Eggheads Ahoy!

Mitt Romney in the hot tub. Jesse Jackson leading a sing-along. Those are just a few of the incidents you might witness on a cruise planned by The Cruise Authority.

"We're probably the only people in the country who do these types of events," says Howard Moses, president of the Marietta, GA-based firm, which specializes in magazine cruises. In 20 years of operation, the agency has sailed with readers of publications from Runner's World to Ms. Its unique niche has made it the go-to planner for both right-leaning National Review and lefty The Nation—where, respectively, Romney and Jackson will appear as guest speakers later this year.

Ship Shape
How did it all begin? Two decades ago, Moses, who was working in advertising in Miami, heard complaints from the cruise companies he worked with that travel agencies weren't good at selling them. Though he had no experience (he'd never even been on a boat), Moses decided to open a travel agency specializing in cruises.

Several years later, through a series of coincidences, Moses planned a cruise for National Review. "They'd done a cruise with another agency and it hadn't done very well," he recalls. "We showed them how to increase their passenger attendance and, as a result, their profit."

The agency now has cruising down to a science, steering its clients through the entire process, from working with the ship, to checking in passengers, to handling speakers, to creating ads and collateral materials. It also points out where the potential pitfalls and profits are—important, since cruises are typically used to keep cash-strapped magazines literally afloat. "We laughingly refer to ourselves as 'the Green Party,' " says Moses, "and we don't mean trees."

Anchors Aweigh
Two simple things, Moses says, increase the chances that a publication's cruise will succeed: One, a cruise-specific website with all the information needed to make a booking decision; two, assigned seating at dinner, rotated nightly. The latter task is especially daunting—Moses compares it to "planning a wedding for 700 people, but doing it every night for a week"—but worth it: "We have a repeat factor of over 50 percent. That's unheard of in the world of affinity groups."

Of course, the main draw for The Cruise Authority's programs are the guest speakers. Invited by the magazines, they spend their time onboard mingling with guests as well as giving lectures. "The other passengers usually don't recognize an Arianna Huffington or a Ken Starr," says Moses, "but for the attendees, it's the thrill of a lifetime, to sit and chat and dine with people they really respect. To them, these people are like rock stars."

Indeed, they sometimes even behave accordingly. "Once during a cruise, we were visiting a beach in St. Maarten," recalls Moses, "and I noticed one of our speakers—a really famous guy—was frolicking in the surf in the buff. That was a big surprise." Did he do anything? "Nah, I just looked the other way. Who am I to tell him what to do?"

The Cruise Authority
Yearly cruises: 30
Attendance: 300-700
Cost per passenger: $1,600 and up

Originally published May 01, 2008

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