Event planners and cruise executives spoke on the opportunities to bring more events on board cruises during a panel session at CruiseWorld Asia 2019.
SINGAPORE - With high-tech facilities and trendy entertainment offerings, the cruise ships of today are giant floating cities which offer experiences that rival those on land.
Despite their sprawling size and vibrant offerings, cruises have often been overlooked as unique venues for meetings and events.
Event planners and representatives from cruise giants Royal Caribbean Cruises and Genting Cruise Lines who spoke on a panel session at cruise industry conference CruiseWorld Asia 2019 in Singapore on Nov 28 outlined the unique appeal of cruises as well as challenges involved in launching events at sea.
For event management company Livescape Group, the decision to launch a music festival on board a cruise ship six years ago proved to be highly successful.
Having built a portfolio of events and festivals on land that attracted up to 55,000 people, the company viewed cruise ships as a novel way to lure repeat festival attendees.
"People are looking for something more that provides a 360-degree experience. Those who have gone for four- to five festivals on land are looking for a more different and elevated experience, and we felt that cruise ships have the necessary facilities for that experience," explained Iqbal Ameer, group CEO of Livescape Group.
Also, it certainly doesn't hurt to have an endlessly photogenic backdrop of the sea. Perfect for its younger target market whose form of social currency are Instagram-worthy experiences.
Its floating music festival It's The Ship has since garnered success since its launch in 2014 and has already been expanded to China, Korea and Japan, with Australia a likely candidate.
So what's stopping event planners from moving their events to the high seas?
For one, the lack of awareness of cruises remains a key challenge, shared Aavii Worldwide's Francis Cheong. Of the company's close to 196 events held this year, none were held on a cruise.
Mr Cheong observed that cruise lines had yet to come knocking on the doors of event agencies, as compared to hotel groups.
But there was certainly no shortage of enthusiasm from cruise lines to highlight how cruises could not be more apt for meetings and events.
"A cruise ship provides an all-inclusive package. Compare this to having to book so many room categories, secure a conference venue and more," said Genting Cruise Lines' vice president - sales, India and South Asia, Naresh Rawal.
One 'myth' that cruise companies hope to debunk is the cost of cruises.
"We've done a study comparing the cost of events on land versus on board a ship-it's 30% less. We don't charge for the venue, which a lot of land options do charge, and we provide all the event support and services. As an event organiser, you don't have to worry about how to feed or entertain your attendees," said Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia's head of sales, Singapore, Mona Foo.
Ms Foo ventured that planners should be a "little more open" to hold their events on board.
Another factor that planners are concerned about is how they can provide the exclusivity and customised 'wow' experience that incentive groups seek, especially on board a cruise of 3,000 passengers.
Ms Foo shared that the cruise company has pulled off customised events for groups from 20 to 1,000 attendees on its ships, with arrangements for groups to use its lounge venues and meeting rooms or even stage a music DJ event for 600.
While there is plenty in Livescape's success that planners can take inspiration from, there are aspects that planners should consider when bringing events out to sea.
"In our first year, we faced challenges in building a giant LED screen on board since it had never been done before. It took a year of investment before things were up and running. We were able to shut down a lift and pull wires in order to light up the LED screen," said Mr Ameer.
"But now it's fantastic when our cruise partner understands the nature of our event and the requirements. The process has only been getting smoother and smoother.
All it takes is a leap of faith, as soon as you try it you're going to love it, he added.