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.
And 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.
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.
One 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.
Whatever 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.
“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: