NYC Cruise Lines See Rise In Corporate Meeting Business

Originally published by Business Travel News - January 23, 2006

New York's cruise lines have returned to the radar of meeting planners as the industry reports rising bookings and stable prices for corporate events.

Businesses planning the events have become more budget-conscious, said Carol Nagy, head of sales for New York-based Skyline Cruises, and are increasingly looking for smaller parties and different menu packages to minimize costs.

Prices for corporate cruise events have remained fairly steady over the last year, according to the cruise lines. Rising fuel costs have bumped up prices slightly, but Ina Lee Selden, owner of destination management company Manhattan Passport, said the cruise lines generally avoid volatile pricing.

The simple cocktail option, for example, starts at about $70 per person with East Coast Yacht, said Tom Gross, president of New York-based East Coast Yacht Cruises. For a full dinner on board, businesses should expect to start at $100 per person, Selden said.

There are other charges as well. Director of catering Barbara Thibault estimated New York-based World Yacht's menu prices range from $115 to $160 a person, but charter fees can range from $1,500 to $4,500 per yacht.

If a business merely wants to get its clients on the water to see New York, there are basic tours. Skyline Cruises has a tour that starts at about $28 per person, Nagy said. High-end dining aboard Skyline Cruises costs about $150 per person, she said.

Longer trips cost significantly more. For East Coast Yacht's eight-hour option, a business bringing 50 attendees would pay about $13,500, and a business bringing 150 attendees would pay $28,000, Gross said.

Prices vary by season and by day, however. World Yacht, for example, has its lowest prices from January through March, and other cruise lines also cost less during the colder months. Weekdays generally are cheaper than weekends, and Saturday is usually the most expensive day to cruise.

With the right planning, a cruise actually could be an economical option, DMC head Selden said. "If 300 people charter a boat on a Sunday night, it's relatively inexpensive," she said. "It can be less expensive than a restaurant."

Destination management companies are seeing a similar trend, such as Kitt Garrett, owner of Discover New York, who said cruising is up significantly. Largely, the businesses using New York cruise lines for their events aren't traveling far. Most of their corporate clients come from New York and its surrounding states, the suppliers said. Selden said they're also popular among her international clients.

East Coast Yacht's Gross said many of his clients moving away from the typical sit-down dinner cruise to events with just cocktails and hors d'oeuvres trays. Not only is it a cheaper option, but it also gives the guests a chance to mingle and network throughout the event.

Gross said businesses are becoming interested in longer events, too. He's seen a demand for his eight-hour events that meld a cruise to Sea Bright, N.J., a picnic-style restaurant dinner and free time at the beach with whatever meetings or training the corporate client needs, he said.

Cruises also have established a reputation for quality service, excellent food and offer an ever-changing view, Manhattan Passport's Selden said. That often brings them to the top over other corporate event options she might present. "In New York, there's hundreds and thousands of options," she said. "We find this is a great thing to do."

Even so, businesses realize that a cruise ship is not the perfect fit for every event and usually save them for special occasions, World Yacht's Thibault said. Many of those businesses that do like the cruise option use it sparingly. "Not every company wants to have their event on a boat," she said. "Many of our corporate accounts repeat every other season."