Cruise lines offer travel agents a tremendous array of tools and incentives to increase cruise sales, even in a downturn. This includes group sales. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reports that, in these budget-tight times, group travel by cruise ship can represent outstanding value, cost-savings, and most important, increased pleasure or productivity.
“There is no better way to enjoy an exotic destination wedding, share quality time with extended family, launch a product or motivate hard-working employees,” CLIA says. A new listing of current CLIA member group programs shows great diversity and opportunity.
"For individuals and families, businesses and organizations of all kinds, the challenge today, and for the foreseeable future, is to maximize the value of every spending decision," said Terry Dale, CLIA's president and CEO. "Whether you're planning the perfect wedding, a family reunion or a highly productive conference, our CLIA member cruise lines represent the solution. There is simply no better, easier or cost-effective way to satisfy a group's every wish and expectation than by taking a cruise."
Members of CLIA report that group travel, including family reunions and multi-generational travel, weddings, educational, social and other affinity groups, and shipboard meetings and incentives, accounts for over 25 percent of yearly passenger volume (some 3.6 million passengers), depending on the line. Given that more than 13 million people took a cruise last year, the number combining business with pleasure or traveling with friends, family or like-minded colleagues represents a significant growth factor, CLIA says.
According to CLIA, the primary types of group cruising includes family, friends, weddings and reunions, affinity organizations and alumni and club groups, theme cruises, faith-based and religious travel, government and military, corporate meetings and incentives and ship charters.
CLIA touts c ruises are an ideal choice for anyone planning a special group event for several reasons, including:
* Exceptional value. In addition to usually complimentary meeting or event space, a shipboard group booking can include accommodations; all meals, including customized menus; daily entertainment; shipboard recreational facilities and activities; and travel from destination to destination. In some cases, drinks, stateroom gifts and amenities, customized shore excursions and other amenities are also included.
* Exceptional pricing. CLIA member lines are offering a wide range of price and value incentives for groups as well as individuals. In addition, most lines offer such additional incentives as free "tour conductor" berths based on the total number of group members or generous credits that can be applied to cruise activities ranging from special meals to shore excursions.
* Exceptional ease in planning. Depending on the line, group sales departments, dedicated group planners and shipboard meeting and incentive staff make planning and implementing a meeting or group program at sea an extremely easy, "one-stop" process. A CLIA member travel agent can facilitate all of your group travel needs.
* Exceptional choice. There are cruises in every part of the world, of every length (from two days to two weeks or more), and in every price category: Whatever the group's needs, expectations or budget, there is a cruise to offer.
CLIA also offers a useful sampling of how each CLIA member cruise lines cater to groups.
* Azamara Cruises. With ships carrying less than 700 passengers, Azamara focuses on discovering the hidden corners of the world in style. Plus, 93 percent of staterooms offer ocean views and 68 percent have private verandahs. With personalized service a priority, groups are treated to complimentary butler service for each stateroom as well as such amenities as fresh cut flowers, afternoon canapés, fresh fruit and more. Guests also receive complimentary specialty dining, enrichment programs such as digital camera and computer classes, and onboard entertainment, including wine and champagne tastings.
* Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival defines groups as a block of eight cabins with 16 or more guests. The line offers one free berth for every 15 berths sold, along with such value-added features as "group amenities" points, which can be redeemed for champagne and chocolates, stateroom upgrades, private cocktail receptions, shipboard credits and more. In addition to a wide range of meeting facilities fleetwide, Carnival offers a dedicated groups coordinator on each ship to facilitate activities.
* Celebrity Cruises. Dedicated conference facilities are complimentary on Celebrity and such programs as Corporate Amenities Selection (CAS) as well as onboard group coordinators and Assigned Group Partner Advocates ensure one-stop planning. In addition to free staterooms through the company's Tour Conductor Credits program, Celebrity offers a variety of packages that can include group beverages, even prepaid gratuities. The Individual Incentive Travel Gift Certificate program is a means for companies to reward individual employees.
* Costa Cruises. Offering more seven-day cruises in Europe than any other cruise line, as well as voyages in the Caribbean, South America, Dubai, Indian Ocean and the Far East, Costa offers numerous group cruise options around the world. Groups may even earn a variety of Amore Points applicable to cocktail parties, onboard credits and more. Costa also offers a group concierge for all groups, ensuring each step of planning from start to finish is simple and easy.
* Crystal Cruises. In addition to spacious ships and a guest-to-crew ratio of 1.65:1, Crystal offers groups a variety of incentives, including special savings rates, onboard credits, prepaid dining and gratuities and other perks. The line's ships feature a choice of venues for meetings, including the Hollywood Theatre, which accommodates up to 202 guests. In addition, Crystal's Creative Learning Institute features experts in a variety of fields who offer their insights into everything from global economics to local culture and ecology. Guests may also complement their meeting activities by learning to play the keyboard or to speak foreign languages.
* Holland America Line. Holland America has just released a new Developing Group Business brochure and announced 2010 Double GAP Points, a program that doubles the Group Advantage Program points available to groups booked by the end of August for sailings next year. GAP points permit travel planners to customize their groups by adding such amenities as wine tastings, cooking classes, cocktail receptions, shipboard credits and special dinners. Three new group packages include Winemakers, Girls and Guys Night Out and group programs include Wedding, Family Reunion and Culinary Arts Center programs.
* MSC Cruises. For educational, professional and corporate groups, MSC ships offer complimentary high-tech, elegant conference centers and meeting rooms. Shipboard staff coordinate team-building shore excursions and onboard activities including cocktail parties and themed entertainment. Groups of 16 or more travelers are eligible for a variety of amenities from complimentary stateroom gifts and shipboard credits to cocktails. Also worth noting, MSC's Kids Sail Free policy provides an added incentive for agents to sell family and social groups.
* Norwegian Cruise Line. Norwegian's Groups 2.0 program is an enhanced group booking program allowing travel partners to hold up to 16 staterooms with no deposit required until four months prior to sailing, and individual bookings can be transferred into a group up until the day prior to sailing. An expanded consumer facing amenity menu is available for all bookings and includes options such as alternative dining, spa treatments and Freestyle Bowling. Groups may also make advance Freestyle Dining reservations.
* Princess Cruises. Groups of 10 people or more can qualify for Princess Cruises group rates and travel agents can put together attractive packages with a variety of special extras. Working with the onboard services department, groups can plan a wide variety of customized cruise experiences to fit individual needs by taking advantage of up to five main dining rooms and alternative restaurants, entertainment venues and other facilities for special receptions, parties and other activities. A number of Princess ships also offer specialized meeting facilities.
* Regent Seven Seas. Regent Seven Seas recently announced the launch of an enhanced group sales program called Group Advantage. The program offers a menu of group amenities, each assigned a specific point value, that can be used to promote remaining 2009 cruises. The higher the point value of the cruise, the more group amenities can be applied, thus allowing travel agent and groups to customize their promotions and cruise experience. The group amenities include such enticements as pre-cruise hotel stays, shipboard credits, cocktail parties, waiver of air add-ons, reduced tour escort requirements and more.
* Royal Caribbean International. Reaching out to corporate group travelers with the message, "To mix business with pleasure, just add water," Royal Caribbean emphasizes the unique value of an at sea group program. In contrast to land-based programs, a Royal Caribbean cruise for groups of all sizes includes accommodations and stateroom amenities, flexible dining options and amenities, entertainment and recreational activities, use of fitness facilities and a full range of meeting services, including complimentary meeting space and A/V equipment, onboard group coordinators and a dedicated corporate meetings sales team.
* Seabourn Cruise Line. Seabourn Cruise Line is a popular option for companies, organizations or social groups or extended families desiring an exclusive full-yacht charter. Accommodating between 208 and 450 guests, the ships offer the ability to custom design itineraries, and shipboard and shoreside activities to suit the group's wishes. Other features of a Seabourn charter include security, mobility, all-inclusive fixed pricing and single-source contracting of transportation, accommodation, entertainment and top-quality food and beverage service. Short of a full charter, groups can be accommodated aboard regular scheduled sailings at advantageous prices.
* SeaDream Yacht Club. Accommodating 110 guests in 54 identical Yacht Club staterooms (plus one Owner's Suite), SeaDream offers special opportunities for groups, whether they are families celebrating an important event, companies seeking a memorable incentive for top employees or those looking for a full ship charter. A crew of 95 ensures attentive service and a SeaDream yacht charter coordinator assists in arranging every aspect of the charter group program, from onboard activities to special dining requirements. Smaller groups - from six to 18 staterooms - are also assisted in creating a personalized yachting adventure.
* Silversea Cruises. Silversea Cruises gladly welcomes groups booked through travel agents. Silversea offers guests large-ship amenities aboard its intimate, all-suite vessels: Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper -- and launching in December, Silver Spirit -- all designed to offer an atmosphere of conviviality and casual elegance. With the addition of the regal expedition ship Prince Albert II, the company's itineraries encompass all seven continents.
* Uniworld Grand River Cruises. A Uniworld Boutique River Cruise provides a group retreat for affinity organizations, social gathers, corporations and company incentive programs. Uniworld ships also are available for full charters. The company's Group Privilege Program includes group discounts; a complimentary tour conductor berth with as little as six guests traveling together; a choice of such amenities as a complimentary one-hour cocktail party, shipboard credits of $50 per guest based on a minimum of 10 guests on select Europe sailings or a wine and fruit plate. Name changes are allowed up to 45 days prior to departure
* Windstar Cruises. Windstar has hosted more than 400 full-ship charters and hundreds of groups and incentive programs on its luxury small ships. Groups experience deluxe ocean-view staterooms, five-star dining, exceptional destinations, watersports program and personalized touches.
For more information about groups, meetings and incentives at sea travel agents are urged to visit www.cruising.org.