When Florida-based JM&A Group plans incentive trips for its nationwide customer base of car dealership owners, general managers and decision-makers, finding the “best” in travel is priority one.
“Our dealers have multiple choices when it comes to competing for incentives, including national original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and distributor contests,” said Laurie Kelley, Vice President of Marketing for the company, which serves as the finance and insurance consultative business unit of the venerable JM Family Enterprises group.
“To stay in their consideration set, our focus is always on offering something special and different. For incentives, that conversation starts with what have we not done before, what can we do better, and how can we top the previous experience.”
That’s why years ago, JM&A Group’s in-house event planning team started looking into cruises as an option for incentive trips.
“As we learned, the cruise ship offering is ideally suited for incentives, starting with exclusivity,” Kelley explained. “The ability to keep our professional community together in a captive setting fosters close networking and relationship-building, along with the ability to deliver targeted messaging such as acknowledgement and appreciation from our leadership. People can enjoy whatever activity or pace they please, but they cannot leave to meet a family member or friend or pursue another plan as they can on land. And cruise ships offer amenities, experiences, and other programming options that they cannot create on their own or find elsewhere.”
JM&A Group’s research led them to choose Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH).
“We partner with companies that we can trust with understanding and helping to achieve our goals and objectives,” continued Kelley. “And they must be as excited about our programs as we are.”
She cited JM&A Group’s relationship with Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) as a perfect example.
“The ALHI team knows exactly what fits with our requirements and only recommend hotels that are right for our customers,” she said. “NCLH came with that same reputation as an industry leader. After meeting with their team, we knew it would be special. We knew that the service would be the best and that they would take us places and deliver experiences that our dealers and guests could not find anywhere else.”
Their inaugural cruise, a full-ship charter with NCLH’s high-end luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises line to the Baltic region in 2008 in celebration of the company’s 40th anniversary, “was “magical” and “exceeded those high expectations in every way.” JM&A Group has since booked two equally successful anniversary voyages, to the Mediterranean in 2013 and Alaska in 2018.
“What speaks highest for NCLH is just how well they know us as a customer,” said Kelley, citing the Alaska experience, with some 600 dealers and guests aboard, as a prime example.
“Remembering guests from our prior trips, they greeted our guests by name. They knew their birthdays and favorite cocktails. Our group likes to celebrate—they had upped the liquor supply from the prior trip five years earlier. Recognizing and responding to differing palate preferences, they adjusted menu offerings and shifted resources accordingly at the various onboard restaurants. And we continually measured and fine-tuned the process, together, meeting daily with the ship’s F&B, housekeeping, shore excursions and other teams to review the previous day and plan for the day ahead. Easy to work with, NCLH’s people are an integral part of the success equation.”
Reflected in the post-trip surveys, attendees shared the sentiment.
“They reported feeling pampered and receiving a consistently high level of service wherever they went on and off the ship,” Kelley said. “Bottom line: NCLH makes our goals their goals. Their level of attention and detail is unmatched, and I believe that alone sets them apart not only in the cruise industry, but in hospitality overall.”
Neil Brodie, Director of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Charters, Meetings & Incentives team, affirmed how NCLH’s consultative, collaborative client-driven approach and ability to create and deliver unique experiences separates NCLH from the competition and keeps JM&A Group and other clients coming back.
“We excel at working hand in hand with charter and group organizers to understand their priorities and what defines and drives their organization and people,” said Brodie, who leads sales for corporate event, incentive group, and full-ship charter programs aboard Regent Seven Sea Cruises along with Norwegian Cruise Line, the company’s contemporary brand, and high-end premium cruising line Oceania Cruises. “Whether celebrating top sales performers, launching a product, or holding a board meeting, attendees are there for the same reason. Our goal accordingly is to develop and execute programming tailored to those common interests and shared purpose.”
These can include curated options such as on-shore food shopping expeditions for onboard cooking classes, racetrack driving, and laser tag. For the truly special experiences that JM&A Group and other clients seek, NCLH has an ace on the deck in its wholly owned subsidiary Sixthman.
With a history of setting the stage for moments that make life rock--putting together top shows on board NCL ships that includes Jon Bon Jovi, KISS, The Beach Boys and The Moody Blues--Sixthman is a global leader in producing community-inspired festivals, concerts, and events on sand and at sea.
“Our ability to apply Sixthman’s A-list resources, expertise and knowledge to incentive and corporate programs is unmatched in the cruise ship industry,” said Brodie.
NCL’s “ship within a ship” Haven product is ideal for smaller groups that are unable to charter the entire ship. “The ships in our fleet start at around 1,900 guests,” explained Brodie. “For groups of around 200 or less that don’t need an entire ship, Haven offers an exclusive enclave that provides that same feeling of privacy and security, with the flexibility of being able to access all other areas of the ship. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Before the pandemic, the industry was riding high on nearly ten years of continued growth. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruising generated $55.5 billion in economic activity in the U.S. alone in 2019, up an impressive 69 percent from 2010.
Now, cruising is making waves again on pent-up demand, incentives and meetings included. As CLIA Global Chair Pierfrancesco Vago declared at the State of the Global Cruise Industry event in Miami this April, it’s “full steam ahead.”
The industry has also made major strides in addressing and resolving much-publicized health and safety issues during the pandemic. As Vago stated at the conference, “cruise lines sailed with the highest level of COVID mitigation in the world, offering a multilayered approach to testing, vaccination…. We created an environment unlike any ashore. The incidents on our ships were a fraction of what occurred ashore during the height of the pandemic. While many questioned our viability, we were busy turning our ships into the safest holiday.”
With booking windows and lead times ranging from 12 months to three years, depending on factors such as group size and program details, it is prime time to think about a cruise program.
JM&A Group, for one, is ready to sail again.
“The pandemic cancelled our 2023 trip,” said Kelley, “but we look forward to our next opportunity to attract, amaze and delight our customers.”