MasterCard's Trade Show at Sea Combine a 26-booth trade show at sea with a little smart-card wizardry, and what do you have? A memorable full-ship charter that adroitly combined business with pleasure.

MasterCard International's May 1996 cruise aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Nordic Empress took 1,100 bank executives from throughout Latin America on a three-day cruise to Nassau and Coco Cay from Miami. The MasterCard 21st Regional Annual Meeting of Latin American and Caribbean Members featured the annual MasterCard University, a composite of eight two-and-a-half-hour educational seminars and general sessions. As an incentive to attend the sessions, attendees electronically accumulated points (on a "credit card" they used throughout the meeting) that they could later cash in for merchandise. Beyond the symposium, management at Miami-based MasterCard International's Latin American Division also brought an array of vendors aboard to showcase their wares (and to help defray the cost of the cruise). Attendees also netted electronic points for visiting exhibitors.

While installing the trade show and adding card-swiping capabilities required keen logistical planning, the overriding challenge remained the fact that this was a cruise-and cruises are supposed to be vacations. As Marcus Molina, a spokesperson for MasterCard International for Latin America, notes, "We really had to convince people that they were not only on board for a vacation but also to work. What we did, then, is transform what was essentially a 'show' environment into a business environment. We made the business sessions more entertaining by including, for instance, an emcee conducting talk show-style meetings, and we incorporated entertainment elements such as lasers at the beginning and end of general sessions."

The trade show, meanwhile, featured 26 show booths located on three decks of the ship's six-story atrium. The organizers, which included Joyce Landry, partner and cofounder of Landry & Kling Corporate Cruises, Coral Gables, FL, faced several challenges pulling this together. For one, the trade show took place on each of the cruise's first two days and included a variety of vendors (suppliers of plastics, software, security systems, and holograms among them). This required intricate electrical arrangements, so suppliers had to be brought in to accommodate exhibitors' needs.

MasterCard used the cruise to preview its new chip-card ("smart card") technology-a credit card with an embedded microchip replacing the magnetic strip (and adding significantly more memory)-by creatively weaving the technology into the fabric of the meeting and trade show. As Landry explains, "Everybody received a customized MasterCard chip-card, which also served as their name badge, and these were pre-programmed with their names, room numbers, and countries-information normally on the registration forms."

The cards also delivered motivational clout for MasterCard management, who wanted all attendees to visit the tradeshow vendors and attend all the meetings. So, "Master Points" were awarded each time attendees swiped their cards into readers prior to entering seminars, with points then loaded onto their cards. Similarly, they earned points for visiting each vendor in the trade show. The points could be cashed in at a specially created MasterCard store for logoed merchandise, such as caps, T-shirts, and instant cameras.

According to Landry, the biggest challenge was to convince the cruise line to accept the chip-card technology at some of the other outlets on the ship, such as the gift shop and the beauty shop. Ultimately, they were able to place card readers at different parts of the ship. MasterCard's concession was to install the more customary magnetic strip on one side of the card, thereby allowing attendees to make shipboard purchases the "old-fashioned" way.

IBM's Truly Global Cruise Incentive It will probably be one of the most global incentive programs ever staged when IBM's "You Sell . . . You Sail" campaign culminates in a Caribbean cruise this spring. The company will pull together top performers from a far-flung sales force of 7,000 persons representing 140 countries.

The big challenge for IBM's AS/400 Division, which is working closely with incentive company USMotivation in Atlanta, will be to overcome language and culture barriers to create a more cohesive worldwide sales force. "The relationships these people build on the cruise will carry over into the business world," says Greg Adams, IBM program manager. "The key motivation for winners is that they'll get to know somebody in Mexico or Germany or Japan who can partner with them when the need arises."

Ninety salespeople and significant others will sail the Monarch of the Seas next month. The eight-day cruise will mark the completion of a year of intricate planning. Deborah Pressley, USMotivation account manager, has been tackling the details of cabin assignments, dietary requirements, pre- and post-tours, room gifts, and printed communications. She is also overseeing the creation of social events that will help weave the group more tightly together, including several cocktail receptions and a film starring group members in various shipboard activities, which will air at the final night's farewell dinner.

Staffing will be increased to five trip directors (the normal ratio, according to Pressley, is usually one travel director per 50 travelers) to provide the most attentive service for this international group. "When you have an American group, they have no problem coming up to you and saying their hot water doesn't work," explains Pressley. "But in a group of this type, a lot of people won't ask for something because, first, they don't know how to actually say it or, second, their culture won't allow them to say it. It's important to ask those questions and be proactive about making sure there's nothing wrong."

As important as it is for the company to bring attendees together, they also will have time on their own, says Dave Frew, USMotivation vice president. "At meals," he notes, "there still can be a tendency for different national groups to cling together. IBM feels comfortable with that: They want people to enjoy themselves, so they don't spend every moment pushing AS/400 down their throats. They show their appreciation by letting them sit with their friends."

Notes Adams, "This kind of special treatment on the cruise really gets back to all the other salespeople around the world. And the trip will cement relationships that previously had begun or will create new opportunities for the division."

AFLAC's Kickoff Event For 1,800 For AFLAC (Columbus, GA-based American Family Life Assurance Company), the annual sales convention is the biggest event of the year. Just as big as the event is the size of the group: 1,800 agent qualifiers, who sailed on Carnival Cruise Lines' Ecstasy in October 1995. The major challenge: accommodating everyone for the opening evening's awards program.

AFLAC chartered the Ecstasy for a four-day cruise out of Miami to Cozumel and Key West. With a capacity of 950 to 1,000 in its showroom, the ship could not possibly accommodate the full contingent. Also, though the ship did offer two deluxe restaurants and other establishments in separate locations, there was no deluxe eatery big enough to seat the big group together for the kickoff dinner.

This was a first for the group. "In the past, our annual convention has been at sites like the New York Marriott Marquis or the New Orleans Marriott, where there was no problem keeping everyone together," says David Nelson, director of travel, meetings and incentives for AFLAC.

To solve the problem, AFLAC, Carnival, and Landry & Kling Corporate Cruises (which assisted with air, tours, and ground arrangements) worked with Miami's Port Authority to obtain permission to delay the ship's departure from afternoon to midnight. The group met at the ship in the afternoon-but in formal attire-for an on-board reception and formal sit-down dinner. Along with the ship's two formal dining establishments, AFLAC used the more casual dining cafe, which was decorated with elegant touches such as linens, flower arrangements, crystal, and candles. There were also waiters in black tie.

After dinner, attendees were led off the ship through a terminal decorated with lights, plants, flowers, and red carpets to 40 waiting buses. After a 20-minute drive, they arrived at the Jackie Gleason Theater, where the company held the awards session. According to Nelson, everyone was in their seats within 35 minutes of leaving the ship.

Timing was a major concern after the event, since the cruise ship would incur extra port charges if it set sail after midnight. "The show started at 8:00, and we had the last guest on board by 11:30," recalls Nelson. As if to celebrate the fact the ship would indeed sail in time, AFLAC agents were greeted at the gangway by waiters in white gloves serving champagne. Drinks and desserts were served as the ship headed out to sea.