The Benefits of Using a Cruise as an Employee Incentive

An important component of many successful direct sales and multi-level marketing (MLM) companies is the strategy for providing ongoing motivation and incentive to the employees that sell its products. But, planning a motivating reward year after year isn’t always so easy. Most often, the challenge for meeting planners of MLM companies is how to outdo themselves and the program they planned the year before.

But that’s exactly what Lucy Eisele, manager, corporate & incentive travel for Creative Memories did, when the company rewarded nearly 2,000 of its top consultants with two back to back cruise charters on the Celebrity Millennium.

“We wanted to have something special and exclusive — that CM hadn’t already done — that would allow us to combine both incentive trips into one,” said Eisele. “It was important to offer something that would bring all levels of Consultants together to celebrate our 15th Anniversary.”

Increasingly, meeting and event planners are realizing that if they are not rotating a cruise into the mix of destinations and venue options, they’re missing the boat. Cruises are now regularly used for meetings, incentives or recognition programs-even docked to serve as “floating hotels” when cities require more room space.

“Our decision to include a cruise in our incentive rotation was a function of two key points – variety and excitement,” said Lance Wieland, president of Maine-based Global Events Group. Weiland formerly served as an in-house meeting planner for an insurance company, and now owns his own event planning firm. “Having run land programs for years we were constantly looking for new ideas to keep the motivation level high. The cruise concept allowed us to select multiple international locations and provide a truly all-inclusive experience for the qualifiers,” he said.

A new, exciting travel experience
Corporate executives often spend much of their time in hotels for meetings and business events, but very few have ever cruised. According to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) newest marketing segmentation study, only 15 percent of the population in the United States and Canada has ever cruised.

In addition to the ports-of-call, the ship is a destination in itself. Outfitted with discos, Internet cafes, full-service spas, basketball courts, golf simulators, movie theatres, and even rock-climbing walls, today’s vessels offer something for everyone. Also, most ships provide multiple dining venues and some restaurants can accommodate up to 1,700 people at once. There are ample menu choices and unlimited servings (no limitations as with banquet meals in a hotel).

Because there already is a built-in program of daily activities and entertainment onboard, a cruise offers a wide variety of options for companions (at no additional cost or planning) while employees are in business sessions.

Floating Conference Facilities
Today’s ships can easily accommodate meetings and breakout sessions. Meetings can be accommodated in smaller boardrooms; awards ceremonies can be staged in multi-level theatres holding more than 1,300 people at once. Some ships even feature purpose-built exhibition halls (that convert from full-size skating rinks!) to hold a tabletop trade show.

Let’s face it a hotel ballroom looks the same whether in Dallas or D.C. For this reason, attendance for business events at sea is almost always higher than on land.

Perceived Value–a great reward
Participants perceive cruises as having a high value and the opportunity for a cruise gives people the feeling of importance. Their organization is doing something nice for them.

More importantly, CLIA’s market segmentation study also found people view cruises as better than other trips in ease of planning, a good value for the money and as having high-quality entertainment. Overall, the study found that the greatest perceived advantages of cruising over other types of trips are the opportunities for being pampered, fine dining, having a hassle-free experience, getting away from it all and visiting several destinations.

Creative Customization
One misconception some planners have is that a shipboard environment cannot be customized. But, that belief couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, a cruise is especially conducive for customizing gifts, cocktail functions and even meals around the themes and cultures of the multiple ports of call. Many groups also customize the ship’s itinerary!

“… Customization of the ports could never be done with a land program,” said Eisele of her recent Creative Memories charters, where even the cruise line’s itinerary was changed especially for their sailings. “Offering two ports that most people are familiar with (San Juan and St. Thomas), along with the somewhat exotic St. Barts and Haiti, it offered them something they probably won’t ever experience again.”

In addition, Creative Memories took advantage of a number of other special touches to customize nearly every detail of the program. From floating the company’s logo at the bottom of the pool, to staging a bon voyage flag-raising ceremony, to having an airplane flyover with a Creative Memories banner, Eisele and her team created a truly one-of-a-kind experience for attendees.

Event planner, Weiland, encountered initial hesitation from senior management prior to cruising, but customization opportunities ultimately won the group over.

“When we repositioned the concept as a three country incentive with no need to pack/unpack each time we crossed a border, their interest peaked a little. The final selling point was the exclusivity and customization possible with a charter. We decided what attire we would allow in all the outlets, the hours the casino would open and close, when the bars would stop serving alcohol, when the entertainment would perform to suit our business agenda, etc. It was truly a winning combination from all perspectives.

Cruising Offers Good Return on Investment
Today’s savvy meeting professionals know that business at sea offers a good return on their corporate investment–in terms of price, value and increased performance by employees for the organization that rewards them.

Affordability is a key advantage. All-inclusive fares also let planners manage meetings more affordably at sea than on land because they have the ability to forecast all their expenses up front-no last-minute surprises!

Weiland found what his organization gained in improved performance was a direct return on the cruise incentive offered to employees.

“Feedback from attendees was so positive from our first experience (a full ship charter from Athens to Istanbul) that we booked subsequent partial and full charters for different segments of the distribution channels,” said Wieland. “Each was extraordinarily well received and a major factor in meeting goals that had been increased by substantial amounts from previous years.”

(Previously published in Corporate Cruise News)

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