Cruise Incentives Stay Strong in Downturns

by Harvey Chipkin

When Joyce Landry and Jo Kling launched a specialty in cruise incentive trips, there were a lot of naysayers. Today, 30 years later, their firm Landry & Kling is practically synonymous with cruise incentives.

Joyce Landry (l) and Jo Kling

Landry and Kling, then both managers at Holland America, spotted an opportunity at a time when cruise lines did not have cruise incentive departments, and corporations did not typically think of cruises as incentive rewards.

“We were told by the head of CLIA that there was not enough business to warrant what we were doing, that ships did not have the right kind of rooms or space. We had to convince cruise lines and corporations that they should meet each other,” Kling told Travel Market Report.

Passion drives business
The pair persisted, and today Landry & Kling, which relocated from New York to Miami in 1988, is so dominant in the chartered ship market that the mega-ship Liberty of the Seas is jokingly referred to as “Landry & Kling of the Seas.”

The reason for their success? “It’s because our team was passionate about getting over the obstacles,” Kling said.

“The passion part for us is figuring it all out – for our clients and for the cruise lines.

“As an example, the cruise people would tell us they wouldn’t do music in the dining room. But we would tell them that if there’s nobody else on board except the charter group, they shouldn’t worry about it.”

Understanding the business
It helped that both women came from the cruise industry, and today many staff members also have cruise backgrounds.

“We were able to speak their language. We could tell a line that they should take the last five days of a positioning cruising and get a higher per diem through a charter,” said Kling.

“We knew we could not disrupt their revenue opportunities with a group or charter, and we worked around that.”

Landry & Kling handled its first charter in 1984, two years after the company launched. “Corporations like the exclusivity of a charter,” Kling said.

Ahead of the game
Landry & Kling has stayed ahead of competitors by reinventing itself. A prominent example was the introduction in late 2009 of Seasite, an automated system for connecting incentive planners and cruise lines.

“Cruise lines only have small departments for this and can’t deal with everybody in person. This offers them a way of getting an electronic RFP.”

Strength during downturns
Cruise lines value Landry & Kling’s charter business “because we guarantee it with a letter of credit. When something unexpected happens, like a 9/11 disaster, we hold up okay because we had charters planned so long in advance.”

In fact, 2009, the thick of the financial crisis, was the biggest year ever for Landry & Kling, because charters had been scheduled so far in advance.

In time, the company did feel the downturn.

“Groups have gotten smaller, partly because of corporate efforts to control expenses,” according to Kling.

Still, Kling said, the incentives market tends to hold up in economic downturns, because “you can’t reward people virtually – and, if you do, it does not give you the big boost of being with your colleagues for a memorable experience.”

“For most people, when you combine something on their bucket list with an award that makes it possible, that is very strong motivation.”

Cruise for meetings too
There is growth in corporate groups other than incentives, Kling said.

One area of growth is meetings. “Most ships have audiovisual equipment built in and do not charge for using space. That saves thousands of dollars. One of our larger charter groups told us that saved them over $200,000.

“The non-incentives call for the same set of skills. It’s all about customizing the cruise and providing a VIP experience.”

Trends in cruise incentives
Some things have changed, including the ships themselves – many are now designed to accommodate charters.

Also, Kling noted, “there is a variety of dining experiences. You have private dinners or an awards event in a large theater.”

Incentives are tending toward special interests, said Kling. “You can’t have cookie cutter experiences like you might have on a regular cruise.

“We recently chartered Liberty of the Seas for 3,600 people for a fundraiser for Native Americans. It featured 22 bands doing 58 performances; we had bands like ZZ Top, George Thorogood and Marshall Tucker.”

Tip of the Day

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