Q&A with MD of Incentives at Sea, Stefano Oroni

Q&A – What is driving the growth of incentive cruising?

With cruising growing in popularity as a choice for incentive trips, Travel & Meetings Buyer spoke to Managing Director of Incentives at Sea, Stefano Oroni, to get his take on what is driving this growth. He spoke about the variety of activities, entertainment, and dining board on ship, safety compared with more traditional land-based options, and even the FBI.


Q: What is driving the growth of cruising as an incentive option for South African corporates?

A: Wow, where do I start! There are multiple reasons why cruising is one of the prime, if not ‘the’ prime option when it comes to incentive or group travel.

The ship in itself is the destination. Most ships offer multiple dining, entertainment, retail, lounge and recreational venues just on the inside, and with the new designs that are coming out, these areas are migrating to the outside decks as well. There are multiple pools, whirlpools, zip lines and rock climbing walls available. Some ships have large theatres on board, both inside and out, that put together original casts from all the latest and trending productions the world over. Some have ice rinks on board and others, go-kart tracks.

In most cases food and certain drinks are included in the price. There are various beverage packages available à la carte which, having travelled myself quite a bit, are definitely cost comparable with any decent land-based tourist establishment. Gratuities are either included or additional in the rates but it’s a once-off charge, and prepaying this is a great feature as you know beforehand what you are in for.

A great plus for cruising is the fact that you’re not ‘stuck’ in one location as you would be with a similar ground option. Perhaps you could argue that you’d be staying in multiple locations but then it would mean unpacking and repacking as well as travelling between your various locations. I like to say that cruising is the ‘tapas’ of travel. Not only do you unpack once but depending on your itinerary, you could wake up in Italy today and Croatia tomorrow, sampling the many different foods, drinks and local customs every single day and all without having to repack or board buses and flights.


Q: What are the conferencing or meetings facilities like on these ships? Do corporates ever ask about these options?

A: Yes they most definitely do ask.

Fortunately, the various cruise liners have catered for this in their designs and have got specific meeting/conferencing venues on board. When a ship does not have a venue large enough, they assign areas on board that can cater for your size of group. The old adage, “failing to plan is planning to fail” rings true in any programme, so the biggest key to success is to keep the channels of communication between yourself and your travel partner open, honest and as transparent as possible. Across every brand I have had the pleasure of working with, the venue as well as the up-to-date, state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment were provided and set up free of charge and in most cases, so was the engineer who assisted pre and during the event.

If your group had pre-purchased a beverage package, then only canapés would be an additional à la carte option.


Q: From your experience, what are the most common destinations, itineraries, and packages for incentive trips?

A: For sure Eastern and more so Western Mediterranean sailings come out on top for South Africans and that’s due to the relative proximity to South Africa in terms of flying time and multiple airline direct offerings as well as potential connections available.  Less time in the air means more time for the actual ‘incentive’.

Popular embarkation and debarkation ports would include Venice, Rome (Civitavecchia) and Barcelona. Southampton would be more popular if it were not for the additional UK visa requirement. Surprisingly, despite the economic challenges we face, South African corporates are well travelled internationally and I have noticed an uptake in more distant or exotic locations that require additional or longer flights. Corporates are venturing further east, west and north of the ever-popular Mediterranean sailings.

Q: In terms of safety, are cruises comparable to the traditional land-based options?

A: The very nature of cruising and just gaining access to most of the ships is in itself what makes cruising safe. The same or similar security controls you would find at any port of entry – say an airport – will be found at cruise terminals and, in particular, the embarkation terminals.

At every embarkation, every passenger is submitted to travel security screening, a travel document screening, photos are matched to every passenger and linked to a boarding pass. This all happens before you even set foot on board the ship.

Modern ships are all kitted out with closed circuit cameras placed strategically throughout the ship in public areas that don’t allow for blind spots anywhere. There are no dodgy elevators or dark passages and corridors on board these ships. Unobtrusive security guards are stationed throughout the ship ensuring your safety and lastly, the very demographics of all the travellers on board is not conducive to any major crime taking place. Of course when you go ashore, the risk of falling victim to any sort of crime increases exponentially, however, as part of prearranged shore excursions that the ships or local DMCs offer, the risks can be reduced.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that most of the popular, mainstream brands fall under the jurisdiction of the US, subsequently the FBI, but there are many factors that influence the FBI’s level of involvement in investigating serious cases so whilst no one is truly ever 100% safe from any crime, the cruise liners definitely mitigate the risks of serious crime happening on board by means of all of the above steps, efforts and partnerships.

Whilst it’s true not every vessel or brand out in the market operates likes this, it’s always best to consult with your travel partner and look into the more reputable, mainstream brands when deciding on a cruise liner.

Q: What is the more common type of booking for incentive trips: individuals with partners, small groups, large groups? Do companies ever charter the entire ship?

A: We don’t get involved in the individual traveller market. Having said that, there are at times family groups that start off small, plus or minus eight cabins, that end up being 60 to 70 passengers. Incentive or Corporate Groups can literally range from eight cabins all the way up to over 200 cabins. Typically though, your corporates that hit the high cabin numbers would look at potential charter options as it provides the exclusivity these type of clients would be looking for. Planning a charter though is operationally intensive as there are so many variables that need to be considered. There are a multitude of charterable vessels in the market, located all over the world that will cater for most corporate budgets. It really depends on what the corporate wants.

INCENTIVES AT SEA AND BEYOND was established February 2017 by then owner, Dalene Oroni who started the business after being in the travel industry for over 20 years, 18 of which was spent in the cruising industry.  In August of the same year, the company changed ownership with Stefano Oroni taking over the company.

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