There is a long tradition of shipboard conferences and company cruises on the Baltic Sea. However, expectations about conferences at sea have changed. Instead of hitting the nightclub, people want to strengthen team spirit, for example, through group exercise or relaxing spa treatments. If they are spending the night on board, they prefer to have their own cabin.
The rapid recovery in maritime passenger traffic is also seen in the demand for group and conference cruises. On Viking Line’s Turku route, bookings for groups this autumn have already exceeded the volume in 2019.
The profile of conference passengers has not changed over the years. They continue to represent private sector companies, public sector organizations, non-profit associations and athletic clubs. Unlike in years past, the programme no longer has such a strong focus on socializing during the evening and letting go. Another aspect of conference and group cruises today is that people increasing value quality and comfort.
“Many conference passengers want to be home by the end of the day. So half- or full-day cruises from Helsinki and Turku have become increasingly popular. For conference cruises where people stay overnight, they now invest in better cabins and morning meals in peace and quiet. Conference participants usually want their own cabin with a window – this is a change from previous years. Instead of the breakfast buffet, people opt more often for breakfast in the à la carte restaurant,” notes Viking Line’s Director of Sales, Philip Sjöstrand, about the trend for conferences at sea.
“At the start of the year, we reviewed the requests of our conference trip customers. Wellness was one item that stood out in their responses. We have satisfied these requests by putting together travel packages suitable for health and wellness days. These packages include, for example, spa visits, yoga or pilates. We are getting more and more questions about programme suggestions and for something extra, like an inspiring speaker. This is also something that can be booked through us.”
As for food, the buffet is still popular with groups, but it is quite clear that people’s preferences have changed when it comes to orders for conference meals.
“We offer a variety of alternatives for conference participants and take people’s requests into account when it comes to ordering. In the conference rooms, we increasingly serve smoothies, finger food, salads or, for instance, apple juice from Åland,” says Philip Sjöstrand.
Evening entertainment is still important for groups on a cruise, for example, to celebrate someone’s birthday or for a hen do/stag party. Groups of pensioners can choose when to take a cruise depending on which dance artist is performing on board.
“The Viking Events programme for groups includes options for everyone, including private karaoke, dance lessons and tastings, for instance of quality champagnes. One popular feature on the programme is a private shopping session in the shop on board.”
Just like with other passengers, new offerings are also attractive to conference participants. Viking Glory, which was placed in service in March, offers many new experiences alongside its conference cruises.
“One thing in particular that has generated spontaneous wow reactions is Fyren, the rotating private dining room, which has the vessel’s finest vantage point, with a 220 degree view of the sea. Many cocktail parties and other festivities have been held here. Conference passengers were taken into consideration even as Viking Glory was being planned: the rooms are equipped with modern conference technology and can quickly be adapted to the needs of different groups,” notes Philip Sjöstrand.