Cruise line charts greater expansion in Asia-Pacific

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am

Silversea Cruises has been expanding its target clientele to include companies wishing to hold meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) aboard its luxury liners. MICE contributes about 15 to 20 per cent of the company's overall business annually, and the senior vice-president of Silversea, Asia-Pacific, Steve Odell, believes that figure will stabilise at 20 per cent, with an increasing number of whole-ship charters.

The cruise firm has secured 25 whole-ship charters this year along with a large number of smaller incentive-type groups and, although the Asian cruise market is still in its infancy, with six whole-ship charters from the Asia-Pacific over the past two years, the enormous market base and the high propensity to travel mark the region as a high potential zone.

'The major cruise lines are investing heavily in Asia,' said Mr Odell, who added that cruises had enjoyed significant success and visibility in mature markets such as North America, Australia and Britain due to their exceptional value for money, and that 'it is only natural that the reach and understanding of this [value] is extending to other parts of the world'.

'As travellers become more experienced and life's luxuries become more accessible, the challenge for the MICE business is to provide high quality experiences,' Mr Odell said. 'The cruise industry has more flexibility and control over product and service standards compared to any hotel or resort.' Short cruises in Asia have helped to develop the market, and cruise liners are eager to continue nurturing their business ventures in the MICE market, in part due to the fact that the events often commit early and the lines are able to plan itineraries up to two or three years in advance. Itinerary planning includes deciding on the ports of call and, although the ships will advise on possible destinations en route, certain stops are often decided ahead of time. These stops included 'off-the-beaten-track' destinations and smaller harbours in which cruise ships might not be able to drop anchor, Mr Odell said. 'The top segment of the market is looking for a boutique environment ... [with] destinations that only small ships can reach.'

Clients from Asia are particularly fond of Northern Europe and the Baltic, and small islands and harbours in the Mediterranean. Cruise durations for MICE events are limited to at least five days, but voyages can reach up to 110 nights. The cruises provide passengers with an opportunity to visit a number of destinations within one short trip, and full access to the luxury facilities aboard the ship.

Silversea offers an inclusive conference package that allows for bookings at the restaurants and conferencing theatres in order to accommodate the large number of clients at MICE events. All meals, entertainment and beverages are included, in addition to onboard facilities such as bars and restaurants, swimming pool, sun decks, library, computer room, gym and theatre. Clients that have taken advantage of this package are pharmaceutical, automotive, banking and insurance companies. Silversea has also chartered one of its liners, Silver Whisper, to the Russian government, and to the International Olympic Committee for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Mr Odell said that the company's plans for next year were 'looking very strong', with 130 itineraries covering 80 countries and 300 destinations. The firm is expanding its fleet to accommodate its busy schedule. Silversea can cater for 382 guests on each of its larger ships, and the line will be launching a new vessel next year, which will increase capacity to 540 guests.

'Star Cruises has, without a doubt, driven the cruise market for meetings and incentives in the region,' Mr Odell said. 'For premium and luxury operators, there is massive potential.'

With this new ship, and the option for a sixth ship after it, Mr Odell said he believed Silversea to be well-equipped to target the MICE sector as a specialist niche market.