Meetings unplugged? Yes, it’s happening. The latest trend in conference technology seems to have come down to putting the smartphones away, shutting down the laptops and iPads and logging out of Twitter and Facebook. In unprecedented numbers, more and more conference goers (if not people in general) are actually volunteering to go offline and get back to meeting basics. The days when status updates qualified as face-to-face interaction and a social network was the group of people you were stuck in a ropes course with for half a day.
Companies like Digital Detox Retreat actually creates the space for you “to give individuals the freedom and permission they need to truly unplug and decompress,” says their mission statement on their website (thedigitaldetox.org). Participants, they say, “put aside their digital arm and unplug, recharge, gain perspective and reevaluate their relationship with digital technology. In turn, they reemerge with new found inspiration and tools to create more mindful, meaningful and balanced lives, both online and off.”
There have been proven health benefits of going off the grid: Results seen have included an increase in creativity and efficiency, teamwork skills and more gratitude towards colleagues. Personally, people have enjoyed lower blood pressure and heart rates and better sleep.
Just imagine having your conference sessions right by the water’s edge, followed by a wine tasting and Broadway play with a night cap of ice-skating—all within one easy-to-manage agenda. It’s exactly what you’ll find when you book a meeting or event on a cruise ship. “We’re really like a floating resort,” says Lori Cassidy, director of global corporate, incentive and charter sales for Royal Caribbean—one of the largest fleets available, which has seen an uptick in corporate bookings in recent years.
“We’ve had steady double digit growth for the last several years, year over year,” she attests, relating the increase to more companies who are starting to think of cruises as an option for a meetings, conferences, events and incentive programs. “For years it was an unknown, but as more and more planners are being educated and coming on board, they’re seeing all the possibilities it offers.”
Cassidy points to advancements in recent years that have given more credence to a cruise ship as a business center. “We always have business in mind at all times. Years ago you’d never find a meeting room on a cruise ship, but we now have dedicated conference centers on all our vessels,” which includes 22 ships in six different class sizes, with layouts and capacities; about 50% of the Royal Caribbean fleet has large, flexible space which can host about 400 guests, Cassidy says. As well there are theatre options that come with staging and décor and built-in production, seating up to 1,400 and also the brand’s Studio B, an ice-skating rink/stadium that converts into a meeting venue for 700-900 people.
One of the most interesting additions in recent years, though, has been on the Oasis vessel, which has a neighborhood concept with a boardwalk, Central Park and solariums, all of which can also be used for private events accommodating up to 1,500 guests. “As ships get bigger and better and more innovative, there are going to be more venues for planners to choose from,” says Cassidy who notes her biggest clientele remains direct selling companies, and the insurance, financial, automotive and retail sectors (although the setting works just as well for reunions, meetings and trainings). “More companies want the newest and greatest and that wow factor and that’s what a lot of ships bring to the table nowadays.”
That includes programs the whole family can enjoy, too, turning a conference into an actual vacation for many. “One of the tings we’re known for is activities and entertainment, so if it’s a family or spouse program, the other guests can have fun while meetings are going on.” From spas to cooking demos, rock climbing and surf simulators, targeted children’s programs and good old-fashioned shopping and dining, there is no shortage of things to do—and the best part of the whole experience just may be that everything is included in the price.
“There’s a lot of all-inclusiveness tied to cruises,” says Cassidy. Including all your meals, entertainment and activities. As well, “meeting space is complimentary and so is your audio/visual equipment and standard coffee breaks. So there’s a lot of cost savings involved when a client looks to do a program at sea.”
If you’re new to this concept, rest assured cruise representatives will help you every step of the way. “The first thing we do is look at an RFP and program agenda so we can figure out how we can transform a land-based proposal onto a ship. There’s a lot of brainstorming and customization on our end as well as flexibility needed by the planner to make things work on board, but we talk it out point by point,” she says. There are differences from a hotel; one of the most important is knowing you must commit to multi-night stays since few vessels offer less than 3-4 night stays. However, Cassidy admits, “Once a planner wraps one event, they find out how easy it is and how turnkey it can be by doing an event on a ship.”
The other good news is that lines like Royal Caribbean are expanding with ports in Miami, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, New York City, Alaska, Vancouver, Seattle, even Europe, with more launching every year, allowing more and more guests to enjoy that feeling of being on top of the world even if just for a few days.
Royal Caribbean International