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Tired of boring meetings, leaders book cruises

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Tired of boring meetings, leaders book cruises

Heidi Dietrich, Staff Writer, 2005 American City Business Journals Inc

If a weekend in a hotel conference room for a company strategic planning retreat doesn't seem inspiring, how about an Alaskan cruise?

As the 2005 Northwest travel season revs up, corporations are increasingly taking business to sea with three- and four-day company cruises. The trend is so strong that two Seattle companies -- Ultimate Journeys, a high-end travel firm, and Strategic Development Corp., a longtime leader of corporate planning sessions -- have formed an alliance to pursue the growing market for cruise-based corporate meetings.

The two companies are hardly alone. Corporate meeting rooms, satellite phones and wi-fi are becoming standard fare aboard cruise vessels, and corporations increasingly see cruises as an economical and interesting alternative to the standard hotel retreat.

Cruise lines are quickly seizing on the growing potential of the corporate market, in part because business events can help fill boats at times of the year when tourism is flat. Holland America's $225 million recent remodel of its entire fleet includes the addition of flat-panel televisions and Internet portals. The Seattle cruise line has six sailings planned this year for Allstate Insurance and will charter 30 full ships altogether, the majority going to the corporate market.

"As cruising itself becomes more accepted on a much broader level, we'll see growth in corporate cruises," said Larry Dessler, executive director of Bellevue-based Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance.

The line of business is particularly strong in the Northwest, where waterways are plentiful and the Alaskan geography beckons. But the trend is nationwide. Just one example: Landry & Kling, a Miami-based company that organizes cruises for corporations, is currently searching for a cruise boat for a strategic planning meeting involving 350 employees of a Fortune 500 wireless communications company.

Joyce Landry, co-owner of Landry & Kling, said meetings aboard cruise ships are more appealing these days because of the business amenities now offered. "Cruise ship conference facilities now mirror those at nice resorts and hotels," she said.

Perhaps most importantly for corporations, strategic planning sessions aboard cruise ships can actually be more economical than traditional retreats. Goodman estimates the cost per person at $150 to $250 a day on the cruise, which includes the room, food and entertainment. By contrast, when Norm Levy, president of Strategic Development Corp., attends an upcoming five-day conference in Atlanta, he estimates he'll spend $475 a day for his room and food.

Landry arranged a cruise for one corporation that saved an estimated $200,000 in audio-visual costs. The company, which brought along 450 employees, rolled out a new product with a large production show. Since the cruise ship already had a stage and equipment ready to go, the company didn't need to set up its own program.

"Cruise lines have shown themselves to be extremely cost competitive with package deals," said Rich Skinner, co-owner of Cruise Holidays of Woodinville.

Economic savings, however, aren't as great if corporate passengers sleep in their own rooms. Unlike many hotels, which market rooms to the single business traveler, cruise lines typically charge the same price for a room, regardless of whether one or two people sleep in it, Landry said. She's seen companies get around the added cost by allowing employees to bring along spouses or significant others.

Another economic barrier facing corporate cruises involves tax incentives. Since maritime laws lead most cruise lines to fly a foreign flag, the cruises are not tax deductible for corporations. Still, many companies find the savings remain worthwhile.

Many corporations like cruises because distractions are few. "The cruise ship has a way of isolating you," said Russ Goodman, president of Ultimate Journeys.

By contrast, land retreats aren't always a true departure from regular life. Goodman, who was chairman of the King County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the early 1990s, recalls retreats where cell phones would ring and focus would quickly drift away. In the evenings, retreat participants would often venture off on their own.

If companies are worried about cruising's own distractions and can afford to charter a ship, the trip can be planned around the meetings. Corporations can arrange for no overhead announcements and fit in port visits when the conference allows, Landry said.

Cruises also offer built-in entertainment for employees and accompanying spouses. Levy, who has arranged hundreds of corporate events at hotels over his 22 years leading Strategic Development, recalls some clients reporting boredom in the evenings. Employees are more likely to be excited about a company event on a cruise boat, Dessler said.

While the bulk of cruise time may be spent holed up in the ship's conference rooms, companies can also take advantage of on-shore excursions. One team builder specialist, who typically rents a rock-climbing wall for a client exercise, is in discussions with Ultimate Journeys about an executive cruise next year. The team builder wants to take his executives to climb rocks onshore in an Alaskan port.

Levy, who handles corporate planning for such companies as Starbucks and Boeing, readily admits he lacks the hospitality know-how to hook up cruises for his clients. But that's where the alliance with Ultimate Journeys comes in.

Goodman has spent the last 25 years in the hospitality industry, and his services for Levy's firm will include assisting with overnight retreats on land. One-third of the events Levy puts together are long enough for a cruise.

Though Ultimate Journeys also leads international travel tours, Goodman formed the company with corporate cruises in mind. Levy, in turn, had received positive feedback on cruises from corporate executives, who wanted more inspiring locales for company planning retreats.

"When an executive thinks of crafting a company's vision 10 years out, there's a difference between a basement and the top of the Columbia Tower," Levy said.

Ultimate Journeys and Strategic Development are currently in discussions with several potential corporate cruise clients, including the American Electronics Association.

Levy and Goodman are also looking at a CEO cruise that would bring together executives from a variety of companies. Ideally, the entire ship would be devoted to the multi-day event, Levy said.

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Tired of boring meetings, leaders book cruises

Heidi Dietrich, Staff Writer, 2005 American City Business Journals Inc

If a weekend in a hotel conference room for a company strategic planning retreat doesn't seem inspiring, how about an Alaskan cruise?

As the 2005 Northwest travel season revs up, corporations are increasingly taking business to sea with three- and four-day company cruises. The trend is so strong that two Seattle companies -- Ultimate Journeys, a high-end travel firm, and Strategic Development Corp., a longtime leader of corporate planning sessions -- have formed an alliance to pursue the growing market for cruise-based corporate meetings.

The two companies are hardly alone. Corporate meeting rooms, satellite phones and wi-fi are becoming standard fare aboard cruise vessels, and corporations increasingly see cruises as an economical and interesting alternative to the standard hotel retreat.

Cruise lines are quickly seizing on the growing potential of the corporate market, in part because business events can help fill boats at times of the year when tourism is flat. Holland America's $225 million recent remodel of its entire fleet includes the addition of flat-panel televisions and Internet portals. The Seattle cruise line has six sailings planned this year for Allstate Insurance and will charter 30 full ships altogether, the majority going to the corporate market.

"As cruising itself becomes more accepted on a much broader level, we'll see growth in corporate cruises," said Larry Dessler, executive director of Bellevue-based Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance.

The line of business is particularly strong in the Northwest, where waterways are plentiful and the Alaskan geography beckons. But the trend is nationwide. Just one example: Landry & Kling, a Miami-based company that organizes cruises for corporations, is currently searching for a cruise boat for a strategic planning meeting involving 350 employees of a Fortune 500 wireless communications company.

Joyce Landry, co-owner of Landry & Kling, said meetings aboard cruise ships are more appealing these days because of the business amenities now offered. "Cruise ship conference facilities now mirror those at nice resorts and hotels," she said.

Perhaps most importantly for corporations, strategic planning sessions aboard cruise ships can actually be more economical than traditional retreats. Goodman estimates the cost per person at $150 to $250 a day on the cruise, which includes the room, food and entertainment. By contrast, when Norm Levy, president of Strategic Development Corp., attends an upcoming five-day conference in Atlanta, he estimates he'll spend $475 a day for his room and food.

Landry arranged a cruise for one corporation that saved an estimated $200,000 in audio-visual costs. The company, which brought along 450 employees, rolled out a new product with a large production show. Since the cruise ship already had a stage and equipment ready to go, the company didn't need to set up its own program.

"Cruise lines have shown themselves to be extremely cost competitive with package deals," said Rich Skinner, co-owner of Cruise Holidays of Woodinville.

Economic savings, however, aren't as great if corporate passengers sleep in their own rooms. Unlike many hotels, which market rooms to the single business traveler, cruise lines typically charge the same price for a room, regardless of whether one or two people sleep in it, Landry said. She's seen companies get around the added cost by allowing employees to bring along spouses or significant others.

Another economic barrier facing corporate cruises involves tax incentives. Since maritime laws lead most cruise lines to fly a foreign flag, the cruises are not tax deductible for corporations. Still, many companies find the savings remain worthwhile.

Many corporations like cruises because distractions are few. "The cruise ship has a way of isolating you," said Russ Goodman, president of Ultimate Journeys.

By contrast, land retreats aren't always a true departure from regular life. Goodman, who was chairman of the King County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the early 1990s, recalls retreats where cell phones would ring and focus would quickly drift away. In the evenings, retreat participants would often venture off on their own.

If companies are worried about cruising's own distractions and can afford to charter a ship, the trip can be planned around the meetings. Corporations can arrange for no overhead announcements and fit in port visits when the conference allows, Landry said.

Cruises also offer built-in entertainment for employees and accompanying spouses. Levy, who has arranged hundreds of corporate events at hotels over his 22 years leading Strategic Development, recalls some clients reporting boredom in the evenings. Employees are more likely to be excited about a company event on a cruise boat, Dessler said.

While the bulk of cruise time may be spent holed up in the ship's conference rooms, companies can also take advantage of on-shore excursions. One team builder specialist, who typically rents a rock-climbing wall for a client exercise, is in discussions with Ultimate Journeys about an executive cruise next year. The team builder wants to take his executives to climb rocks onshore in an Alaskan port.

Levy, who handles corporate planning for such companies as Starbucks and Boeing, readily admits he lacks the hospitality know-how to hook up cruises for his clients. But that's where the alliance with Ultimate Journeys comes in.

Goodman has spent the last 25 years in the hospitality industry, and his services for Levy's firm will include assisting with overnight retreats on land. One-third of the events Levy puts together are long enough for a cruise.

Though Ultimate Journeys also leads international travel tours, Goodman formed the company with corporate cruises in mind. Levy, in turn, had received positive feedback on cruises from corporate executives, who wanted more inspiring locales for company planning retreats.

"When an executive thinks of crafting a company's vision 10 years out, there's a difference between a basement and the top of the Columbia Tower," Levy said.

Ultimate Journeys and Strategic Development are currently in discussions with several potential corporate cruise clients, including the American Electronics Association.

Levy and Goodman are also looking at a CEO cruise that would bring together executives from a variety of companies. Ideally, the entire ship would be devoted to the multi-day event, Levy said.

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