Luxury incentive cruising still in infancy in Asia: specialists

TTG Asia Media’s Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Silversea Cruises’ Freddy Muller, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’s Felix Chan and Crystal International Asia (Sales)’s Nungky

Customisation is a key drawcard for incentive cruises at the top end, but its value proposition remains under-appreciated among Asian incentive planners, according to speakers at the Crazy Rich Cruisers session during Tuesday’s Asian MICE Cruise Conference.

Felix Chan, vice president & general manager, Asia of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said: “On cruises, everything is covered, from dining and entertainment to accommodation and transfers, so organisers like this (all in one) arrangement.”

TTG Asia Media’s Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Silversea Cruises’ Freddy Muller, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’s Felix Chan and Crystal International Asia (Sales)’s Nungky

Freddy Muller, vice president charter & incentive sales, Silversea Cruises, added: “We have dedicated teams to cater to incentive groups from the beginning to the end, so there is a lot of value add. You can have almost about 30 per cent savings (compared to land programmes) when you take into consideration all the inclusions offered on our ships.”

For Crystal Cruises, customisation lies in offering unique, adventurous and authentic experiences to high-end incentives, said Nungky, manager, Crystal International Sales (Asia).

The value proposition of high-end incentive cruises, said Chan, is especially evident in destinations where the cost of accommodation or dining is expensive. He said: “Whether we cruise in Japan, Vietnam or China, the costs are similar.”

Muller agreed, adding that once procurement managers understand the concept of working with cruises, they would enjoy the value such programmes would bring because a lot of the components on board are fixed cost.

Ultimately, it’s a “numbers game” when it comes to customising to the “crazy rich cruisers”, Muller stated, reiterating that luxury incentive programmes are limited only by creativity.

“If you charter a ship at full capacity, we can do exactly what you want, from flower arrangement to carpets or bringing your own entertainment,” said Muller. “The only thing we ask is to give back the ship to us the way we gave it to you.”

Nungky agreed, pointing out how incentive planners can even charter a private jet through Crystal AirCruises to round out an unforgettable experience for incentive groups.

However, Chan thinks the luxury cruise incentives market in Asia is still in its infancy. “Our volume is still small compared to the more mature markets, but there is a lot of potential,” he noted.

Nungky concurred: “Asia is the largest continent but cruise penetration (particularly the luxury segment) is still low. (However), there is indeed a growing awareness of using cruises for business events, so it is slightly easier to sell luxury incentive cruises compared to 10 years back.

“We’ve come up with various programmes to encourage planners to come on board and experience cruises. In 2020, we are bringing Crystal Endeavor to Asia,” she revealed.

Meanwhile, Chan suggested that there is still more the Asian cruise sector can do to grow the market, including greater education and promotion.

Unlike the clear understanding of the brand segmentation between “a Holiday Inn versus a Peninsula”, Chan opined that most incentive planners in Asia still cannot differentiate between the cruise brands.

“Also, luxury can mean different things for different people, so we need to customise (programmes) to meet and exceed their expectations. The number one thing that planners look for is the value of the trip – how much they can get in terms of customer experience,” Chan added.

He gave an example of Hawaii, where one of his groups from Japan is going to Hawaii every year, where hotel and dining are expensive. “We have regular departures to the destination (so it is convenient) and if you compare the cost of different components, having an incentive trip with us is actually competitive.”

Speaking on the growth of the market in Asia, Muller said: “A lot of the Asian travellers go to the Mediterranean, Baltic and Alaska, so the market is growing.”

He opined that for incentive organisers in Asia the first thing that comes to mind is about destination, while the second is budget. So, based on the destination that they pick and the budget that they have, the cruise line will then come up with customised solution.

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