With all-in costs of $200 to $300 per person per day, demand for dedicated conference space on P&O’s two latest ships, to begin operating in Australasian waters from late 2015, is already booming, say the company’s marketing spokespeople.
For instance 20 bookings and one charter are confirmed for 2016 for Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, which start their down-under itineraries in November this year, says the company’s Corporate Groups Sales Manager Peta Torkington (below).
“We’re seeing great figures though our MICE team was only established fairly recently,” says Peta. “It means at some point we’ll run out of availability and we’ll be pushing people through to 2017 and beyond.”
That’s a vindication for P&O’s decision to target the events sector as a potential new growth segment, based on shorter cruises, with the theme of “leave earth for your next conference”.
The decision is supported, too, by the company’s efforts to make onboard experiences more appealing and contemporary for leisure and events guests alike, says Peta. This is reflected in the food on offer in, for example, a new dining concept known as The Pantry (pictured at the end of the story), a move away from the traditional cruise practice of carrying a loaded tray round a buffet.
Food market afloat
Designed as a kind of food market afloat, it’s a discrete eating area onboard with eight serving outlets providing fare ranging from Indian and Malaysian to a carvery and fish and chips. Pacific Jewel recently became the first of the line’s ships to offer this, following a multi-million-dollar refit.
Other program additions include a revamped entertainment line-up, “Gatsby” evenings, and team-building activities like P&OEdge, an adventure program at sea that lets you climb, swing, jump and race your way through the ship, as these intrepid climbers, below, are doing.
“It’s not all bingo and buffets,” says Peta. “It’s modernising what the cruise experience is about. The new entertainment and food options dovetail with our MICE offering because delegates can be involved with the same theme night events and, for larger groups, private themed functions. We can tailor experiences for any group, from gala dinners to welcome drinks and team-building.”
Such flexibility helps belie the “Butlin’s Holiday Camp” perception some people may have about cruising, she adds. Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria – beautiful former Holland America ships – carry a maximum of 1,500 passengers so they’re almost boutique-like.
“Meetings on ships have been happening with our whole fleet of course, but the options have been for flexible conferencing, because the venues had to be shared with other passengers. I think having a dedicated true conferencing space with a theatre and break-out areas that delegates can use all day is the key reason we’re now of particular interest to events planners.”
How does this work in practice? The conference area is located on one deck and in one area of each ship, positioned so there’s no need for other passengers to enter it. Each vessel can cater for groups of up to 200 delegates this way.
Meantime feedback from clients who’ve already sailed is uniformly bullish, with many, like Cheryl Slender, executive assistant to the CEO of Aerocare Flight Support, saying it’s the best conference they’ve had and they’ll do it again. “We’ve been to many hot and cold locations but the P&O cruise was the most successful,” says Cheryl.
Kim Badawi, marketing coordinator at The Pops Group, says much the same thing. “The feedback from our 180 conference attendees has been exceptional,” says Kim.
Luxury at $200 to $300 per day
The most popular P&O cruises for MICE travellers are the short-break three- to four-nighters, which represent outstanding value compared with conferencing at a hotel, says Peta. “It costs between $200 and $300 per person per day for a three-to four-night conference cruise, and that’s all-inclusive: three meals a day, the conference venue including AV, absolutely everything.”
For a virtual tour of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2x6IcjQGqw