Site Study Looks at Cruises for MICE Market

By: Jena Tesse Fox

Late last year, the Site International Foundation, in cooperation with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released the results of its latest Site Index study,Focus on Cruises for Incentive Travel.

The study looked at the use of cruises as an incentive travel tool, and assessed where cruises fit into the incentive travel industry of the future. “Understanding the popularity and awareness of cruising as a motivational tool, and the overall perception of the cruising industry is vital to incentive travel planners and industry partners,” said Jane Schuldt, CITE, CIS, 2013 president of the Site International Foundation. “It is important to understand the challenges and concerns, as well as the motivation driving the use of cruises, so that we may better position this growing segment of our industry.”

Kevin Hinton, Site’s chief staff officer, said that the study proves that cruises are more viable than ever for meetings and events. “Cruise lines have invested in function space,” he told International Meetings Review. With new onboard venues for meetings–and a longstanding tradition of incentive cruises–the next step is to get a sense of how familiar the events industry is with what is available. “There is a disconnect between the amount of space available and the recognition that buyers can book these venues.” According to the study, 32 percent of respondents said that they were unaware of meeting space on cruise ships, and only slightly more than 21 percent indicated that they were aware of private venues on cruise ships.

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When research study participants were asked to rate their familiarity with various aspects of cruising, Site found that approximately 50 percent of respondents said that they had advanced knowledge in the field, and over 30 percent indicated that they had intermediate knowledge. And while study results indicated fewer respondents were likely to recommend cruises as a meeting venue, only 4.9 percent indicated that they would never utilize such a cruise ship venue.

“There’s a lot to know,” Hinton said about meetings at sea, especially when it comes to destinations. While the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are the top two destinations survey respondents said they wanted to visit, ports all over the world can serve for pre- or post-cruise stays or corporate retreats. “Think of cruising as a way to take a program anywhere  in the world,” Hinton said. While in Barcelona recently for EIBTM, he thought that visiting the city on a cruise (or spending time there before or after a cruise) would be an ideal way to see it.

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Cruise length is an important factor in choosing ideal cruises. For groups–especially corporate groups–four or five-night cruises are seen as ideal, while longer six to eight-night cruises were favored for individual incentive travel. “Cruise lengths can be limiting, but solving that can just be a matter of knowing what’s available,” Hinton said, adding that if a group books far enough in advance (18 to 24 months), they can charter a ship for exclusive use and have the excursion be only as long as they need it. “It’s a matter of matching up the group with a ship that’s the perfect size,” he said of private charters..”It gives you unlimited flexibility.”

Other concerns revealed in the study were about security and brand reputation. “There are a lot of different price points,” Hinton said. In the survey, Site asked respondents about 15 different cruise companies, including Royal Caribbean, Viking, Cunard and Costa. “It’s a very diverse offering,” he said, “but like any purchase, you need to know the variety available.” Furthermore, brands change over the years, and a Carnival cruise today may very well not be the same as what it was five years ago. “The cruise lines have done a lot to enhance the experience and make the ships more luxurious.” The largest ships, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, can accommodate thousands of people if needed, but smaller luxury lines like SilverSea and Regent can accommodate 50 to 500 attendees.

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Buyers were more impressed with hands-on familiarization opportunities than office presentations and webinars when learning about cruise products. Familiarization trips and in-port tours of ships appear to be the most effective methods.

“Buyers need to know that there is space available on ships for meetings and incentive programs,” Hinton said in summary, “and that the cruise lines are looking to grow their flexibility in terms of using space for private functions.”

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