Today’s incentive cruise landscape has evolved. With an abundance of choices in dining, entertainment, and itineraries, and opportunities for cost savings, cruising has become an even more in-demand incentive travel option. A November 2013 Site Index study in cooperation with Cruise Lines International Association
, “Focus on Cruises for Incentive Travel,” found that 88.8 percent of respondents would recommend a cruise ship for a motivational group incentive travel program. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they were planning an incentive group travel program on a cruise in 2014-2016.
“It’s a whole new world, and a whole different experience on today’s cruises,” says Jo Kling, co-founder of Miami-based Landry & Kling
, a MICE cruise specialty firm. “Dining, for example, used to be a very organized event with pre-set eating times and tables. Today, there’s so much more flexibility; you have Freestyle dining on Norwegian Cruise Line, for example. There are specialty and alternative restaurants on every ship. The entire onboard dining programs have changed.” Restaurants from famous celebrity chefs and elaborate coking classrooms like those on Oceania Cruises are also bringing culinary interests to the forefront when it comes to cruise dining. New ships, like Royal Caribbean's brand-new Quantum of the Seas (pictured above), which debuts this fall, are also priming to revolutionize the way that cruise ships are designed and enjoyed by cruisers.
Entertainment options, she adds, are even more varied on today’s cruise ships. “There used to just be one main show after dinner but now there’s so much more variety — cabaret shows, comedian shows, dueling pianos, dance shows, ice skating, and Broadway productions,” notes Kling. Spa and shopping experiences, she adds, are also enticing many cruisers.
The diversity of destinations is also attracting more groups, both at sea and on the rivers. “Every cruise goes to multiple places, and the rivers have also gotten more popular,” says Kling. “There are so many new ships; Viking River Cruises introduced 18 ships alone last year.” Kling says that the smaller size of river cruise vessels makes them easy for group charters.”
Kling also says it’s important that incentive travel planners recognize the differences among cruise itineraries and brands, too. “There’s this huge misperception that one cruise is the same as another, but that’s so inaccurate. There’s really a ship out there for every type of group, whether you looking for luxury, intimacy, a wide variety of attractions, etc.”
The cost savings of cruise programs are also attracting groups, says Kling. “There are so many more elements included on a cruise than you would have at a regular hotel venue,” she says. “A/V equipment at a hotel, for example, might cost thousands of dollars. There’s no charge on a ship; you just pay a fee for A/V support. In a hotel, you have a naked ballroom that you have to dress up, and you have to involve labor, staging plans, and you’re paying for linens and florals. On a ship, there’s none of that.”
The motivational factors behind a cruise incentive program, too, remain a strong draw, says Kling. “New experiences are what turn people on in travel today and there are so many people out there who are thinking they’d like to do a cruise one day. It’s an incentive that gets people’s hearts beating and that’s what drives performance. Cruising today is full of new experiences and it’s not the same old. It really gets people’s attention.”