The cruise ship charter business is
booming. Once the carrots of corporate incentive programs, charters
are now popular with families, special-interest and lifestyle
groups, and even wealthy individuals.Whether fewer than 100
passengers or several thousand people, charters are filling
More and more,
people want to be around like-minded people, said Joyce Landry, CEO
of Landry and Kling, a Florida travel agency that specializes in
corporate charters and meetings at sea. If they are on a ship, they
can control their environment.
Landry has been
in the cruise charter business for 25 years and has seen a marked
increase in demand, from dockside charters that supplement hotel
space, to high-end, private charters for parties.
disposable income out there, she said. People have done
vice president of group sales and administration for Carnival
Cruise Lines, said in the last five years the company has seen a
six-fold increase in charter business. While religious groups and
gay and lesbian charters have been popular for awhile, she pointed
to a together trend and said many similarly interested clusters,
like fitness groups or music fans, are choosing to travel together.
(See story, Music charters strike chord with artists and their
Clubs charter business has surged to 50% of its sailing days in the
companys five years of existence. At Royal Caribbean International,
Stacy Shaw, national charter sales manager for RCI and Celebrity
Cruises, said business is exploding and that its hard to keep up
with calls from people who want to charter.
She said that
even the 3,600-passenger Freedom of the Seas, which will be the
worlds largest ship when it debuts in May, will be chartered twice
for 2007. Larger ships have the meeting space and theaters that big
For small groups,
the ability to charter a cruise ship with fewer than 100 guests is
People often have
a group of 50 but they dont realize thats enough to charter the
whole SeaDream, said Bruce Setloff of SeaDream Yacht Club, a
founder of the line and its self-described charter sales
The companys two
luxury vessels hold a maximum of 110 guests each and appeal to
corporate customers, family reunions, alumni groups and yacht
owners who simply want to have a party on a vessel larger than
One hundred is
the magic number in private social events, Setloff said.
as far out as possible to prevent scheduling difficulties for
travel agents who have to bump people booked on ships that get
chartered. This is a concern for the cruise lines and agents, but
the reward of having a ship chartered is significant, especially if
the sailing has sluggish booking.
The benefit for
us is a guaranteed, sold-out ship, said Michael von Wittenau,
Crystal Cruises director of business development. Thats one less
ship to sell.
get a better deal on charters, he said, and, of course, every
detail of the itinerary can be customized, from the ports of call
to the dining options.
Richards Meadows, senior vice president of marketing and sales for
Holland America Line, when the World Series of Poker chartered a
HAL ship, the line put poker tables in the dining room. And an
organization that wanted to bring families with young children had
youth counselors onboard.
As popular as the
charter business is, it comes with risk. The financial exposure is
huge for the customer. If a cruise line is taking a ship of out of
inventory, it needs to be paid for it -- usually up front. Any
client needs to demonstrate a guaranteed source of funding and
thing is there and in the mix, but so limited to the type of
organization that could successfully accept the liability of
possibly losing money, said Betty Kadell, director of group and
incentives division at Liberty Travel in Mahwah, N.J.
that although Carnival receives three to four calls a day about
charters, only five to 10 actually materialize per year. Most
groups are encouraged, instead, to block a large group of rooms on
a ship, a more pragmatic approach than an entire ship.
thing, Weinstein said, is to be realistic about the ability to fill
they can get a group together, she said. If you want a ship for
3,000 people, you should be able to think of 6,000 people to fill
noting she encourages groups to start out with shorter itineraries
that are easier to fill. She also is selective as to who enters
into a charter partnership.
We do a really
good job of making sure the client understands the financial and
legal ramifications of a charter, she said.
Once a client
clears that hurdle they literally pray, in some cases, that they
will fill the ships. Matthew Dunaway, president of PraiseFest
Ministries in Northport, Ala., chartered Royal Caribbeans Sovereign
of the Seas this Memorial Day to take a few thousand people on a
religious mission to Grand Bahama Island.
He chartered the
entire ship rather than blocking a group of rooms because he wanted
to close the casino and bars and replace them with Christian
entertainment. Many religious groups charter ships for the same
I always wanted
to take a cruise, but I didnt want to expose my family to whats
going on, he said, citing the partying and gambling often
associated with cruise ships. Parents can feel good about letting
their kids go.
With two months
to go, Dunaway had 900 missionaries signed up for 2,300 beds -- and
many peoples life savings on the line. He was hoping for a
Anytime you take
a big leap of faith, there is a bit of nervousness, Dunaway said.
We are trusting God to see us through.
reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].