If you run a tight ship, you may want to consider a cruise for your company. It may inspire swashbuckling ideas and bring out a delegate's explorer instincts. Gone are the days when a cruise is about just lounging around or playing deck shuffleboard. Today's mega ships are the playground for the partygoers, the adventure seekers, the entertainment buffs - and the corporates. Activities and attractions - not to mention top-notch F&B - will have you going from zero to hero if you are game for the thrills.
Asia is the fastest-growing market for the cruise industry, impressing with a 24 percent increase, according to the 2016 Asia Cruise Trends study released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Industry players believe that they are only scratching the surface with much upward potential to
The study revealed a huge increase of 43 percent from 2015 to 2016, with more than 1,560 scheduled sailings last year. Asia's big appetite for the open seas drew 60 ocean cruise ships last year, which was eight more than in 2015. The region now offers 204 cruise destinations across 17 countries, with Japan taking the No. 1 spot with 1,526 port calls last year.
Typically seen as a leisure travel option, cruising has attracted the eye of corporate planners who found that cruises offer a convenient and cost-effective way for big groups to participate in team-building activities and meetings in an all-in-one venue, and with a changing landscape to enjoy at every port
Given the current climate of geopolitical unrest in popular cities, corporate planners are increasingly emphasising risk management strategies in their events and activities. And companies with strict compliance regulations may face difficulties in planning events in their desired destinations. It is no surprise then that cruise ships are considered an alternative events venue with their unique appeal. For corporate planners, it is well worth a consideration. For MICE management consultancies, however, it is a trend that could limit their scope in designing event programmes.
Full steam ahead
"The rising trend in planners looking to book cruises is no surprise, and the number of MICE groups and planners booking cruise travel will most likely continue to grow. Booking a single cruise can serve as both business and leisure for attendees, and each cruise can be specifically tailored to a particular group's needs, creating a relatively turn-key planning experience," said Cindy D'Aoust, president and CEO, CLIA.
"The rising trend in planners looking to book cruises is no surprise, and the number of MICE groups and planners booking cruise travel will most likely continue to grow."
-CINDY D'AOUST, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CLIA
Organising a cruise incentive trip seems to pay off in more ways than one for corporate planners, freeing up time spent on logistical processes and ensuring that delegates are more engaged with on-board activities.
The convenience of having meals, accommodation and activities all on board resonate well with planners, while delegates enjoy ample time for their own activities.
Shore excursions also add appeal to the varied interests of delegates. From a DMC perspective, cruises for MICE groups provide a demand for their services.
"Whether it involves shore excursions or creating events and experiences on land, a DMC will be required to provide their expertise," said Laurent Kuenzle, CEO, Asian Trails.
He said that a cruise adds more mileage to the success of an event, "I think the actual travelling is the key success factor besides the facilities, food and entertainment on board the ship. Participants are able to enjoy several highlights in one journey."
Kuenzle's company has booked corporate groups on riverboat cruises. Variety and customised activities are two key selling points. "Highlights are that you are moving from place to place while holding a meeting, so the excursion/entertainment programme is varied. Moreover, shore excursions are tailored to the individual requirements of the MICE organiser, so this makes it very interesting for delegates,"he adds.
However, he did raise the point that cruises may not be ideal for planners who do not book the entire ship or boat and prefer not to have their delegates' on-board activities intermingled with that of other leisure passengers.
D'Aoust adds that cruising is more flexible than perceived since cruises can be booked on short notice and every type of traveller can be accommodated. "For more intimate experiences, river cruise vessels, well-appointed ocean ships, and ships of every size in between, groups can select the type of cruise, duration, destination and activities that suit their organisation's personality and goals. Planners looking for exclusivity or intimate travel can look to small ship cruising, typically river-bound cruises that travel to more intimate destinations."
With cruise lines expanding their fleets and increasing the size of their ships, delegates can expect high technology and innovative features on board, complemented by new destinations that spur the buzz and demand for cruises.
Genting Cruise Lines
Star Cruises and Dream Cruises meet market demand for wellness experiences with their award-winning Crystal Life Spa and healthy menu options from Crystal Life Cuisine. As the pioneer in the Asian cruise industry, they continually innovate their key features and services to stay ahead of the curve and offer a variety of all-inclusive packages for MICE planners.
"As an Asian company, one of our strongest points is that we best understand the diverse Asian cultures, preferences and evolving expectations of our MICE guests. We can therefore shape new cruise itineraries with unique on-board experiences with also first-class Asian hospitality and services,"
-KENT ZHU, PRESIDENT, GENTING CRUISE LINES.
"Beyond our MICE facilities and services, we offer an unforgettable [email protected] experience. We observed an increase in MICE @ Sea cruises for our ships in the region as corporate companies are fast discovering that a cruise is a suitable venue for holding events.
"MICE @ Sea cruises are our forte. Our ships across Star Cruises and Dream Cruises are well-equipped with state-of-the-art business and MICE facilities and services to meet various business objectives. We exercise flexibility and customise our unique offerings to suit every budget and event requirement.
"As an Asian company, one of our strongest points is that we best understand the diverse Asian cultures, preferences and evolving expectations of our MICE guests. We can therefore shape new cruise itineraries with unique on-board experiences with also first-class Asian hospitality and services," said Kent Zhu, president, Genting Cruise Lines.
Genting Cruise Lines packages for MICE are geared towards management and staff retreats, seminars and conventions, team-building workshops, product launches, award ceremonies, dinner and dance, anniversary celebration parties, MICE incentive programmes and more.
Zhu said each ship is equipped to handle diverse MICE group requirements. "For instance, a flagship of Star Cruises, Superstar Virgo, can seat 788 persons in its theatre space while its helipad (capacity 288) makes a unique spot for cocktail parties and similar events. Top-notch facilities on all its ships, meanwhile, range from super-sized karaoke lounges to an array of dining facilities catering to a selection of culinary fancies. Besides that, expedition cruises such as the cycle-cruise expedition and various thematic cruises are also popular among MICE
Zhu adds that the newly-launched Genting Dream can accommodate over 3,400 guests, and has a variety of indoor and outdoor facilities for MICE, including Zodiac Theatre, which has a capacity of 1,000 persons. For smaller groups, the options include Tributes music lounge and Silk Road restaurant and karaoke.
Royal Caribbean International
The cruise line's 24 ships are able to accommodate groups from 2,000 to over 6,000 pax, with a variety of venues ranging from the smaller conference rooms and lounges for break-out sessions, to the 800-seater ice skating rink and the 1,300-seater theatre for conferences and ceremonies. Venue rental fees are waived for groups.
"Royal Caribbean International's newer ships are the world's largest... In Asia, we have the Quantum Class ships and the Voyager Class ships which come with more and larger meeting and event venues, and a variety of smaller lounges and room to suit different MICE needs."
-SEAN TREACY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ASIA PACIFIC, ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES.
Meeting packages are tailored according to the planner's requirements, supported by on-board convention crew to provide personal assistance for groups. Customisations include the option of reserving specialty restaurants or an entire Oasis Class ship neighbourhood for private events. Arrangements may also be made for corporate branding to appear on menus, banners, cocktail napkins and daily activity programme collatorals.
"Royal Caribbean International's newer ships are the world's largest, namely the Oasis Class ships which can carry 6,780 guests each and the Quantum Class ships which are of 4,900-guest capacity. In Asia, we have the Quantum Class ships and the Voyager Class ships which are of 3,800-guest capacity. They come with more and larger meeting and event venues such as the 1,300-seater theatre, 800-seater ice skating rink, 1,900-seater Main Dining Room as well as a variety of smaller lounges and rooms to suit different MICE needs," said Sean Treacy, managing director, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean Cruises.
"These ships also offer unique first-at-sea amenities such as the full-sized sports court, North Star elevated glass capsule, bumper cars, skydiving and surf simulators, which are of great appeal to MICE customers as novel options for team bonding activities. With the arrival of these mega innovative ships that has boosted our brand positioning, we are seeing more companies and associations booking our cruises to host their MICE events. The growth is about 20% per year across South East Asia," he added.
Costa Asia features a unique "Italy at Sea" concept. Guests enjoy a rich and immersive experience that impresses with all things Italian - from hospitality, cuisine, and to art.
MICE programmes are tailored for each group, providing high flexibility for event planners without a big increase in cost or compromising on quality.
"At Costa, we have developed the 'Business Relaxed' formula, which means all ships in the Costa Cruises' fleet host specially equipped areas with the most advanced technology for presentations, conferences and business meetings.
"Each ship has satellite connection to the Internet throughout, and a number of comfortable Internet cafes. This advanced set-up is complemented by a wide and refined range of entertainment and leisure facilities, which help to create an informal yet pleasant schedule; ensuring Costa ships are the ideal environment for conventions, meetings and business with a touch of leisure,"said Buhdy Bok, president, Carnival Asia.
Bok shared that its "Carnival of Venice at Sea" programme has been well-received by leisure and incentive groups, with positive comments for its authentic Italian culture. "Based on client's request, we are able to personalise meeting spaces and reserve areas in restaurants as well as daily programmes, menus and on-shore excursions to suit the needs of each individual."
He added that customisation will be the greatest challenge in handling MICE groups. Hence, Costa Cruises ensures that planners have the flexibility to create tailor-made and exclusive programmes for participants, without causing hiccups to normal ship operations for guests.
Norwegian Cruise Line
The Norwegian stable of award-winning cruise brands - Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises - has a strong presence in Asia Pacific, with offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong and Mumbai. With these offices, they are able to support meeting planners and partners.
"Whether corporate events, incentive travel or charter - Norwegian Cruise Line is the perfect cruise line for any kind of event at high sea. Norwegian offers qualified support in planning, booking and holding professional events, amongst other things guaranteed by a "Group Service Coordinator" on board to take care of all groups requirements during the cruise. From cocktail parties to award ceremonies, a cruise is a great way to bring colleagues closer together, while everyone still has time to themselves," said Steve Odell, SVP & MD, Asia Pacific, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
Norwegian Cruise Line features The Norwegian EdgeTM, an innovative programme that delivers a new standard of excellence in guest experience - from ship hardware to culinary enhancements and exclusive private destination development.
Customised events for groups include private cocktail parties; award ceremonies and receptions; private art auctions with champagne; sports tournaments; concerts and shows; and many team-building activities. And with F&B being a crucial component of a group package, the cruise line more than meets expectations with its qualified experience in catering to very large groups with diverse diet preferences.
AT A GLANCE
Ships in the region:
Genting Dream, World Dream
The latter is scheduled to arrive this November.
Standout features: Dream Cruises offers personal butler service for guests staying in Dream Palace, an exclusive ship-within-the-ship luxury complex. There are plenty of entertainment options including 'China's Got Talent - The Dream Experience' and fun parties at sea held at the onboard Zouk nightclub. Those with a penchant for the finer things in life will enjoy Bistro by Mark Best opened by the world-acclaimed eponymous Australian chef, or the first JOHNNIE WALKER HOUSE and Penfolds Wine Vault at sea.
Itinerary updates: Genting Dream will be embarking on 2-night Hong Kong itineraries during the weekend and 5-night "Island Gems of Japan" cruises. Future itineraries will feature new destinations for South East Asia including Surabaya, North Bali and Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket. Itineraries for World Dream will be announced at a later date.
Ships in the region:
Costa Victoria, Costa Fortuna, Costa neoRomantica
Highlighted fleets & itineraries for 2017.
Standout features: Costa Asia is known for its signature feature 'Italy at Sea' with authentic European cruising experiences such as the Carnival of Venice parties, Italian opera and Italian wine and cheese pairing sessions. In addition, it targets families with features such as the Squok Club with myriad kid-friendly programmes available.
Itinerary updates:Costa Victoria will be launching a 4- to 5-night sailing from Hong Kong to Vietnam, Hainan Island and Okinawa in September, followed by a 3- to 5-night sailing from Singapore to Thailand and Malaysia from November to next January. This June and July, Costa Fortuna will be sailing from Taiwan to Japan and South Korea. Lastly, the 'gem of Costa's fleets', Costa neoRomantica is currently offering 4- to 7-night itineraries from Japan to South Korea and Russia.
Costa Asia has invested over 6 billion euros (US$4.47 billion) on two new Costa ships for Asian guests, to be delivered in 2019 and 2010 respectively. Built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, each ship will be able to carry 4,200 guests. They will be operated by Costa Asia, the Asian brand of the Costa Group. In April, Costa Asia also introduced a 'Go Costa, Let's Festa!' campaign, running throughout 2017 which will further drive home the experience of 'Italy at Sea' with authentic Italian cuisines, all-day entertainment, and duty-free promotions on European luxury brands.
Ships in the region: SuperStar Virgo, SuperStar Libra, SuperStar Gemini, SuperStar Aquarius,
Star Pisces, The Taipan.
Standout features: SuperStar Virgo features several Michelin-starred restaurants onboard including Kam's Kitchen, Ye Shanghai and most recently, Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao, a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant. Homeported in Penang, SuperStar Libra offers excursions to Krabi and Phuket, while SuperStar Gemini offers a versatile cruise schedule year round from Singapore. A cosier experience is offered onboard the mid-sized 1,500-guest SuperStar Aquarius, which features plenty of outdoor spaces including a basketball court, swimming pool and a promenade deck.
Itinerary updates: From September 23 to December 31, SuperStar Libra will relaunch its popular 1-Night High Seas Cruise and 3-Nights Penang-Phuket-Krabi Cruise. Beginning December 17 to April 27, SuperStar Gemini will be based in Laem Chabang International Terminal with 3-night cruises to Sihanoukville and Ko Samui, while SuperStar Aquarius will continue its 2- to 4-night Okinawa itineraries from homeport Keelung, Taiwan till October 27.
News: Star Cruises will be enhancing its itineraries from Shanghai to Japan to meet international standards of 8-day, 7-night voyages. From July 6 to November 6, SuperStar Virgo will take in the city of Tokyo and Mount Fuji, in addition to Osaka and Kagoshima - just in time for the beautiful autumn foliage.
Royal Caribbean International
Ships in the region:
Mariner of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas.
Standout features: Both Mariner of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas feature the iconic Royal Promenade, an ice-skating rink, full-sized sports court and DreamWorks Entertainment as well as signature restaurants Chops Grille steakhouse, Giovanni's Table Italian restaurant and Johnny Rockets. Ovation of the Seas, the largest in Asia, features the unique North Star elevated glass capsule, Seaplex, Bionic Bar with robotic bartenders, a skydiving simulator as well as Two70, a lounge by day and sophisticated entertainment venue by night boasting seamless video projection displays.
Itinerary updates:Mariner of the Seas will be calling at Xiamen and Ho Chi Minh with an overnight in Hong Kong on September 1; it will also introduce 3 to 7-night South East Asia itineraries till April 2018. Voyager of the Seas will ply Phuket, Penang and Kuala Lumpur for 3 to 5-night cruises and return to Singapore for winter/spring next October. Ovation of the Seas will sail from Tianjin, Hong Kong and Sydney from now till next April with a 5-night cruise from Singapore to Penang and Phuket, and a 12-night one-way cruise from Singapore to Tianjin calling at Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong and Seoul in April.
News: Mariner of the Seas will swap with Voyager of the Seas in Singapore for winter/spring 2018/19. In addition, the cruise brand's first Quantum Ultra class ship will be based in Asia Pacific, and is set to launch in spring 2019.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Ships in the region:
Standout features: The built-for-China cruise ship features a novel open-air two-storey Ferrari race track, the first virtual reality gaming experience at sea at Galaxy Pavilion, VIP accommodations including The Haven by Norwegian, the line's exclusive, ship-within-a-ship luxury suite complex, 28 different F&B outlets including authentic Chinese cuisine as well as a Mandarin-speaking crew to make guests feel at home.
Itinerary updates:Starting August 22, Norwegian Cruise Line will be launching six sailings in Asia from Norwegian Joy's homeports of Shanghai and Tianjin to Japanese ports of call including Nagasaki, Kochi, Miyazaki and Kitakyushu.
News: The brand new ship was delivered in May in Germany and has embarked on her inaugural voyage from Shanghai in June.