Cruise lines these days are working overtime to attract the meetings and incentive market with newer/reconfigured ships designed with more meeting space, dedicated F&B venues and experiential teambuilding opportunities. One of the early adopters, Carnival Cruise Lines offers a choice of 23 ships departing 20 cities, including 15 in the U.S.
“Carnival was one of the first cruise lines to have a dedicated incentive sales team going back to the mid-70s,” says Ann Sedgewick, senior director of corporate/incentive sales. “With the introduction of the Carnival Fantasy in 1990 as the first new ship of 70,000 tons to enter the short market, we demonstrated early on our commitment to the meeting and incentive market with a superior ship that offered unbeatable value.”
Sedgewick says cruising offers tremendous ROI when you consider everything that is already included. She mentions that corporate decision makers are often surprised to see just how much is actually included in a program.
“It’s truly about having everything—accommodations, meeting space, private venues, most A/V equipment, onboard meals and, of course, fabulous entertainment options,” she says. “Our professional team will assist planners in making all of their onboard arrangements and offer recommendations.”
Another benefit, the transition to bigger ships is a major factor in luring tradeshows and other space-needy events at sea. That includes both conference space and areas of the ship that can easily be privatized for discreet group functions.
“These options weren’t as prevalent on cruise ships 15-20 years ago,” says Sedgewick. “Now, we rival any resort destination.” Bigger boats also allow for more group activities. Planners can create competitions revolving around basketball, miniature golf, racing slides, aquatic games, ropes courses and scavenger hunts. “Most ships today are very conducive to team activities and networking, and they can be arranged either onboard or in a port destination,” says Sedgewick. “Both have been well received and they make a program unique and memorable.”
Meanwhile, Carnival is working with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to develop a stronger relationship with MPI chapters around the country. She feels the cruise meetings industry has a lot of room to grow.
Sedgewick says, “By attending the WEC (MPI World Education Congress) in St. Louis, and by coordinating various ship inspection opportunities in 2013 with participating CLIA cruise line partners, the industry realizes that there are many meeting planners who have never operated a program on a ship before.” Sedgewick and CLIA intend to change that.