Meetings at sea: Are cruises the future of Asia’s MICE industry?

Will the cruise industry pick up among MICE organizers? Pic: Royal Caribbean Cruises

THE meetings and events scene is the most robust it’s ever been, as is Asia’s cruise industry. Why then, shouldn’t the two be brought together to optimize revenues?

According to a study by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 2015 was a record-breaking year for cruise revenues in Asia, what with more ships traveling in the region than ever before.

In fact, Asia was confirmed as the world’s fastest growing source of cruise passengers with a 24 percent jump in numbers in 2015 compared to the previous year. At least 2.08 million Asians sailed aboard a cruise ship in 2015.

By 2020, the total number of passengers is predicted to grow by over 14 percent to 3.8 million annually, as reported by the Asia Cruise Association.

SEE ALSO: China at the forefront of Asia’s rapidly growing cruise industry

Unlike the hotel industry, the cruise industry is more noticeably resilient even in poor economic health. This could be largely due to its value-for-money packages and all-in-one deals, both which are attractive to Asian tourists in challenging market conditions.

Large theaters can be used for presentations. Pic: Royal Caribbean Cruises

However, many cruise operators tend to focus on targeting the leisure market while too few offer attractive MICE packages for travel agencies and professional conference organizers (PCOs).

But a select number of cruise operators are rightfully tapping into the MICE market, plugging the industry’s ability to offer all-inclusive facilities for corporate events and conferences.

Mona Foo, head of sales at Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia, told Travel Wire Asia: “We are seeing more and more companies and associations booking cruises to host their MICE events and the growth is about 20 percent per year across southeast Asia.”

Royal Caribbean offers all-in-one MICE packages that include conference facilities, accommodation and non-stop entertainment and activities to suit any group size or occasion. Packages can be tailored to suit the group’s needs, and personal assistance offered to those on board.

For corporate events attempting to drive in over 1,000 delegates, cruises are a good option because logistics will be entirely taken care of by the operator. Organizers can have their pick of the ship depending on the group size.

Facilities like bars and casinos are inclusive in the ticket price. Pic: Royal Caribbean Cruises

On-board programs and facilities can also encourage further bonding among delegates. Because everything is pre-arranged by cruise organizers, MICE cruise events are hassle-free for agents.

On top of that, MICE facilities on cruises can easily rival those of land venues. All ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet have conference rooms and large theatres for plenary sessions, as well as smaller lounges and rooms for breakout sessions, all of which are equipped with audio-visual capabilities.

SEE ALSO: Thriving MICE industry raises room rates in Asia-Pacific

Their 18-deck high, 4,905-guest Ovation of the Seas ship has bumper car and basketball facilities for team bonding, a 1,300-seater theatre, a music hall for presentations and meetings, as well as 18 dining options including Jamie’s Italian.

Meanwhile, the 15-deck high, 3,800-guest Mariner of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas are equipped with a three-tier main dining room that can accommodate 1,889 guests per seating, an 800-seater ice skating rink, a 1,300-seater theatre, and a full-sized sports court.

On top of that, customized shore excursions, private gala events, and themed parties can be easily arranged by cruise operators, who are also willing to add company logos on menus, banners, cocktail napkins, and more.

In terms of tech offerings, all Royal Caribbean has WiFi packages that run on Voom with connection that’s comparable to land.

Non-stop entertainment is one of the advantages of having conferences on a cruise. Pic: Costa Cruises

A representative from Costa Cruises told Travel Wire Asia that a cruise ship doesn’t only act as a MICE venue, but also as a destination and floating resort.

Going by the extent of facilities, dining and entertainment offered with the price of one ticket, why shouldn’t more MICE organizers look to cruises? The answer: Awareness.

In a 2014 study, it was found that 32 percent of planners were unaware of meetings spaces on ships, and 28 percent were unaware of ship capabilities.

Despite the decided cost and value advantage for meetings at sea, the lack of knowledge and awareness still exists, but for the Asian MICE industry to set sail towards a brighter future, cruise operators must first act as the anchor.