Large corporations are not the only groups getting together for meetings at sea. Groups brought together by hobbies or a special interest — from Scrabble to scrapbooking — also enjoy the cruise ship’s ability to provide for meeting space and a luxurious vacation experience.
Meetings, such as this one aboard HAL, are a growing business on Mexican Riviera cruises. // (C) 2009 Holland America Line
Convenient and versatile trip itineraries; modifiable and modern meeting rooms; added amenities and customized port excursions, help make selling group meetings onboard a viable option for travel agents.
“Groups are one of the most effective ways for travel agents to increase their profitability,” said Richard D. Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs for Holland America Line (HAL). “During these challenging times, we’re seeing a steady, growing trend toward affinity-group travel — ranging from organizations and family reunions to common-interest groups.”
Groups who want to depart from the ports of Los Angeles and San Diego for the Mexican Riviera possess a range of ports and trip lengths from which to choose. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s (RCCL) Radiance of the Seas sails a six-day roundtrip from San Diego to Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, while HAL’s Oosterdam sails a seven-day roundtrip from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Bahia Magdalena, a rarely offered port brimming with whales, dolphins, sea lions and a rich selection of birds.
In addition to offering exotic destinations, conveniently located docks (for travelers from the West) and trip lengths ranging from five to 13 days, cruise lines sailing to the Mexican Riviera provide flexible meetings spaces that can suit group needs.
Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, will consider any special request an organization might have. Carnival currently offers a variety of public rooms for private use equipped with video and overhead projectors and audio/visual (A/V) equipment. Newer ships offer rear and front screen projection for video and laptop presentations. Carnival can also arrange private cocktail functions and provide specially printed menus, cabin gifts and ice carvings and banners with a group logo.
Carnival’s ships that sail to the Mexican Riviera provide eight rooms for conference use. The room capacity for the Carnival Spirit is a 20-person minimum and a 1,100-person maximum. On the Carnival Splendor, the minimum capacity is 55 persons and the maximum capacity is 1,400 persons.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) Norwegian Star features four Wi-Fi and A/V equipment accessible meeting rooms (two of which can be connected) that can accommodate 10-12 people, while the Norwegian Sun contains a conference center that seats 100 and can be divided into three rooms of 12 to 42 seats each.
For less conventional groups, RCCL’s Mariner of the Seas offers compelling meeting venues beyond the ship’s multiple conferencing rooms. Some groups will love that the ice-skating rink (which has a retractable floor over the ice) and the main theater can be used for meetings.
Flexible space makes meetings for groups of diverse sizes and needs possible, but added amenities on Mexican Riviera cruises specifically cater to your clients’ vacation experience. These added comforts allow travel professionals to customize client bookings.
Carnival offers an amenities program for groups of eight booked cabins or more. The Fun Points program provides travel agents with a specified number of Fun Points per voyage, which can be redeemed for a wide variety of amenities — such as champagne and chocolates, stateroom upgrades, private cocktail receptions, travel agent bonus commissions or a reduced cruise rate for clients.
NCL’s Group Amenity Program also allows travel partners to offer their clients various perks, depending on the size of the group. Advanced group dining, personalized cocktail parties, casino credits and spa credits are among the amenities offered.
Similarly, HAL’s Group Advantage Program (GAP) allows travel professionals to tailor a group’s meeting and overall vacation with a selection of 50 amenities (14 amenities were recently added) based on the GAP points established by the cruise destination, date and length. HAL also offers GAP packages specialized for weddings, family reunions and culinary groups. To give travel sellers even more reason to create cruise groups and increase profits, HAL has announced 2010 Double GAP Points, a program that doubles the amount of GAP points for all 2010 groups.
This summer, HAL announced new GAP packages for groups of five booked staterooms and more. The Girls’ Night Out Package includes one complimentary lunch or dinner at the Northwest-inspired Pinnacle Grill restaurant; a traditional pedicure or manicure in the Greenhouse Spa and Salon for each guest; and a glass of champagne. The Guys’ Night Out Package features a casino credit of $25 for each guest in the shipboard casinos and an additional $25 alcoholic beverage card per guest.
HAL also provides special assistance to agents through its 36-page brochure “Developing Group Business” which details how to grow agency revenue by booking groups; how to identify and sell to those groups; and how to best utilize HAL’s group programs and promotion tools for optimum success.
Cruise ships also accommodate agents by ensuring that client groups receive dedicated help from staff even when off the ship.
“For excursions, we can pretty much customize anything to the group. For example, we can always arrange additional motorcoaches to accommodate more folks,” said Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for HAL. “Limitations would always be based on the capability of the tour operator.”
Carnival and NCL arrange special land excursions for groups, while NCL has a group services coordinator who serves as a dedicated liaison between the group and the ship. For excursions, NCL’s Ultimate Touring staff puts together a customized tour option that best suits the group based on group’s listed preferences.