Crystal Cruises operates two cruise ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. To learn more about their group product, we spoke with Eric Graves, vp of field sales, and Hedwige Roessler, manager of incentive sales.
Prevue: What sets Crystal apart in the MICE industry?
Eric Graves: Our ships are each about 1,000 passengers and 50,000 and 68,000 tons. Our competitors in our category are smaller, boutique type vessels and they’re often not in a position to handle larger group requirements.
With companies doing much better these days, we’re back with a vengeance in the incentive travel realm. We handle anywhere from 25 to 600 people, and can do charters as well.
Also, our share of incentive business has leaped off the charts since we went all-inclusive [in 2012]. Entertainment, wine and spirits, luxury dining experiences—none of that costs extra. Gratuities are included. Incentive groups enjoy having a good time, and including everything in their experience has been wonderful in terms of budgeting.
Prevue: How are sea-based incentive programs evolving?
Graves: We’ve been adding more short cruises for flexibility. This also falls in line with the incentive travel duration. Frankly, some incentives would like it even shorter than seven days but we don’t want to go there.
Crystal doesn’t try to jump in too much in the Caribbean or Alaska because the mega-ship crowd dominates it so thoroughly. Although we have great success in those two areas because we don’t go there often…. We move our ships around—Europe and Asia, South Pacific and Africa—because that is what the luxury guest is looking for. We have the largest repeat factor of any cruise line, around 53%, so we need to accommodate those folks who are looking for new and different places all the time.
Prevue: What itineraries are trending well?
Hedwige Roessler: A lot of our seven nights now have an overnight as embarkation day. It’s great for groups because they don’t have to worry about getting a hotel. We do an overnight in Venice, for example; the clients fly in on the first day, stay overnight on the ship, and then leave port the following afternoon. It gives them time to really experience a port, and that’s what they want.
For 2015, we’ve added more of the exotic, such as a round-trip Istanbul cruise. We’re doing the Black Sea, which is very unusual; we already have a group on that. Another change for 2015 is that we’ve added a couple of 7-day Baltics, which we have not done in the past. We’ve always done 10 days but that’s a little long for incentives. This gives them another choice besides always doing the Western or Eastern Med.
Prevue: Tell us about an amazing customized group program.
Roessler: Last year for a group’s gala night, we arranged for a group of 210 to go to Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg. Violinists greeted them, the tables were all done in period decor, they had dancers, caviar, vodka—it was exquisite.
We’re also now in our third year of volunteerism excursions. We have one in Cartagena, for example, that has received wonderful feedback. We’ve also just launched new boutique excursions for small groups. For example, in Belfast we will be offering an exclusive tour of Belfast’s Parliament.
Graves: Outside Dubai, we built an Arabian Nights scene in the desert complete with the tents and people dressed in costumes. It was straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. It was for 350 and we blew these people’s minds!