller vessel. If a conference would like access to the numerous amenities and accommodations, a larger cruise ship would be preferable. For those attendees who would like a more intimate experience, a smaller vessel would provide more personalized service and itineraries, while visiting ports that are less-crowded. All cruise ships provide a ‘work hard, play hard’ atmosphere, offering limitless activities and excursions. When the work day is over, conference attendees have boundless entertainment options at their fingertips. Cruise ship conferences provide meeting planners flexibility in concerns to the destination, conference length, entertainment and more.
The cruise ship meetings trend poses as an unconventional approach to conferences, but that might just be why it is also brilliant!
Chuck Salem is president of Johnstown, Pa.-based Unique Venues, which connects event planners with venues.