Floating hotel is an incentive for meetings

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

Tired of hosting events in hotel ballrooms or contemporary convention centres, and fancy something unusual? Hosting an event in a cruise ship could be an attractive alternative. The concept is popular in Europe and the United States. It is now starting to gain a foothold in Asia.

The floating hotel offers an opportunity for groups to visit a number of destinations on a single cruise without having to continuously pack and unpack. Price-wise it's all-inclusive, comprising cabins, meals and free access to meeting facilities, entertainment and recreation venues.

There is the added benefit that there will be a more cohesive operation as external distractions, such as faxes, phones and text messages, can be kept to a minimum.

Regional cruise operators, such as Star Cruises, are keen on this sector. The Star Cruises fleet includes SuperStar Virgo, Star Pisces, SuperStar Aquarius and SuperStar Gemini and is well-equipped to handle meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) traffic, with meeting rooms and boardrooms plus Wi-fi wireless and internet available on certain ships.

'This segment has experienced healthy growth with many corporate groups from India, China, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore organising incentives and business meetings,' said Star Cruises senior vice-president of sales, Michael Goh. 'Corporate clients have also become more adventurous in choosing venues such as cruise ships which offer a different experience from the traditional land-based options.'

Realising the importance of corporates' awareness, the company has launched a Meetings-at-Sea theme on its vessels. 'Our ships offer an ideal combination of business and pleasure on the high seas with facilities and activities that can cater to a wide range of group sizes from a board meeting to a full ship charter,' Mr Goh said.

Tailored onboard corporate programmes are available which provide corporate training sessions with assertive management comprising modules such as building self-esteem, taking risks and handling criticism.

Italy's Costa Cruise entered Hong Kong in 2006 as the only international cruise liner granted a licence to operate scheduled cruises out of Chinese waters. In June this year it introduced a MICE designated website to tap into more of the lucrative business.

'People are not aware of cruises offering compatible meeting facilities like hotels do,' said Massimo Brancaleoni, vice-president, Asia-Pacific, of Costa Cruise.

'You may choose an indoor meeting in the morning or do it in an open area. Both leisure and business environs suit different clientele. Flexibility is the key and we have clients from places such as banks in China.'

Costa Cruise also offers charter services and clients can choose their own personalised itinerary to suit the needs of their function or join an existing cruise from three to 20 days in their choice of destinations.

Luxury Silversea Cruises' global corporate MICE business represents about 15 to 20 per cent of its total business. Melvyn Yap, regional director, Asia, said that while the Asian cruise market was still in its infancy, it had a lot of potential.

'There is a high propensity to travel,' Mr Yap said.

'Asians are the largest purchasers of luxury goods worldwide. There is considerable wealth that is easily identifiable for us to target in the various markets of the region, hence our investment in the area.'

A fleet of five ships offer a range of capacity from 132 up to 540 guests. 'We have had many inquiries to charter our ships from Hong Kong and China. Unfortunately most companies in Asia are not willing to host seven-day cruises,' Mr Yap said. 'Many inquiries we've had range from the typical one night annual company dinner function to a maximum of five nights.'

'However, our average charter cruise length is seven days, anything shorter than that, it would have to be pre-planned two years ahead. Having said that, Asians do not book early and to have them plan two years in advance and to confirm with them is quite rare. We are still trying to convince companies to inspire, indulge and intrigue their top performers.'

MICE on a cruise required advance planning as booking lead time could range from three weeks to one year, depending on the cruise company, group size, nature of the event and length of the stay.

It is typical to see incentive groups book three days, plus cruises in the form of a cruise package or a fly-and-cruise package.