September/October 2010
Volume 30 No. 6

October 2010 Cover
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Ships Used As Convention Venues Can Be Refreshing

Organizers of small conferences and screenings often entertain the question of where to hold their next meeting. The first requirement of such gatherings is that the host place be a small enough town that it is not too dispersive and won’t lose participants to other attractions (such as museums or sight-seeing). The second, equally important requirement, is that the place be a resort or a landmark location. Thirdly, it cannot be too far away from an airport and it has to have good hotel accommodations. Fourthly, for a gathering of some 200 people –– comprised of 150 buyers and 50 support personnel and other invitees –– in the case of a dedicated screenings event, total costs have to be within the $400,000 range for a three-night gathering.

But the most important requirement of all is that the place be exciting and, if possible, unique.

Cruise Ship

Then, if all of the above are necessary, why has no one thus far opted for a cruise ship?

Imagine, starting from a port with a great airport facility and sailing every night to a different town for some extra amusement, while having a captive audience during the day. In addition, all the necessary entertainment can be onboard and the organizers will have the great advantage of being able to generate a refreshing optimism from the invited guests.

One of the possible problems with a ship as a “floating” convention site could be the “dropping out” (missing the call) of a few guests during the port stay. In that case, arrangements would have to be made to bus those who missed the boat to the next port.

A second drawback is that an estimated 33 percent of people are susceptible to motion sickness, including sea sickness. This, however, can often be prevented with some over-the-counter medicine like Dramamine.

For this report, VideoAge got in touch with Lyan Sierra-Caro, an executive with the Miami, Florida-based Royal Caribbean International (RCI), to find out if Royal ever housed a convention or conference that has to do with television. Her response was: “I am not aware of all of the groups that have been onboard our ships. We have 21 ships in service that sail year-round throughout the world, so it is possible we have had a group of this type onboard.”

VideoAge also contacted Rick Sasso, president and CEO of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC), to ask several questions regarding a TV conference that could be held on a ship.

In general terms, passenger ships are divided into cruise liners and ocean liners (for line voyages). Right now the only dedicated transatlantic ocean liner is the “Queen Mary 2.” Ship capacity varies from 1,800 people to 5,400, and of these, 32 percent to 38 percent represent the crew.

Sasso reported that MSC ships hold up to 3,300 guests. Market and seminar organizations can have groups as small as 50 people. Per Sierra-Caro, RCI ships range from carrying 2,300 to 6,400 guests. Depending on the ship, a group can be as large (the full ship) or as small as possible.

VideoAge also asked Sasso if the ships can have conference visitors (when anchored) other than those people who will actually be sleeping on board. “No visitors are allowed on the ships even when they are anchored, only cruisers,” he answered.

On the other hand, Sierra-Caro said that, “We do have the ability to have day visitors on the ship, but they need to have a business purpose in order to board.”

Then, can a “convention ship” with people other than those sleeping onboard go to sea for several hours and go back to port? “We do not usually change the ship’s itinerary unless the ship has been fully chartered by the group,” answered Sierra-Caro. Does the cost change if the “convention ship” sails or if it is anchored? “Our ships are usually not docked for more than one day, so this would not be applicable,” she stated. Similarly, Sasso said, “Ships always sail port to port every night all year.”

Can a ship have space for exhibits (i.e., stands) or are rooms big enough as hospitality suites? “Yes,” said Sierra-Caro, “depending on the size of the ship and group we can work with the group to determine the appropriate space onboard [for exhibits]. There is no cost for our conference space.”

According to Sasso, “Most [MSC] ships don’t have exhibit space per se and cabins are not generally big enough to set up as hospitality suites. Cabins’ suites can be used for one-on-one meetings, but not much more than that. However, most of the lounges and showrooms are available to be used as meeting space during the cruise. Rooms can accommodate from 50 to 1,250 people. Some vessels also have dedicated meeting rooms as well, and lounges are set aside for the private meetings. The only restriction is that it is difficult to set any room aside for 24/7 use by the group. It would be for various times a day. This would prevent the set-up of booths in such spaces, as they would have to be taken down. But, there are some lounges that can be fully dedicated, and that would be on a case-by-case basis depending on the size of the group on that cruise. [If not on a chartered basis] there will be a few hundred or more other cruisers on the ship and the ship must offer them their expected amenities. In addition, the main theatres on our ships hold from 700 to 1,250 people (depending on the ship) and have full audiovisual services. It’s a great place to conduct a seminar or screenings.”

Does the manpower for setting up come from the ship, or can it be hired from the outside? “No, it has to be our manpower,” said Sasso. Similarly, Sierra-Caro said that, “everything is done with [our] ship’s resources.”

What about furniture and video equipment rentals? “This depends,” Sierra-Caro added. And for Sasso too: “It depends. We have lots of TVs throughout the ship and in every cabin. Closed circuit and satellite.”

VideoAge then asked how a convention ship is priced. Sasso answered: “You can assume $200 per day per person for a double occupancy in a very nice balcony room, while singles are approximately $360. This includes all the meals and entertainment onboard (a-la-cart and great choices of first class dinning, all meals 24/7), but excludes shore trips and paid drinks.”