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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Ultimate MICE events

A luxury icebreaker in Antarctica demonstrates the extremes that MICE events can go to…

VERY LITTLE IS ‘USUAL’ IN THE RARIFIED WORLD OF SUPERYACHTS, but Legend is rather unusual – even in this sector. First, the Dutch-built ship originally served as a working Soviet icebreaker – and in this ultra-luxury reincarnation she can still travel through the polar ice packs.

Second, superyachts are usually trophies and playthings, more associated with hemorrhaging money than generating revenue. But the multimillion-pound investment in Legend is a business venture.

The yacht was launched late last year from the Icon shipyard in the Netherlands to offer private charters to groups and corporates, operated by Eyos Expeditions. Eyos’s seasoned Polar experts lead Arctic and Antarctic expeditions in the pristine wilderness, exploring those regions’ stunning landscapes and incredible wildlife.

I attended the yacht’s launch party at the Icon shipyard in Harlingen, just before Legend headed to Antarctica for her first assignment. Live bands played, drinks flowed and the barbecue sizzled, while the 77-metre vessel gleamed under spotlights, flanked by all her toys: snowmobiles, jet-skis, smart liveried tender boats and hardy RIBs capable of ferrying guests ashore in extreme conditions. It even has a three-man mini-submarine that can dive to 300 metres. Eyos expedition director and veteran divemaster Kelvin Murray told us amazing tales of close encounters with curious penguins, hungry polar bears and snarling leopard seals.

When not out braving the wilderness, up to 26 guests can be cossetted in an exquisite sanctuary of luxurious suites and staterooms, elegant bars and lounges, fine dining, a spa and cinema.

On a typical winter itinerary guests will fly in from Chile to King George Island, to board Legend and set off exploring the beautiful landscapes and wildlife colonies of Antarctica. Summer will see Legend in the Svalbard archipelago, navigating the Arctic pack ice to provide glimpses of polar bears, narwhal and walrus. Eyos Expeditions CEO Ben Lyons believes the wilderness provides a sense of humility and perspective. “It’s a very balancing, spiritual and mindful environment. You realise much of the small stuff is exactly that.”

BIG TICKET EVENTS

Aside from being an incredible experience, what are the benefits of hosting a corporate event on board? Clients could be looking for a fresh approach and new ways of working together, suggests Lyons: “Travelling to locations such as the Arctic or Antarctic takes a team to a very different place – not only geographically, but socially and in practical terms. Teamwork is essential here.”

Rack rates for a basic charter of Legend start at €460,000 a week plus delivery and other expenses – it represents a significant, if not remarkable investment for any organisation. So what are buyers looking for in terms of return on investment (ROI) when they book so-called ‘big-ticket events?

David Heron is head of sales at luxury travel agency Black Tomato. He believes improved sales are often the key objective behind spectacular travel incentives.

“Where companies are trying to accelerate or sustain difficult sales targets – this is an easily quantifiable ROI, and is frequently attributed to a campaign’s success,” he says. “Staff retention and company culture is another big factor – this is typically seen under the ‘return on objectives’ header. It’s harder to quantify but no less impactful.”

Heron mentions some eye-catching examples of Black Tomato’s big-ticket events, including bear tracking in the Alaskan wilderness, and a 20-guest exclusive ‘buyout’ of Richard Branson’s private Necker Island. Another group were dismayed when their coach ‘broke down’ in the UAE in the middle of the desert, until a fleet of super cars suddenly appeared, for them to drive to make a VIP arrival in Dubai that left them “feeling like rockstars”.

Closer to home, TAG Global Events director Sam Robson describes a “Downton Abbey-style” weekend for a FTSE 100 firm’s top clients, including exclusive use of the Lucknam Park Hotel and private hire of the Orient Express train to travel to Bath.

“Clients are looking for quantitative and qualitative results from their investment,” says Robson. “They want to measure the return in terms of sales or PR coverage, but there are also the less measurable benefits such as strong long-term relationships, networking and cross referrals.”

Paul Casement is sales director at Portman Clarity. He says defining objectives is fairly straightforward – engaging, motivating, inspiring – but measuring ROI “is very challenging and I have yet to see a criteria that fulfills it effectively.” But he says the event should have a “hearts and minds objective,” rewarding high performers with priceless memories and encouraging other colleagues’ aspirations.

GOING FOR THE WOW FACTOR

Like Black Tomato’s Heron, Casement cites high-return sectors such as IT, finance and automotive as key buyers of ultra-special events. TAG’s Robson, meanwhile, says it is “generally the established luxury goods market or high-end retail industry that opt for these super events.”

Victoria Deprez is senior events manager at Event Travel Management, the MICE division of CTM. She also sees sales incentives and employee engagement as key objectives of “wow factor” events, plus other goals such as increasing brand awareness and enhancing market positioning, rewarding “loyal brand evangelists” and trade partner incentives. Deprez believes creativity is as important as budget – how about breakfast on South Africa’s Table Mountain, swimming with whale sharks in Australia and astronaut simulator lessons at NASA? CSR-focused events are also popular, such as rebuilding a school in a region devastated by storms.

And if you do have a superyacht-sized budget, CSR can also factors in Legend’s polar adventures. Lyons cites Eyos’s membership of professional associations that “promote the highest standards of environmental stewardship and seek to create ambassadors for the polar regions out of every visitor.” He says his expeditions provide interpretation and understanding of these fragile and crucial environments in a global context. These unforgettable encounters, says Lyons, “can encourage a business leader to make a difference both personally and professionally.”

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