We are often asked good questions when speaking with prospective clients that have yet to undertake a cruise based meeting or event. We thought it might be helpful to share a few along with our responses.
Q: We don’t use third parties when we book hotels and that works well for us, why would we need to engage a third party to book a cruise event?
A: Most meeting planners are accustomed to a relatively seamless experience when booking a land based meeting or event; in most cases the hotel sales manager and their planning contact, typically a convention services manager, are onsite very accessible during their meeting. Additionally, many planners book multiple meetings with hotels annually, so they have the relationships, buying power and clout to get their special requests approved issues quickly resolved to their satisfaction. Also, in most cases a planner would only need to work with one DMC for meeting related transportation and offsite events.
Most cruise line sales reps work remotely, so they can have more face-time with their customers in their assigned territories. That said, once a meeting or event is contracted with a cruise line, the client is turned over to the group department at the cruise line’s corporate office. A coordinator will work with the planner to confirm arrangements for the group prior to sailing. Once the program is finalized with a shore-side coordinator, the group’s file is sent to the ship’s onboard group coordinator, usually a week or two before the group’s sailing date. In many cases the ship’s onboard group coordinator serves as the primary shipboard contact for multiple groups on every cruise. In a hotel, the convention services manager usually has one group in house at a time, so they are very accessible to their clients when they’re on site. Additionally, the CSM’s ongoing contact with the client throughout the planning process eliminates disconnects in communication and establishes a good rapport before the meeting commences. This plays a pivotal role in exceeding expectations.
If a cruise event includes, custom events/excursions in the ports of call, a pre- or post-cruise hotel program, transportation services, etc., a planner could end up managing several disconnected moving parts in multiple countries. Partnering with an experienced service provider when undertaking a meeting or event at sea provides planners the continuity they’re accustomed to from procurement through planning and on to operation and wrap-up. It simplifies a disjointed process making it seamless and stress free.
Q: What support should I expect from a cruise event service provider in the procurement phase?
A: A good travel and event management service provider will support you like a CVB of the Sea; think convention and visitor’s bureau, just with global reach. It’s very important that your travel partner takes the time to have a thorough discovery conversation with you to fully understand the logistics as well as business purpose for your meeting…and then follow up by email with a summary of their understanding of your discussion [red flag if they don’t do this]. At this phase they serve one purpose, simplify your ship selection process; helping you find the ship and cruise itinerary that best meets the needs of your meeting, event or incentive trip. That should include identifying all ships and any necessary shore-side venues, hotels and vendors that can accommodate your specifications, distributing RFPs and collecting as well as reviewing proposals. Then they should provide you guidance based on experience and knowledge to help you narrow the options before coordinating and escorting you on your ship/site inspections. Lastly, they should use their relationships, expertise and industry insight to facilitate the contracting process, saving you time, maximizing your value and mitigating your risk.
Q: What support should I expect from a cruise event service provider once contracts are signed?
A: The continuity to make the planning process much more manageable for you. You may be assigned a cruise event services manager by your service provider after contracting. If so, inquire about that person’s related meeting planning experience and confirm that you’ll have unlimited access to your sales contact and their involvement in the planning and operation phase if requested by you. In any case, your service provider should be your one-stop resource from this point forward, delivering the planning and support services you typically receive from a hotel’s convention services manager and DMC. Continuity and rapport are keys to success, so the planning contact and in some instances the sales contact from your cruise event service provider should accompany you on the cruise serving as your liaison with the ship’s staff and shore-side vendors. This makes the transition from planning to operation seamless , so you can focus on event goals, your stakeholders and the overall attendee experience.
Q: Will I be charged a fee for these services?
A: For the most part no [unless your chartering the entire ship] as the service provider receives compensation from the cruise line at no cost to the end-user. Nominal charges may apply for some program related expenses. You should expect to be charged fees for services such as individual registration, marketing and promotional support as well as additional travel support staff.