Landry & Kling chartered 2 cruise ships on behalf of a technology company to serve as floating hotels in Boston where they were to host international customers during their a new product showcase. (15,000 people)

Lead time for the new product launch was less than a year away, and hotels were already sold out for October—the busy fall foliage season in Boston. Two Cruise ship charters seemed to be an ideal solution to the housing dilemma. But securing ships wasn’t easy because our client’s heart was set on using Queen Elizabeth 2 for the added publicity it would create, and Cunard had already locked in that ship’s schedule elsewhere for the year. What was the happy solution?

“Digital Planners Delight Delegates With Luxury Cruise Ship Hotels”

by Maria T. Welych, Meeting News

“One if by land, two if by sea.” The message spread by Paul Revere, one of this city’s foremost citizens, was taken to heart recently by Digital Equipment Corp. for its DECWorld ‘87 – a showcase of DEC’s computers.

The event drew nearly 25,000 people at a time when the entire city of Boston (and its environs) was sold out. What to do? Planners took a cue from Paul Revere and brought in two floating hotels, the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the Starship Oceanic, and docked them adjacent to Boston’s World Trade Center.

The result? A solution to the housing crunch and the kind of publicity for DECWorld, Digital and Boston that money can’t buy.

While it was a first for Boston, it won’t be the last, predicted Josephine Kling, co-owner of New York-based Landry & Kling. Specializing in cruises, Kling and her partner, Joyce Landry, coordinated the efforts to bring the two ships to Boston.

“There aren’t too many ships of this size that have been to Boston,” said Kling. “They brought a lot of attention to the show.”

She said that Digital originally inquired about using cruise ships as “floating hotels” after the company realized that hotel space in the city was limited during the 10 -day span of DECWorld.

“Digital planners quickly realized they didn’t have enough hotel rooms and enough restaurants to accommodate attendees,” Kling said. “We had handled an incentive cruise for the company in 1986, so they approached us with the idea of bringing cruise ships to Boston.” She acknowledged that it took a lot of planning to convert the ships into “hotels.” Among the biggest challenges were check-in and check-out, set-ups not really necessary when a ship is at sea.

The ships also provoked food service and additional meeting space. Each ship served 3,000 lunches to DECWorld attendees and many seminars and shows were held on board. “We had 80 uniformed staff members to assist people trying to find their way,” said Kling.

The ships also proved to be an attendance draw. “I don’t think Digital anticipated the attention and excitement generated by the ships,” said Kling. “Not only did they generate media attention, but Digital was pleased by the caliber of people who turned out for DECWorld. “There were CEOs and other members of top management who may have been attracted by the curiosity of seeing QE 2 and the added pizzazz of having the ships there.” Each ship was booked to near capacity every day of the show.

According to Kling, DECWorld was unique because organizers combined the cruise ships with nearby exhibit space and developed one cohesive program. She said there are several other destinations that could use exhibit facilities adjacent to a docked cruise ship for a single event– Vancouver and New Orleans.

Meshing all the facilities together was the responsibility of DECWorld ‘87 program manager Dallas Kirk. “The objective of DECWorld,” he told MEETING NEWS, “was to create an educational experience. We brought in senior management from strategic accounts around the world.”

Despite an investment estimated at between $20 million and $30 million, “we were not able to get our arms around enough hotel space,” said Kirk. “The time of year of the show is exactly the time people want to come to Boston.” In addition, planners’ one-year lead time for the show was very short for an event of this magnitude.

Complicating the situation for the planners was the initial unavailability of the QE2. “The QE 2 had been out of service for six months in 1986, and Cunard expected a banner year for the ship in 1987,” said Kling. “So the marketing people felt they didn’t want to charter the ship, and turned us down.”

But the image of the QE2 docked next to Boston’s World Trade Center had captured the imagination of Digital organizers, as it later would attendees and the media. So Kling placed a call to Cunard president Ralph Bahna and explained the benefits of chartering the ship to DECWorld. To her delight, Bahna agreed.

Kling said the presence of the ship attracted not only attendees and media attention, but helped set the stage to achieve Digital’s goal of strengthening relationships with customers. “Whether they are held in hotels or other conference facilities, sooner or later all conferences seem to be alike,” she said. “This was a different setting from the usual hotel, and we were able to get people to focus their attention in a different, new way.”

She said both ships offered a social environment, in addition to a meeting environment, which proved crucial to fostering relationships. “We had regular seminars on board, and some of the larger suites were used for impromptu meetings,” she said. “There were cocktail parties and the ship’s regular schedule of entertainment,” Kling added. “You could see people with white badges [attendees] talking to people with yellow badges [Digital staff] all over the ship. That was something [Digital] didn’t anticipate happening.”

“We wanted to establish a very strong partnership with our clientele, to show them that we understand their problems and their situation,” he said. “I think we were able to do that. I think attendees felt they went away knowing more about us and what we can do.”