Business events steer course for cruises

More meeting and incentive groups are coming on board for corporate events on cruises. Royal Caribbean’s managing director for Asia Pacific, Sean Treacy, tells Pamela Chow how his company is catering to this growing segment

How much has cruising risen in popularity with corporate crowds, and what has spurred this?

Each year, Royal Caribbean sees a growth of about 20 per cent for MICE bookings across South-east Asia.

In the last 10 years since we started operating cruises in Asia, we have been experiencing growth in the FIT sector and in turn, the MICE sector. Very often, FIT guests who have enjoyed the experience so much recommend this to their work organisations for company trips.

We believe that this growth is merely the start. With factors such as increased globalisation and more businesses moving their headquarters to Asia-Pacific, as well as the growing affluence of people in the region, we foresee strong potential for MICE cruises in the region.

How has Royal Caribbean reacted in response to this growth?

Our mega ships such as Mariner of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas (now) come with more and bigger onboard MICE and entertainment facilities, such as a three-tier main dining room, 800-seater ice skating rink, 1,300-seater theatre, and an indoor or outdoor sports court.

We are always striving to grow our MICE business in the region. Our most outstanding (market examples) are Indonesia and India, where the MICE business has overtaken the FIT segment in terms of volume. Incentive travel is popular (among) companies in these markets (as a) reward for their staff. (Furthermore) cruising is a relatively novel travel option for them, hence the growing attraction.

What is being done to capitalise on these markets?

Royal Caribbean will continue to focus on delivering the best MICE service and experience for the region, by constantly innovating our amenities and facilities.

We are also operating increasingly longer seasons in Singapore to better cater to more MICE customers from different countries during their peak holiday seasons. Our 2016/17 season offered 64 sailings over nine months, whereas our 2017/18 season will be featuring 76 sailings over more or less the same period.

To boost our MICE business, we have also created a new business development manager position in our office this year, dedicated to developing the MICE business of our travel agents in Singapore.

What factors might be limiting faster growth?

Although mindsets are also slowly changing on the cruise industry, most people still do not know what cruise travel can offer. A survey conducted in 2016 by Royal Caribbean revealed that 86 per cent of Singaporeans are not aware of the activities and innovations that are readily available on board.

Awareness among planners is also an issue. A 2014 study by Cruise Lines International Association found that 32 per cent of planners were unaware of meetings spaces on ships, and 28 per cent were unaware of ship capabilities.

It is therefore important for cruise companies to continuously raise awareness of the value of cruising, and set themselves apart in terms of the products and facilities offered in order to drive MICE spending.

Lastly, securing sufficient air seats for several hundred to a few thousand MICE guests at one go from overseas to Singapore for a cruise is also a constant challenge for us, especially during the peak holiday periods. We hope that this situation will improve with the opening of the new Terminal 4 of Changi Airport.

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