Landry & Kling chartered 2 ships as floating hotels in New Orleans during the American Heart Association’s annual meeting to provide supplemental housing for pharmaceutical companies and international physicians/guests. (1900 people) 

Serenade of the Seas Dockside CharterThe American Heart Association’s annual meeting for physicians and pharmaceutical companies had outgrown the available hotel rooms in New Orleans. Nine pharmaceutical companies found shelter by securing two cruise ship charters adjacent to the convention center. In addition to convenient access, the ships also provided private meeting space and reception opportunities with on-site catering and entertainment in a unique venue to attract attendance at their product education seminars.

“Room Crunch Sends Attendees Out to Sea”

by Maria Lenhart, Meeting News

New Orleans — With no hotel rooms available in or around New Orleans, hundreds of people attending the American Heart Association convention this week are making do with a ship-shape alternative: two cruise vessels docked in the Mississippi River a block and a half from the convention center.

The two ships, the 1,200 passenger Nieuw Amsterdam and the 700-passenger Enchanted Isle are providing an innovative answer to a housing crunch that is forcing some attendees to stay in Baton Rouge or Biloxi, more than an hour away. The AHA convention, meeting Nov. 9-14, is expected to draw up to 35,000 delegates from around the world.

According to an AHA spokesman, the housing problem stems from the fact that attendance at the annual convention has grown faster than anticipated. “Our meetings are planned years in advance, and at the time we selected New Orleans, the hotel space was adequate,” he said. “Meanwhile, we outgrew the city.”

Providing at least a partial solution are Josephine Kling and Joyce Landry, partners in Landry & Kling, a Florida-based company specializing in cruise meetings and incentive programs. In mid-August the cruise planners received a call from a special events company representing a medical group which requested anonymity, about the possibility of chartering a cruise ship during the convention.

“The planner was unable to find any hotel rooms and out of desperation began calling cruise lines,” said Kling. “Then someone referred them to us.”

While Landry & Kling has a long history of arranging cruise-ship charter for meeting and incentive groups, working with just 3 months notice proved a daunting task. However, they hit paydirt with Holland America. “They told us that if we could make a deposit that day and then agree to a timetable of additional payments, the ship would be ours,” said Kling. “We jumped on it immediately.”

Not long afterward, Landry & Kling began to get a flurry of calls from group organizers also trying to secure accommodations for people attending the AHA convention. “AHA and their housing company were besieged with calls from people unable to find hotel space — and they referred them to us,” she said. “We began keeping a list, ending up with eight separate groups who were interested to participate in a charter.” Faced with finding a second ship on two months notice, Kling called a long-time contact at Commodore Cruises and secured a contract that Landry & Kling undertook with on their behalf.

While the groups were glad to secure accommodations conveniently close to the convention center, they did so at a cost far greater than the typical hotel equivalent.

“Even though the convention is just five days long, the ships have to be chartered at the full weekly rate,” said Kling. “From the cruise company’s standpoint, they’re removing ships that normally would be in use during a full-week cruise, and they’re also losing casino revenues.” Included in the cost are all the meals passengers customarily would get on a cruise ship, and even such extras as shipboard entertainment. “You have to take the meals and entertainment services, as the cruise line can’t just send the staff people home — they have a contract and they live on the ship,” said Kling.

The ships also are being used for conferences and special events tied in with the convention. A daily newsletter, much like the one cruise passengers get, gives the schedule of meetings, events and leisure activities taking place on the ship each day.

Hospitality suites also have been set up on board, and the dining rooms are available to some convention attendees not staying on board. ‘We’ve arranged for security passes for those attendees who want to have dinner onboard ship,” said Kling. “If you can’t get in at Brennan’s or Antoine’s, here’s an alternative.”

Turning cruise ships into convention housing require some modifications. “One thing we had to do was bring in something cruise ships do not normally have: a bank of telephones,” said Kling. “A special telephone room was set up that enables guests to call off the ship through credit-card phones. Staterooms telephones can be used only to make calls within the ship.”

Landry & Kling also arranged for use of a special pedestrian pathway that leads from the cruise ship dock directly into the convention center, a route not normally available for public access. Security guards were stationed at either end.

While it’s extremely rare for cruise ships to be used for convention housing, it is not unprecedented. Landry & Kling has made such arrangements another time — for a 1987 meeting of Digital Equipment Corp. at which two cruise ships were docked adjacent to the Boston’s World Trade Center. “The ships not only provided housing, but they were used for 18 seminars and high-tech briefings each day,” said Kling.

The cruise planners currently are working with a corporate client that wants to charter a cruise ship to be docked in New Orleans during another sold-out period: next January’s Super Bowl.

Although this solution is costly and challenging to put together, Kling said cruise ships can provide a viable housing option in a variety of cities where hotel inventory is in short supply during huge conventions. “Beside Boston and New Orleans, cities like New York, Miami, and Vancouver are good candidates,” she said.