Inclusive pricing in U.S. dollars and more variety than ever should put cruise ships on your short list of international meeting venues.
Beyond Borders: Why is this a good time to consider an international cruise?
Sean Mahoney: The economic environment and stagnant budgets in recent years have converted many nonbelievers to cruising. Overall cruise program costs can be lower than comparable resort programs. “Inclusive” prices also make cruises easier to budget. There are few hidden or extra costs. Major cruise lines accept U.S. dollars for international voyages, eliminating worries about fluctuating exchange rates, and value-added taxes and tariffs in other countries.
BB: What does “all-inclusive” mean?
Mahoney: Most cruise fares include accommodations, meals, entertainment, and activities. Some luxury cruise lines include port charges, taxes, gratuities, and wines and spirits. Guests pay extra for spa treatments, shore excursions, and Internet access.
BB: Are there international itineraries that represent particularly good value now?
Mahoney: Many cruise lines are offering savings for distressed dates this year and have discounted rates in 2010. The best rates are found in destinations where there is a concentration of vessels. Silversea and other cruise lines are offering exceptional values now in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
BB: What meeting space do ships offer?
Mahoney: Many feature meeting facilities that include dedicated conference rooms and multipurpose venues. The “show lounge” on most ships is ideal for large multimedia and awards presentations. These are generally production-quality venues featuring sophisticated sound, lighting, set design, and special effects, many of which can be used at little or no extra charge. Basic audiovisual equipment is usually free of charge as well. Modern ships feature wireless technologies and other services designed to support business events. Large ships feature venues that can accommodate trade shows, exhibits, and concurrent meetings.
BB: What types of meetings have you booked on Silversea ships?
Mahoney: Silversea ships have been chartered as “floating hotels” for major sporting events including the Grand Prix, World Cup Soccer, Summer Olympics, and the Superbowl. Silversea also chartered a vessel to former Russian President Vladimir Putin for a summit of world leaders. Executive decision-makers and planners have turned to cruise ships in the past several years to address growing concerns about security. After all, a cruise ship is a self-contained environment. All guests are required to show a boarding pass to enter or exit the vessel. (In fact, Silversea matches each guest to a computerized photo to confirm his or her identity.) Some planners appreciate the ability to revise the voyage itinerary and reposition the vessel if necessary. (Try moving a land-based resort!) Ship charters are becoming more popular because they provide exclusive use of the vessel. It's easier to protect high-profile attendees and proprietary business content when you control everything that happens on board.
Sean Mahoney is global vice president, corporate and incentive sales, Silversea Cruises. He is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Find more information at www.silversea.com.