Final Thoughts

November 02, 2007

By Richard Weinstein

Here is my guess at the bizarre logic that underlies this behavior. People are focused on the “expert advice for free” concept but they don’t believe it. They surmise that if it is free the “experts” must be getting their money from them some other way, so a) I don’t trust them and b) if I avoid them I will put that money back in my pocket. Tada, the do it yourself vacation planner is born!

So at the same time that all these middlemen are being eliminated for retail travel on the meeting and incentive side we are seeing the opposite with a growth in the third party booking and site sourcing companies. These are the middle man’s, middle man. I used to joke about hotel sales people, they all seemed to have about 12 clients and would book these customers (one a month) into whatever property they worked for that year. Once all 12 were booked they would change hotels and start booking the same customers into that new property. Rather than find new customers they would just get a new property. Now the joke is on me as what I saw as a funny joke some entrepreneurs saw as an opportunity to let the hotel sales rep work with the same customers and book them in ANY hotel. More recently we are seeing this same third party growth specializing in Cruise meetings and incentives. Now there are more middle men than ever before while at the same time more companies that want to “Do it yourself”

How can we reconcile the two? What are our trade associations doing to support the value of the professional providers specializing the meeting industry?

Part 2

October 31, 2007

By Richard Weinstein

My father had three basic tools for do it yourself projects, a screwdriver, a hammer and a roll of electrical tape. That really limited his options for home owner projects (which I think was his secret plan all along). So for him that meant calling in repair people for just about anything that could go wrong in a house. Including the time when as a child I wanted to become a TV repairman and thought a good start might be to jam a pencil as far into any opening in the TV that I could find.

Today, not so many of us dream of being a TV repairman (we don’t need them anymore, when the TV breaks we just buy a new one) but many more do watch TV with a pencil in hand, only instead of trying to stick it in the set we are using it to take notes while watching someone flip a house by themselves, landscape a yard by themselves or repair something that to most of us, previously kept its entire existence under a cabinet, behind a wall and out of sight.This do it yourself industry has grown so large that there are entire TV networks dedicated to it. And all of them are focused on cutting out the middleman.

Maybe it is all the “free time” we were promised back in the 1960’s. You know, all the labor saving devices that are now realities so we have so much free time we can do all this stuff ourselves like buy cars without car sales people, computers without computer stores, and anything else you can imagine on auction sites instead of retail outlets? Is that why we still don’t have any free time? This doesn’t seem to make sense, so why are we dropping the middleman?

I think it is the combination of two things:
1. The perception that they are saving money (perception is key here)
2. The lack of trust

And now we come to the travel industry.  If there was ever any middleman that you would expect to NOT be cut out it would be one that works to get you the best deal and then does not charge you for that service. You would think that in this time starved world especially for retail vacations people would be flocking to an expert that didn’t charge for their services! (we’ll set aside “service fees” since they mostly apply to air purchase, but keep in mind agents were cut out of air commissions because the airlines realize people were already cutting out the middleman and coming directly to them).

What does this portend to those that do charge a fee for meeting planning services in a world that wants to use the middle man but only when they have the best price via electronic (I don’t want to actually have a relationship with you) RFP?

Part One

October 29, 2007

By Richard Weinstein

As I was setting up for this years Motivation Show; formally known as a show that was only slow on Thursday but now has somehow found a way to get less people to show up on Wednesday also, I threw out a brochure that was damaged in shipping. Suddenly I realized, this is where most brochures from the show probably end up not too long after they are taken. So I am thinking I could cut out the middle man, save everyone a lot of trouble and just throw away all the brochures myself.

Sure that sounds silly on the surface but I wonder if we are all doing something similar as we eliminate all the “middle people” (I guess that is the politically correct nomenclature) from so many areas of our lives. After all not a day of television goes by without a Drug company coming directly to you, the drug consumer, telling you what is probably wrong with you and how their pretty colored pill can fix it. “Ask your doctor about rosy cheeks and see if whiteout is right for you”

Why pay an accountant to do your taxes when you can use turbo tax? Just think now you will finally have a place to plug in all the numbers from your do it yourself brokerage account. And why hire an expensive attorney for your Will when you can easily do it yourself with a simple program, automated website or just a page from a book. Besides if you mess this one up you won’t be around to even worry about it.

When Good Pens Go Bad

September 21, 2006

We all have at least one, often in the kitchen, occasionally in the desk and sometimes several in both places. It’s that drawer. You know the one with the junk in it. Batteries the good ones and the dead ones, the coupons with expiration dates from the 1980’s along with the take out menus, old personal address books, a broken knife, thirty two small parts from your kids various toys and games, one dollar and thirty seven cents in change (mostly pennies), one green stamp permanently stuck to the bottom of the drawer, three UPC labels from some product that is long gone and of course enough pens to open a stationary store.

You’re in a hurry to take down a message, all of your accessible pens have mysteriously disappeared so you reach into this drawer and pull out one of these “other” pens to write it down. The pen you grab has ink leaking out the tip, it only writes in great blobs of ink and tends to get more ink on your hands than on the paper. So, you throw it away? NO don’t be silly we’re in a hurry so we throw it back in the drawer and grab another. This one tears the paper in half as the point void of any ink grabs holds and won’t let go. Where does this pen go? Too many times, back in the drawer. After all, throwing it away would require making a firm and irrevocable decision. It would mean we have to take a stand, change the natural order of things. No we throw it back in the draw and vow that “someday” we will clean out this drawer and organize our lives.

What if our minds have places in them just like those drawers. What if we hold onto “stuff” (thoughts, notions, ideas) that are outdated, out of place and just plain don’t work any more. What if all that is mixed up with some useful information and ideas but every time we want the useful information we have to go through the worthless and broken “stuff” (like misperceptions) again. And like the drawer what if instead of getting rid of our “old stuff” (mistakes among them) we keep putting them back into that drawer and then pulling them out over and over again.

So I am wondering if you have one of these drawers in your mind what might be in there about cruising? Let me help you, lets take a look at both misperceptions that still exist about cruising for meetings and incentives and also some of the differences between a program on land vs. at sea that will help you in the planning process.

First let’s cover some of the great advantages about cruising:


They are fixed, one price included your meals, function space, meeting space and AV equipment (provided we have it on board) That also means no meal planning as each participant will order what they want off our menu that changes daily. And the options include selections like a spa choice, meat, chicken, pasta, seafood, low salt and vegetarian along with appetizers, soups, salad and dessert.

Some differences:

One Way Guests

Speakers that only attend for one day of your program will have several options for a cruise. They can fly into a port and speak wile the ship is in port and fly out again that day, or they can sail with you part of the cruise and pick up another speaker on the day they leave. Be aware though that the Coastwise Services Act (also more commonly known as the Jones Act) prohibits passengers from sailing between two US ports on a Foreign Flagged ship. Most modern cruise ships are flagged in what is called a country of convenience such as the Bahamas or Panama. That means you could not have a speaker board a ship in Miami and then depart in Key West, or San Juan. You could not board the ship in Anchorage and depart in any other Alaskan port. But you could easily board a speaker (or VIP or CEO for that matter) in Miami, sail to Nassau and have them depart there.

Single vs. Double

Typically hotels sell a room for a rate based on either single or double occupancy. Cruise ships base all their rates on per person pricing based on double occupancy. So when you get a cruise quote the double rate is often a straight 2x the single rate. Keep in mind with all the inclusions even at 2x the cruise can often be a competitive option with many land resorts.

Site Inspection

Again a little different from a Hotel. It is easy for a resort to put you up for a night to see their property, however a ship sails (often at 100% occupancy) and when you go you are taking the room for the entire cruise. This means that even if you only need to see the ship for a day or two the cruise line can not resell that room for the rest of that cruise length. Different cruise lines handle this in different ways so I won’t go into all the possibilities here.

I could tell you more about Tax deductibility, deposit differences and working on program agendas but I want you to have a reason to call, or oh my, actually post something on this blog.

In the meantime see what you can do about cleaning out that draw of yours. I am sure you can put those old address books that you haven’t looked at in 10 years, to good use.

Upsidedown and Backwards

September 19, 2006

By Richard Weinstein

China seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. Tired of hearing about the baby boomers we needed someone else to blame for…well, everything. Maybe it was because bringing China into the modern world was Richard Nixon’s idea. Or that China being so far away seemed like a safe target. With their development boom and entry into the world market they are now blamed as the root cause for the rising cost of gas, concrete, fish, wood products and, of course, the pending epidemic of Bird Flu. Personally I think the real issue is that their round coins used to have a square hole in them.

Originally this was so they could run a string through the money and wear it around their waist to impress the women. Actually, it was for convenience because they didn’t have any pockets. Forget about Google and the Internet. Imagine if you had invented and held the patent on “Pockets”. But other than teaching kids, and some adults, that you can’t put a round peg in it, I am not sure how much need there is for a square hole.

Remember slide projectors? The carrousel trays had a round hole in the middle. But I never did see anyone wearing them around their waist on a string. My real challenge with the carrousel was that I never could put the slides in them the right way. Right-handed golfers would end up as lefties or the ocean would end up where the sky should be. Then one day the Power Point fairy came along and solved all this for me, or so I thought.

It seems that I still get things just a little confused. Not too long ago I set out to clean the tub in the bathroom. That seemed easy enough, as all the cleaning supplies were readily available right there under the sink. So off I went spreading the cleaner around the tub and vigorously rubbing it with the sponge. But it seemed that no matter how hard I scrubbed, the cleaner just sort of spread around the tub without cleaning anything. I figured the cleaner must be past it’s expiration date until my wife came by and noted that I was using Soft Sense (a hand lotion) instead of Soft Scrub (a tub cleaner) which left me with a smooth but still dirty tub.

That experience was recently surpassed when I set out for the video store in search of The Lord of the Rings movie, and in a moment of inattention came home with The Lord of the Flies. At least they were both action oriented movies, I can’t imagine how I would have been able to recover if I had wound up coming home with The Lord of the Dance.

Even every day expressions don’t make as much sense as they used to. It used to be when you were “all thumbs” that was a bad thing, now it just means you own a Blackberry. Or how about conversation shifts. This one is not so intuitive and you will have to listen for it but mostly everyone does it. It happens when it is the other persons turn to speak and they start their sentence with the words “Yeah, but no…” or the similar but I guess wholly different in meaning, “No, but yeah…” listen for it and then think of me when you hear it.

Even cruise programs can be different then what you expect if you do a lot of land-based programs. For example, on land you travel first then when you are all done and ready to go back home you pay the bill for the hotel and related costs. It is not the same for a cruise, first you pay for just about everything up front, before you even get a ticket and when you are all paid up then you go on the cruise. Since your meals and entertainment are already included this should ensure you remain within budget. Once you are on board there are not any surprise costs. That in turn creates an extraordinary value that translates into real savings that you can put in your pocket, or on a string around your waist if you want to impress your boss.


To simplify this section here are a list of questions you need to ask and a few quick thoughts:

Participant Demographics:

Yes this seems easy and obvious but we also look at the Psychographics not just what a person is but how do they think. Are they fun loving and energetic or relaxed and sophisticated. Is it a high energy group moving from one thing to another or a more cerebral gathering? These factors will have a greater influence on making the right choice

Program Length and Budget:

They go hand and hand but unlike land where you can select the property and then choose the number of days Cruise ships only sail on certain days for a certain length. For example suppose you decide that Holland America is the perfect line for you but you want to sail for a four night program. Except for an occasional repositioning cruise you can’t have that cruise line for less than seven days. You would need to look to Carnival or another contemporary line. This is why so many planners seek the assistance of an incentive company that knows cruises to help them sort out their best options.

Cruise Itinerary vs. Program Needs:

Now throw in the fact that you want certain destinations or the contrary choice that you don’t want destinations you have been to recently and you add another decision level to selecting your ideal ship. Also consider your program needs. First time cruisers want short cruises with lots of ports. If you are doing a meeting program often it is the days at sea that are best for your meeting times.

Number of Participants vs. The Need for Exclusivity:

This boils down to the right size ship for your program. That does not mean every program should be a full ship charter. The smaller ships tend to be the more luxurious ships and cost more per person per day than a larger ship, that in all likely hood will have more meeting space and be better at accommodating your needs. That said for an incentive program there is nothing more special than a full ship charter just for those that earned their place among the elite.

Function Space and AV:

Most ships do not have empty ball rooms waiting for your functions. But they do have spectacular show rooms with full sound systems, lighting and AV equipment that can all be yours for the small fee of an on board AV tech (or two) to operate the equipment for you. In this case you can do your product launce or awards program with follow spots, revolving and hydraulic stage lifts, multiple curtains gobo lights for a fraction (and I mean literally a fraction) of setting up the same event on land.

Choose Wisely

September 18, 2006

By Richard Weinstein

OK I admit it. I was a different kind of kid. While other mothers were busy cutting off the crust on their kids sandwiches, I was digging down to the bottom of the bread bag to get the “other end” so my sandwich could have ALL crust. In fact, when in a restaurant I still remove the center of the bread and only eat the crust. (I fear this may have started the low carb craze) I always thought the perfect girl for me would be one that only liked the center of the bread, so naturally I married one that also, only likes the crust. That makes our relationship special because we don’t just fight about the every day domestic stuff we get to fight over the ends of the bread loaf too. OK, maybe I am a different kind of adult as well.

The other day, as I was scooping out the dough from the edges of my bagel (the center does not have any dough, just a hole) and I realized that things have changed. When I was growing up there were basically three possible bagels. Plain, sesame seed and poppy seed, that was it. On any given trip to the bagel store there are now quite a few choices. I guess whole wheat, pumpernickel, garlic and even “everything” bagels are at least innovative, but chocolate chip, banana nut, cinnamon raisin and blueberry? Those are not innovation, they aren’t even bagels, those are Donuts! But this phenomenon is not limited to bagels.

Suddenly it seems as if every food substance with a hole in it needs a greater variety. It was not too long ago we fed our baby Cheerios. (Originally named CheeriOats a healthy ready to eat breakfast that did not require cooking) Now all of a sudden there are not just plain old Cheerios but also Frosted Cheerios, Team Cheerios (which seem to be frosted with extra frosting), Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Multigrain Cheerios and the newest Berry Burst Cheerios, in three flavors (I am not making this up) Triple Berry, Strawberry and Banana something or other.

Speaking of food with holes in it, a few years ago I was attending a travel industry event in Germany. They had a reception in a hotel ballroom with food stations attended by various hosts from around the world. As I approached the food station from Switzerland I was confronted with an enormous variety of cheese in all sizes and shapes. Eyeing one cheese that was full of holes, I slowly pointed to it while asking “Is this Swiss Cheese?” The attending host looked at me quite odd so that at first I thought he did not understand my question, which was not quite the case as he responded in perfect English. “Well… (Long pause) they’re ALL Swiss cheese…the one with the holes is called Gruyere” It was then that I realized what the expression “stupid American” really meant.

But this is not just about food with holes. If you grew up in the north you had Maxwell House Coffee and if you were in the south there was Folgers. Without going into too much detail, now among others there is frapachino with whipped cream and chocolate shavings and as many other varieties of Coffee with a similar number of way to order it. We see it again and again. With Yogurt it was Dannon (remember trying to get the fruit stirred up from the bottom without spilling it? Was that even possible?) Now it comes pre mixed (funny. pre mixed yogurt is called Swiss style, coincidence you ask?) in a variety of colors in easily portable plastic tubes.

When I first started thinking about this I thought it was all about how sugar was becoming a huge part of our diet since each new product seems to be sweeter and sweeter. But then I realized it was all about Choice. We are a country that demands choice. Just look at cheesecake. Here is a product that is already sweet that now has 27 varieties; from peanut butter cup fudge ripple to coffee heath bar crunch (can this also count for a different way to have your coffee?). Even Sugar itself has a variety of choices, there is regular sugar (refined), raw sugar, organic cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, honey, (and for our friends overseas golden syrup) and even choices for fake sugar like sweet and low or equal.

And maybe that is how you feel when it is time to decide “where in the world” for your next meeting or incentive. If that choice was not tough enough when you were just looking at hotels, what happens now when you learn about how you can convert your land program to be effective (both in cost and achieving business objectives) on a Cruise? Even if you already know you want to pursue a cruise option, how can you determine which cruise line is right for you?

That is why I hope to cover three main topics this week, but that is really up to you. You have to respond, that is, I write, you respond, I write more. If you don’t respond what incentive is there for me to keep writing? So for today I thought we would start, well, at the beginning and why you might make this choice and consider a cruise at all?

Why Cruise?

1. It is a growing industry which means more new products and significant investment in existing products to keep pace with the entire travel marketplace
2. Cruising holds one of the highest consumer satisfaction ratings among all travel options
3. All inclusive pricing makes it easy for the meeting planner with one stop shopping and fixed budget guaranteed up front
4. You get several destinations in one experience. Not just the ship itself but also the ports visited and all this only unpacking once.
5. A cruise is highly desirable for both an incentive and as a destination for a meeting program guests will look forward to, often finding this program as their first cruise experience. (only 16% of the North American Population has taken a cruise)
6. Cruises have come a long way in their sophistication and ship design taking meetings and incentive program needs into consideration when adding dedicated meeting space and the design of flexible event venues.
7. A cruise is a great way to answer the challenge of, where do we go next? How can we make our event or program unique, what will make attendees excited about this, how can we do something different that appears we are stepping out of our comfort zone, but in reality is often easier to manage then a similar program on land.

Want to know how to make a sweet choice for the right Cruise? Post your comments and interest here today and I will add a listing of considerations on how to choose the right cruise tomorrow right after I finish breakfast. I will be the one sitting in the Deli with a pile of scooped out dough on my plate eating a plain bagel with a nice slice of Swiss cheese on top.

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