Cruising is a multi-billion dollar industry – and growing fast. According to the Cruise Line International Association 27.2 million passengers are expected to set sail in 2018. In 2017, an estimated 25.8 million passengers cruised, an increase of 20.5 percent over five years since 2011.
One significant contributor to growth in cruising is the discovery by corporate event and meeting planners that these ships can be exciting platforms for company get-togethers. Event managers see immense value in planning meetings and events on cruise ships.
First, it helps to have the entire group in one location at all times, especially if one of the goals of corporate events is team building. Cruise ships are the ideal environment for official happenings in confined spaces that offer a host of facilities and venues. Second, it helps stick to budgets. Considering cruise packages are “all-inclusive,” this greatly reduces the possibility of additional expenditures. All accommodation, dining, entertainment and facilities are included in the price, making it simpler for managers to plan and execute the event.
But beyond the relative ease of organizing the logistics of corporate MICE events on board a vessel, there’s the value that comes from attendees finding themselves in more engaging settings, participating in unique travel experiences. Indeed the trend these days is toward travelers seeking more experiential encounters in their journeys.
From cultural immersion and voluntourism to team building and brainstorming, those returning from a cruise say they have a shift in perspective and a sense of accomplishment. Some upcoming cruise itineraries include the opportunity to indulge in local cuisine, guided tours through small villages and even visits inside private homes.
To get a sense of the opportunities for meetings and events that are available aboard a cruise ship, I was invited to set sail on the Genting Dream, the latest offering by cruise and resort operator Genting Hong Kong. Beginning with Star Cruises, Genting Hong Kong ventured into the cruising world in 1993, and acquired Crystal Cruises in 2015. Genting Dream, along with World Dream are two cruise liners launched by the company under its Dream Cruises brand (dreamcruiseline.com) which it calls its “first luxury cruise line.”
Genting Dream and World Dream feature a weekend sailing itinerary that sets sail into the South China Sea from Hong Kong. For two nights, we cruised in Chinese waters, watching exceptional sunsets and experiencing the facilities on board. The Genting Dream sailed from Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, the iconic silver-domed building that juts far out into Kowloon Bay like a long, thin finger.
The terminal occupies the water front that was once home to Kai Tak International Airport. When Hong Kong moved its aviation facilities to Chek Lap Kok, the old airport was closed and demolished in 1998. The huge 800-acre expanse that remained was the largest available tract of land fronting Victoria Harbor, and became the focus of intense development for government, institutional and community facilities, as well as residential and commercial areas and extensive open green spaces.
The first major construction to be completed was the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal which was built on the former airport’s famous old runway. Launched in mid-2013, the terminal has three stories, including passenger and service areas, waiting halls and concourses, and can accommodate two mega cruise ships of up to 220,000 tons.
It is from here that I embarked upon the Genting Dream, my designated home for the weekend.
I was appointed a Balcony Stateroom, the third-level accommodation option of Genting Dream. Categories begin at Inside Stateroom (no window and balcony) and Oceanview Stateroom (with window). There are several options for those looking to indulge a bit, including the Garden Penthouse and types of suites. An alternative option is Dream Palace, a sort of boutique hotel within the cruise. It features its own list of exclusive F&B and accommodation options that assure privacy, which for some is the ultimate luxury.
We explored a number of spaces on the Genting Dream for all sizes of MICE events. Its grand Zodiac Theatre, which hosts live performances, works well for staging conferences, award shows and 3D cinema. This 17,000-square-foot theatre can accommodate 999 attendees and offers 395 headsets for multi-lingual interpretation for those who need it.
For functions, seminars, meetings and other events, Tributes (2,600 square feet) can accommodate around 170 people. There are also two meeting rooms (440 square feet each). More private events for about 100 guests can be held at Palm Court (5,300 square feet) that features an observatory, bar and afternoon high-tea menu. The Zouk Beach Club along with Genting Club Pool and Sun Deck are the outdoor venues for informal happenings.
If run-of-the-mill MICE venues are not of interest, Genting Dream has an array of outdoor activities to consider for team building. This includes SportsPlex — basketball court and multi-function outdoor space, ropes course, rock climbing wall and five rooms for karaoke.
While onboard offerings are bursting with exciting embellishments, the cruise industry is also diversifying away from seafaring jaunts to river cruises. Practically every major city in the world has a river flowing through or nearby, so another way for attendees to experience the culture and cuisine of a region is to board a river cruise.
Short relaxing trips that open up vistas of the host city’s skyline are perfect team-building respites from conference rooms and coffee breaks. These are often coupled with entertainment and epicurean delights offered on-board. Further afield, day trips to majestic river valleys with various stops at picturesque towns and impressive local sights are available as well.
Themed itineraries are also becoming popular, with some groups exhibiting a penchant for more challenging travel. For example, Lindblad Expeditions’ purpose-built National Geographic Quest allows adventurers to explore the world’s poles. Meanwhile, Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company, recently launched a new brand Fathom, which focuses on “impact travel,” where passengers get involved with community-based work that has a positive social impact.
A Change of Plans
However, while creating corporate events on ships present both extraordinary, ever-changing venues and unique activities, group cruise planning specialists Landry & Kling caution that there are major differences in organizing such occasions afloat. For example, cruise ships offer a variety of public rooms which passengers use almost around the clock. So scheduling facilities needs to be carefully coordinated with the cruise line.
The turn time for ships between cruises
is often very fast, so meeting planners
usually have only a few hours to set things up onboard before their attendees arrive, versus a couple of days as with a resort. Likewise with a ship-board meeting, advance planning is coordinated with the cruise line’s shore-side headquarters. The ship’s staff will not receive your program documents until the week of sailing.
Shipping unaccompanied boxes of supplies, gifts, or equipment across international boundaries can be tricky. Freight forwarders, local duty/taxes, and foreign customs inspections require extra time. Equipment must be registered with US customs prior to boarding the ship to facilitate re-entry into the United States. Plan accordingly.
Typically more lead-time is required to book group cruises than resort bookings on land, perhaps as much as 18 to 24 months, depending on the itinerary and number of participants. In addition to the ports of call for the cruise, the facilities and resources offered by the ship will also drive changes in the daily agenda in order to capitalize on all that being on a cruise offers.
The Landry & Kling website notes that “pre-planning your meetings on ships with the cruise line is the key to success.”
Time flew by on-board the Genting Dream. A nature lover, I liked the views from my Balcony Stateroom, a respite I enjoyed returning to after a hectic day full of activities. While the cruise is packed with adrenalin pumping liveliness, it is here that I felt one with the limitless high seas and enjoyed myself most.