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Meetings at Sea Enjoy a Revival

September 23, 2003|Tom Stieghorst | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

When the massive Northeast blackout put out the lights in New York City on Aug. 14, the cruise ship Carnival Victory, berthed at Pier 88 on the Hudson River, cast off and put to out sea. On board were 1,500 employees of Monumental Life Insurance Co., on a four-day meeting voyage to Nova Scotia, Canada.

While darkness blanketed the city, the insurance folks were talking shop in the ship's theater. By the time electricity was restored, they were dining on lobster at a pier party in Halifax.

"Basically, we were the only conference in New York City that was able to maintain our program," said Joyce Landry, who booked and ran the insurance cruise through her event management agency, Landry & Kling, in Coral Gables, Fla.

Meetings at sea are on the rebound after a rough two years. Taking a meeting on the lido deck was the wrong image in the somber days after the Sept. 11 attacks. But several trends are luring meeting planners back.

Since Sept. 11, cruise lines are offering more three-, four- and five-day options, lengths more suitable to meetings than the seven-day industry norm. Luxury operators, battered by the economic downturn, are offering meeting groups balcony cabins that were once out of reach.

In addition, a tax problem that shadowed cruise meetings is finally easing. With the introduction of two U.S.-flagged ships in Hawaii next year, cruises will for the first time qualify as a tax-deductible expense.

One obstacle to more meetings at sea has been the typical seven-day cruise line itinerary: Most meetings average four to five days. That disconnect is diminishing, however. After Sept. 11, shorter cruises became a bigger part of the mix at many lines. Cruises of five days or less, costing $249 to $379, gave meeting planners new options.

The appetite for meetings at sea is also keener at luxury lines. When the slide in the stock market and economy softened demand from individuals, a better class of cabin became available for corporate groups.

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