Tag Archives: Pacific Aria

The 49 participants in the recent “Cake Me Away” conference of cake decorators in Australia hugely enjoyed their four days of meetings, dining together and networking. Unusually though, the ground seemed to be moving under their feet.

That’s because they were on a ship, P&O’s Pacific Aria, on a four-day voyage from Sydney to Moreton Island, off Queensland, and back. The attendees of what was marketed as Australia’s first “cake cruise” were able to demonstrate their specialised skills, enjoy demonstrations and classes, formal night, themed fun night, trivia sessions, treasure hunt and a day exploring Moreton Island. Some guests chose to bring along their partners, family and friends who joined in the non-conference activities.

Prices for the package included all meals and started off at $1,249 per person twin share.

“The staff on the ship were amazing, nothing was ever a problem for them,” says Blair Olsen, one of the chief organisers.

Cake me away gals“There was always someone around to help with whatever we needed. The conference rooms on board [the Bondi and Noosa] and the Torquay theatre were well equipped and in close proximity to the atrium and reception areas, which made access to staff easy.”

Indeed it was so easy to hold the event and everyone enjoyed it so much that the group immediately booked two more floating conferences with P&O – for February and October 2017. And they are now seeking to arrange a similar event for their Kiwi counterparts.

“Cake Me Away Cruises” is the brainchild of Christine Kerr of The Raspberry Butterfly cake-decorating school in Newcastle, New South Wales. Cake decorating cruises have been happening in the US for a few years and Christine was keen to sail off on one. But it was too pricy to travel to the States, so she decided to organise an Australian version, says Blair. Christine approached P&O’s conference people, who helped put the icing on the arrangements.

One scribe penned this on the site’s Facebook page: “Loved every minute of it. Great work by the team to pull it all together so well.” Another said: “I had the best time, learnt heaps, made friends and I will be on the next one, see you then.”

The feedback must be encouraging for P&O in Australia, which last year began to offer conference space and services on the sister ships Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden in discrete, dedicated conference rooms. With all-in costs of AUD 250 to AUD 300 per person per day – including all meals, the conference venue including AV, and a dedicated groups specialist in Sydney to assist with organisation – demand is reportedly growing strongly.

Rebecca MutanenThe cruise line has already doubled its 2015 booking numbers in 2016, with six months of the year remaining, says P&O Corporate Groups Sales Manager Rebecca Mutanen (pictured left).

“Interest for the rest of the year is strong – our challenge is that we need more cruises to offer clients,” she says.

“The Noosa and Bondi rooms have a partition that can be opened up to create a larger space, so the ships can accommodate up to 180 guests for an event,” says Riccardo Garbin, Administration and Revenue Director for P&O who spoke to The Siteseer onboard. “We also cater for many larger incentive groups, which are very popular on all ships.”

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Cake me away gals 2

With all-in costs of $200 to $300 per person per day, demand for dedicated conference space on P&O’s two latest ships, to begin operating in Australasian waters from late 2015, is already booming, say the company’s marketing spokespeople.

For instance 20 bookings and one charter are confirmed for 2016 for Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, which start their down-under itineraries in November this year, says the company’s Corporate Groups Sales Manager Peta Torkington (below).

IMG_0035“We’re seeing great figures though our MICE team was only established fairly recently,” says Peta. “It means at some point we’ll run out of availability and we’ll be pushing people through to 2017 and beyond.”

That’s a vindication for P&O’s decision to target the events sector as a potential new growth segment, based on shorter cruises, with the theme of “leave earth for your next conference”.

The decision is supported, too, by the company’s efforts to make onboard experiences more appealing and contemporary for leisure and events guests alike, says Peta. This is reflected in the food on offer in, for example, a new dining concept known as The Pantry (pictured at the end of the story), a move away from the traditional cruise practice of carrying a loaded tray round a buffet.

Food market afloat

Designed as a kind of food market afloat, it’s a discrete eating area onboard with eight serving outlets providing fare ranging from Indian and Malaysian to a carvery and fish and chips. Pacific Jewel recently became the first of the line’s ships to offer this, following a multi-million-dollar refit.

Other program additions include a revamped entertainment line-up, “Gatsby” evenings, and team-building activities like P&OEdge, an adventure program at sea that lets you climb, swing, jump and race your way through the ship, as these intrepid climbers, below, are doing.

“It’s not all bingo and buffets,” says Peta. “It’s modernising what the cruise experience is about. The new entertainment and food options dovetail with our MICE offering because delegates can be involved with the same theme night events and, for larger groups, private themed functions. We can tailor experiences for any group, from gala dinners to welcome drinks and team-building.”

EdgeSuch flexibility helps belie the “Butlin’s Holiday Camp” perception some people may have about cruising, she adds. Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria – beautiful former Holland America ships – carry a maximum of 1,500 passengers so they’re almost boutique-like.

“Meetings on ships have been happening with our whole fleet of course, but the options have been for flexible conferencing, because the venues had to be shared with other passengers. I think having a dedicated true conferencing space with a theatre and break-out areas that delegates can use all day is the key reason we’re now of particular interest to events planners.”

How does this work in practice? The conference area is located on one deck and in one area of each ship, positioned so there’s no need for other passengers to enter it. Each vessel can cater for groups of up to 200 delegates this way.

Meantime feedback from clients who’ve already sailed is uniformly bullish, with many, like Cheryl Slender, executive assistant to the CEO of Aerocare Flight Support, saying it’s the best conference they’ve had and they’ll do it again. “We’ve been to many hot and cold locations but the P&O cruise was the most successful,” says Cheryl.

Kim Badawi, marketing coordinator at The Pops Group, says much the same thing. “The feedback from our 180 conference attendees has been exceptional,” says Kim.

Luxury at $200 to $300 per day

The most popular P&O cruises for MICE travellers are the short-break three- to four-nighters, which represent outstanding value compared with conferencing at a hotel, says Peta. “It costs between $200 and $300 per person per day for a three-to four-night conference cruise, and that’s all-inclusive: three meals a day, the conference venue including AV, absolutely everything.”

For a virtual tour of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2x6IcjQGqw

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The Pantry

Pool Area

Industry planners seeking to organise engaging MICE events that come in under budget will have new options from November 2015. That’s when P&O Cruises Australia adds two ships with dedicated conference space to its existing fleet.

Events afloat, especially incentives, have been around as an option for decades now. But interest in meetings on cruise ships has surged in recent months since P&O began work on a new offer – with the theme of “leave earth for your next conference”.

It’s based on a key factor that appeals to events organisers, explains Rebecca Mutanen (below, left), Senior Sales Manager for P&O Cruises Australia: shorter cruises. Over 40% of the company’s business now consists of two- to four-night itineraries.

Rebecca MutanenAnd it expects growth to accelerate when its new ships arrive, because the former Holland America vessels now re-named Pacific Aria (whose atrium is pictured, below) and Pacific Eden (immediately below) have dedicated conference facilities capable of handling up to 200.

P&O Cruises has catered for meetings of hundreds of people already on its existing ships by being flexible with the use of space on board and breaking up sessions to run sequentially, Rebecca says. “However we’ve knocked back a lot of business because of that, with organisers saying they actually need at least two full days of conference. With the new ships we’ll have formal conference space as well as plenty of room for break-outs so we can really knock their socks off.”

Staterooms, venue hire, main meals, entertainment and so on are all included in the price, she says. Other than beverages there’s no added cost, or any daily delegate charges on top.

Changing perceptions

P&O’s own research indicates that many organisers still don’t understand the conferences-afloat concept – or they think it’s hugely expensive – which is why its now focusing on  combating the perception a conference on a ship is frivolous, or “not serious enough,” as Rebecca puts it.

ms_Ryndam_Pacific EdenOne company that needed little convincing is an equipment manufacturer that took 350 delegates along with 150 partners and kids for a conference on Pacific Dawn in June. On this seven-night voyage to the Pacific Islands, the organisers arranged a product launch on board, and it also served as an incentive trip for suppliers. For such events, or for any group of more than 150, a head-office staffer from P&O sails with delegates to troubleshoot.

P&O has hosted technology, finance and pharmaceutical companies as well as associations in this way. Some organisations have tougher internal regulations for getting such events across the line than others, Rebecca observes, but as awareness grows, more and more are in favour.

Three- and four-nighters

From November most of the three-nighters on the two new ships will be from Sydney and Brisbane. They’re round trips, so the vessel itself is the destination, though some offer a port call. That includes a cruise from Melbourne which goes to Burnie in Tasmania and sailings from Brisbane to Moreton Island.

Some four-night cruises from Sydney also head for Moreton Island, with a full day at the resort township of Tangalooma where there are plenty of opportunities for team building, like sand tobogganing rides and dolphin-feeding. Other four-night options from Sydney include calls at the Mornington Peninsula, the Hunter and Sunshine Coast.

Atrium - P&O Cruises Pacific Aria and Pacific EdenWhatever floats your boat

For the rest of the time, après-conference guests have the whole ship to enjoy, Rebecca says. “Go in the bars, or do any of over 60 activities a day; you can catch a show or just hang out with colleagues on deck. There’s a lot of added benefit in networking from having your delegates all in one spot, and the event planners don’t have to organise anything.”

In many cases where delegates want their partners to accompany them, organisers will choose a cruise that includes a weekend.

Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden will be in dry dock and undergoing refurbishment before arriving in Australia. P&O’s three existing ships, Pacific Pearl, Pacific Jewel (whose main theatre is pictured, left) and Pacific Dawn – which has just been refurbished – will continue to operate in Australian waters.

Less than $300 per day

P&O has done a breakdown of conference costs on board for a three-night conference/incentive cruise compared with a city four-star hotel. Given that, inter alia, function space is complimentary and there are no additional transport or logistical costs, the ballpark cost per delegate per day is $290 compared with $347 for the hotel.

Pacificpearl marquee theatre“That’s being quite generous [to the hotel],” says Rebecca Mutanen. “You have all your main meals including a gala dinner for which we section off a part of the restaurant, venue space, state-of-the-art AV, technicians on hand and so on. There’s no better time in the MICE market to be offering such an experience that allows planners to come in under budget.”




Watch the video below for more exciting images: