by Morton D. Rosenbaum | May 01, 2004

Holland America Line

Heading west: Holland America Line's
Westerdam debuts this month

While much of the travel industry continues to register mixed results in efforts to regain business lost in the past few years, at least one segment can proclaim, quite literally, smooth sailing in the initiative to lure new customers.
    Cruising is hot, and the statistics prove it. A recent study by the Cruise Lines International Association reveals that passenger counts have increased by an average of 8.4 percent every year since 1980. And with a record 9.52 million cruise passengers in 2003, besting the previous year by 10.2 percent, the industry shows no signs of cooling.
    Meeting planners can appreciate the one-stop advantages of a sea-bound event. Consider: Entertainment and activities are already programmed; gourmet meals are preplanned and served restaurant-style; and, particularly on today’s supersized ships, land-worthy amounts of dedicated meeting space abound, most of it outfitted with the latest in high-tech accouterments.
    Even the price can be right, when one factors in the multiplying costs of hotel rooms, food and beverage, and entertainment found on dry terrain. In addition, industry honchos are offering more ports in more areas, helping to reduce or eliminate the necessity of long, expensive pre- and post-cruise flights. And as planners try to navigate the increasingly stormy seas of attrition rates, cruise meetings put a sure damper on outside-the-block booking.
    Finally, there’s something all too grand about a luxury liner to be denied. Whether the itinerary calls for serene days at sea, exciting sojourns in ports of call or a combination thereof, ships offer a unique atmosphere that simply can’t be duplicated on terra firma.
    The following is a roundup of what’s new from today’s top cruise lines.