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Nautic adventures.

We're tired of the same old thing. Please make our next meeting different." How many times have meeting planners and other association executives heard that refrain from their members? There are creative solutions. Some associations, for example, are injecting new life into their events by holding their meetings on cruise ships.

Associations use cruise ships for conventions, small-group meetings such as educational seminars and board meetings, or special events held in conjunction with a land-based meeting. According to Eric Scharf, executive director of the National Association of Passenger Vessel Owners, Washington, D.C., some associations use smaller ships for special events and small meetings, but association conventions on cruise ships are rare because of the lack of adequate meeting space, taxes, and cost. However, cruise industry representatives say they're adapting to the needs of associations by offering meeting space, business facilities, shorter tours, and flexible itineraries.

Special events

Picture a cruise to Mount Vernon--the home of George Washington-along the Potomac River: breathtaking views of the sun setting on the Washington, D.C., skyline and the Virginia countryside, Spanish food and drinks, music and dancing, and members sharing an unforgettable evening. The American Family Therapy Association, Washington, D.C., offered this experience to members at its 1986 annual meeting. The response was so enthusiastic that AFTA offered a boat trip to the Field Museum at its 1987 meeting in Chicago.

Cruise ships can transform an ordinary dinner into a memorable event. Many cruise ships offer one-day or one-evening tours, dining, music, visits to interesting venues, and, in some locations, riverboat gambling. According to Megan O'Leary, corporate sales manager of the Spirit of Washington at Spirit Cruises, Inc., Washington, D.C., associations can develop customized cruises based on their meeting plans and budget. Rates are negotiable, depending on the package, but this unusual experience need not be more expensive than a hotel dinner dance. The principal costs are ship rental, bus transportation to the ship, food, entertainment, and site rental, if the site visited is solely for the group's use. Part of the success of the event lies in making the cruise and site destination belong only to your members for that one evening.

Small groups

Although few ships have facilities for large meetings, many can accommodate smaller groups such as local association chapters, boards of directors, and educational seminar attendees. At a time when competition to attract people to meetings is keen, ships offer something new, different, and exciting. Advantages include

* a relaxed setting conducive to networking;

* visits to ports that offer a cultural experience, interesting restaurants, shopping, and tourist attractions;

* customized packages;

* a variety of recreational activities;

* built-in activities for spouses and families;

* exclusivity;

* luxury service options; and

* a captive audience.

"It is an opportunity to do something really fun along with a structured education program," says Linda Reynolds, education director at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, Albuquerque, New Mexico. "A lot more networking goes on."

The Association of Educators in Radiologic Sciences, Inc., Chicago, has sponsored educational seminars on cruises for two years, sailing to islands in the Caribbean where they held seminars early in the day, and left afternoons and evenings free. Bonnie Wold, AERS past president, says participants enjoyed the programs, although cost and the fact that it takes groups awhile to adjust to something new kept attendance low. AERS anticipates holding cruise ship programs in the future.

A creative option

The first step in determining the feasibility of holding an association meeting on a cruise ship is to evaluate your association's specific needs. Then use available resources to determine if a cruise can help meet those needs. Cruise companies and travel agencies offer a variety of options and services to make your job easier and to please your membership. Get referrals from colleagues who have had meetings on cruise ships.

For the meeting planner who has no experience with cruises, contact a travel agency that specializes in them. Cruise-only travel agencies will search for cruise ships and other sites to meet your specifications, and can provide tips on everything from tax regulations to meeting promotion. Some agencies will even attend one of your meetings to develop a package specifically tailored to your group. Remember that cruise lines are seeking association business. Many cruise companies will adapt itineraries to your needs, and some even offer informative videotapes about their ships.

Meeting facilities

Most sources for this story agree that few ships have the facilities to host large association meetings. James Godsman, president of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), New York City, disagrees. "The cruise industry has worked hard to meet the needs of incentive and meeting planners. There are cruise ships to satisfy just about every kind of group," says Godsman.

Almost all cruise companies have adequate space and facilities to administer small events, and several cruise ships can accommodate moderate-size association conventions. While the average maximum capacity of cruise ships is 200-400 passengers, some cruise lines hold 9002,000 guests, based on double occupancy. Many ships have at least one large meeting room and several smaller assembly areas, and virtually all pleasure cruise ships are equipped with a theater, restaurants, and bars.

One example of the industry trend toward accommodating the meetings market is the 350-passenger SSC Radisson Diamond. The ship's specialized offerings include five board rooms; a 2,200-square-foot meeting room, which can be divided into six conference rooms; in-house publishing facilities; sophisticated teleconferencing facilities; a television studio; secretarial services; facsimile machines; personal computers and printers; and satellite communication networks.

Most cruise companies offer a variety of itineraries, such as watching whales off Nantucket, visiting antebellum houses in the South, and viewing glaciers in Alaska. Many ships depart from ports in major cities, with three-, four-, and five-day cruises available to suit the typical association meeting schedule.


Cruise options and rates are negotiable. A flat hotel rate is not comparable to a cruise rate, since the latter includes not only accommodations, but meals, entertainment, and other costs such as airfare and tours. James Groome, president of Groome Marketing Associates, Princeton, New Jersey, has arranged ship conventions for associations. He says the cost for such meetings is not much different from a hotel-based meeting. This is less true, Groome explains, during a recession when hotels slash room prices to compete.

A meeting planner can negotiate price by using data from past meetings. You can keep costs down, for example, by booking off-season tours. Travel agencies that specialize in cruise meetings can help you find these ways. But keep in mind that your members may perceive a cruise as a special experience and be willing to pay more.

In some cases, it is not necessary to use the ship's services for food, beverages, and entertainment. You may employ inexpensive alternatives. For example, find a member who lives in the port city, is familiar with the city's cruise facilities, and knows what your association enjoys. The volunteer member can also help keep costs down by identifying economical suppliers in the area.

Associations also may consider holding a land-based convention in a cruise port of call and offering an optional cruise for a limited number of meeting attendees. Josephine Kling, president, Landry & Kling, Inc., a Coral Gables, Florida-based cruise-only travel company, says, "This allows people to combine business and pleasure. They may have to do the cruise at their own expense, but the airfare (to the meeting) may be deductible as a business expense."


The tax laws on cruise meetings are complex. The general rule is that attendees qualify for business tax exemptions only if the ship is a U.S. flag carrier traveling to U.S. ports of call. For more information, refer to Section 274(h) of the Internal Revenue Code. There are, however, many ramifications to the regulations. According to Jed Mandel, a partner with Neal Gerber & Eisenberg, Chicago, meetings on Caribbean cruise ships are tax deductible up to a certain amount.

Associations must continually look for cost-effective ways to maintain or increase their meeting attendance. Offering a meeting on a cruise ship is one change of pace to consider. Susan C. Watson has sewed as executive director of the Foundation for Critical Care and the American Family Therapy Association, both based in Washington, D.C. In both positions, Watson planned special events and conferences.


If you are considering a cruise ship event, two sources of information you can tap are

* Cruise Lines International Association

500 Fifth Ave., Suite 1407

New York, NY 10110

(212) 921-0066

* National Association of Passenger Vessel Owners

1511 K St., N.W., Suite 715

Washington, DC 20005

(202) 638-5310
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Watson, Susan C.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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