Cruising Trends – CUBA Here We Come!

Dylan DeClerckPerspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant

Part two of five

In the constantly evolving world of cruising the destinations change almost annually and the amenities change even more frequently.  This blog will explore two emerging destinations and a new trend among ship amenities.

The first destination with increasing popularity is Cuba.  For years Americans were not allowed to set foot on the Caribbean nation’s shores, despite being just a short trip from Florida’s coast.  In July 2015 this changed when the United States reached an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations with the nation.  Since then more tourists have been coming into Cuba and cruise companies feel increasingly comfortable taking American passengers to the nation.  Since the land-based infrastructure is not yet built up for group comforts, a cruise is the perfect way to explore this country.

The other destination more people are traveling to during the warmer months of the year (May through August) is Alaska.  There’s likely many reasons for this, but for a long time Alaska has been a popular bucket-list destination that people want to check off.

When looking at ships’ amenities, more and more companies are differentiating themselves via specialty restaurants.  Gone are the cruises that force everyone to eat at one of two times in the same dining room, and new are the restaurants that provide you with flexibility when you dine and provide a new experience.  This includes restaurants set up by celebrity chefs and restaurants featuring exotic and luxury cuisine.

What’s popular in cruising is up to the passengers, with cruise lines understanding the need to continue to innovate in order to bring more business on board.  Share your hot buttons with your Conference Event Management cruise team to determine what options are on what ships.

Cruising Trends, Conference Event Management

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    Why Groups Love to Cruise

    Why Groups Love to Cruise (Part one of five)
    Perspectives of Dylan DeClerck, Event Consultant

    Dylan DeClerck, Conference Event Managment

    Dylan DeClerck


    Are you thinking of booking a trip for your incentive group?  There’s certainly plenty of options if you’re looking for a nice destination, ranging from Athens to Washington D.C.  However, instead of sorting through the alphabet of destinations, it may be in the interest of your group to see multiple destinations on the big C.  Cruise, that is!

    More incentive groups are cruising now, and many refuse to go back to regular destination incentive trips because of the group experience that cruises provide.

    One of the first reasons groups enjoy cruise ships is because they are an all-inclusive experience.  Once your group’s members board a ship they don’t have to spend another dollar on dining until they get off.  It’s nice to know that everything (dining, entertainment, activities, etc.) is taken care of!  Beverage packages can be built in at the time of contracting.  At the same time, if travelers would like to spend their own money for an upgraded experience such as gambling at the casino, a treatment at the spa, or an upgraded dining experience, ships can provide that as well.  This flexibility works well for many groups and makes it super simple for the event planners.

    Groups also enjoy cruises because they allow members to meet together if needed, while also providing everyone the opportunity to do some activities on their own or simply have some time alone.  To take advantage of this cruise ship benefit we always recommend that event planners leave some free time in the itinerary for members to be able to choose their own adventure.  A great group trip will provide an excellent balance between group and individual time.

    The last reason groups love to cruise that is covered here is because they prevent event planners from uncertainty.  There’s only so much room for a ship to have changes and that occurs when it’s taken off the market for renovation, so once you’ve seen the ship it isn’t going to significantly change before your group’s next trip.  This prevents the awkward situation where a group books an incentive trip in the perfect location, only to find their hotel undergoing significant renovations or closed amenities.

    If any of the reasons above make an incentive trip on a cruise sound appealing for your group’s next trip, Conference Event Management staff can walk you through some alternatives that may work best for your group.

    Conference Event Management cruise incentive trips

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      Best Buddies Support

      Conference Event Management donation to Best Buddies

      Michelle DeClerck, president, shows Conference Event Management’s support to Blake Campbell, Best Buddies Iowa Executive Director, at their annual convention. Dylan DeClerck, event consultant, (right) has been an active supporter of Best Buddies for years and was pleased to join in the presentation

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        Entrepreneur Spotlight – Michelle DeClerck, Conference Event Management

        This post originally appeared as an article in the IA SourceLink September Newsletter. 

        This month’s Entrepreneur Spotlight is a must read for every entrepreneur that is considering taking the jump into starting their own business. Michelle DeClerck was working for ING (VOYA) as the director of meeting management in the early 2000’s and as her role began to get restructured, she knew two things.

        1. She wanted to continue providing value-oriented event solutions.

        2. She wanted to stay in Central Iowa.

        So she immediately began consulting for many of ING’s independent channels and under her newly formed Conference Event Management. “Wherever in the world groups gather, Conference Event Management can help get them there,” says DeClerck.

        Conference Event Management is an Iowa woman-owned business enterprise and leading provider of unique, world-class event, conference, incentive travel, meeting experiences, reward strategies, hotel & cruise site selection and contracting, individual Travel MyWay® travel bookings, and national speaker’s circuit bookings.

        We’ll get to some good entrepreneur-focused questions later, but with this month’s IASourceLink focus on trade shows and conferences, I definitely wanted DeClerck’s insight on solving common issues she has seen with clients. “We find that internal staff try to be all things to their internal clients when they don’t have the time, the resources, or the expertise to achieve their event goals.  By reaching out to experts such as ourselves, we’re happy to share our best practices with them to help them design their events and put them in hero status,” she explains.

        There is also financial risk to consider when handling events. She continues, “Companies often allow the wrong people to sign hotel / cruise contracts within their companies and while they may sign one to two contracts a year, they open themselves up to financial risk or they leave many opportunities on the table.” Working with experts to handle these situations can reduce a company’s risk. Not to mention that experts, like those at Conference Event Management, have a much better handle on important event planning aspects such as venue management. As DeClerck says, “Not all hotels are the same.”

        She also says Conference Event Management also finds many clients don’t know why they are hosting an event, “We want to help them strategize on the objectives and what a homerun looks like before we’ll accept the business to ensure all stakeholders are pleased with the end results.”

        Then we got into the entrepreneur-focused questions. As someone who tends to overanalyze and want to wait for the perfect moment, I love her answer for the last question!

        Favorite part of owning your own company.

        The ability to think outside the box and know that no red tape has to exist. We are able to react on a moment’s notice without worrying about a higher authority putting barriers in our way to helping our clients achieve their success stories.

        Most challenging part of owning your own company.

        Finding talent that has the skillset that we would find most desirable is always a challenge in any company, and especially in an industry that has so many demands like ours. We look for experts with international travel and foreign currencies, numerous destinations, dealing with risk management, and always being alert and reactive to today’s trending situations such as terrorist acts, the Zika Virus and more. We will never be able to have an event plan that goes without incident, we must be able to be nimble and appropriately react in any situation.

        Most useful resource.

        We build websites for our clients to help them educate and register their guests. Recalling that we didn’t use these in the early years and the inefficiencies that caused, makes me take for granted the role technology plays in our everyday planning processes and how truly efficient this access to various levels of data allows us to be.

        Most useful Iowa resource.

        As an active board member for National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO – Iowa), I lean on my fellow members to network with, to learn of new resources, and come up to solutions to our business challenges.

        What advice would you give to an entrepreneur wanting to turn their idea into a business?

        There will probably never be a perfect time to start your own business. If someone has an idea and the passion to get a business off the ground, then that’s the time to get started. Create your vision, solicit feedback from other business owners and then engage business consultants to create a plan to help you avoid costly mistakes.  A short-term plan, paired with an ultimate strategic vision, can be enough to get your business off the ground and on the road to success—sooner rather than later.

        And last but certainly not least.

        Where can people go to learn more about you and Conference Event Management?

        Email or visit

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          How to reward and retain your top producers – Part 2

          Michelle DeClerck, CMP

          Michelle DeClerck, CMP

          Last week we shared why you need an incentive program and this week we dive into proven strategies that drive motivation and build loyalty for your organization. Read on to find out which type of incentive is right for you.

          Top Rewards used by Insurance & Financial Companies:

          • Full-blown incentive with a 12-month production cycle – company pays for most expenses and offers numerous networking opportunities – especially with senior management.
          • Luxury Incentive (6- to 12-month production cycle) – company pays for many expenses (not all) and gives agents more free time, while still offering networking opportunities. This incentive let’s attendees decide how they spend their time and saves the company money by not paying for all dinners and activities.
          • Limited incentive (12-month production cycle) – company typically pays to get attendees to the destination and for hotel accommodations. They’ll also include a welcome reception and a final night farewell. All other meals and activities are at the guests’ expense, therefore networking with host company staff is minimized.
          • Seminars and conventions – training sessions in which the company automatically pays for attendees’ air, makes qualifiers earn it, or attendees pay for air on their own. Land expenses are typically paid for with the same categories.
          • Gift cards – While gift cards do make great gifts, they don’t provide lasting memories like incentive trips. When you receive a gift card, it’s likely you spend a few seconds looking at it before you put it in your purse or wallet. When you go to spend it – it’s no longer a reminder of who gave it to you. Your recipients may tell you they’d rather have cash, but most don’t know how they would spend it and don’t appreciate it like a reward trip. This “Preference Reversal” is why putting stretch goals with aspirational rewards in front of your audience is important.
          • Travel My Way – Individual leisure reward certificates are best used when a company has a very limited budget for rewards but understands that rewards help increase sales by providing motivation and incentive to sell. Individual rewards are a nice, simple option, but fail to build the relationship that a true incentive trip offers. Without the connection of face-to-face interactions during a trip, an individual travel reward becomes simply a transaction with lesser after-trip appreciation tied back to the company offering the reward.

          We have also been enhancing the reward trips with our new Gift Suite Experience. In the past, many incentive programs have included room gifts, void of customization, often with unappreciated gifts being left behind in hotel sleeping rooms.  Now, personalized gift selection is the rage when you give your attendees the opportunity to stop by our Gift Suite Experience to see, touch and select a gift of their choosing that meets their desires and unique style. Complete with a gift voucher to invite your guests to pick out their ideal gift in their preferred color and size, you can then relax knowing the gift will be shipped and waiting for them after they return home (on site gifts also available).

          Kids or no kids? More and more clients want to spend quality time with their attendees and would prefer the kids were not in attendance. However, if they do attend, most clients are collecting a “buy-in” fee for all expenses and taking these extra attendees off the company master account so they can spend their money equally among the qualifier and their one guest. This is the most equitable option for all involved.

          What’s the best reward for your group?  If you are just starting out – crawl, don’t jump.  Avoid putting your company in financial risk with an over eager sales cycle that doesn’t have the history to support it.  Our job is to help you navigate the waters as you reduce the amount of time you have to spend recruiting new talent and ultimately creating rewarding incentives to retain your top agents.

          And if you are asking yourself, wouldn’t it be great to retain all your top talent without having to provide rewards, then you’d miss out on great networking opportunities and a chance to increase your sales.

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            How to reward and retain your top producers – Part 1

            Its top of the 9th inning and your team is down by 4. You’re convinced they’ve given up hope and can’t come back, despite the rally hats in place. If you’re operating your agency with a similar “this is impossible” attitude when it comes to recruiting the new, young talent you need to grow your company, you’re not alone. Talent acquisition doesn’t have to be impossible, nor does talent retention have to be difficult.

            Michelle DeClerck, CMP

            Michelle DeClerck, CMP

            While the days of teachers flocking to agencies has subsided, new talent is out there and may be coming from an unlikely source. I was recently reminded of this when my son shared with me his passion to be an advocate and get in front of people to provide them with solutions to their problems. This is what your agents are doing daily. As of today, my son who is also a high achiever, isn’t convinced he can see himself in a full time desk job and he’s not alone. Top millennial graduates want to work for companies that offer flexible schedules and meaningful work. They’re motivated by careers that have a higher purpose, and aren’t just a cog in a machine. They seek opportunities to make processes more efficient and enjoy collaborating with their peers. They thrive off regular feedback and want to do a good job while continuously improving.  Your challenge is to find ways to make your work culture supportive of the millennial generation to build sustainability for your company.

            Bottom line – more and more of the top graduates want to be recognized and rewarded for the contributions they make. What better way to reward your agents than with set conditions that set them up for success, while ensuring you reach your annual sales goals. We all know most agents want to be recognized among their peers. If they personally don’t feed off this recognition, having their significant other or family present for this recognition may be the next best thing. When family is involved in public recognition, studies show they provide greater support and encouragement for the agent to produce at the same or higher level the next reward period.

            Finding the perfect time to rewards agents is key. I’ve talked down BD presidents from giving away rewards – and there’s a reason why. To truly set up a motivating reward, you must announce it first, have an ample sales cycle, track and report progress, and create the reason for an agent to want to achieve the reward. When I learn of a company that doesn’t have a set reward system in place and they want to automatically offer the producer a reward at the end of the year, I strongly recommend against this. It sends the wrong message to an agent and lets them know they can just do “good” and they’ll get more than they signed on for. What is the motivation the next year to see incremental sales from the agent? There is none. They also become among your most demanding agents.

            Let’s face it – the reason you reward your agents is not simply to provide a solo reward for the production they gave you in the prior sales cycle. Instead, the reason is to ensure you create a path for talent retention and encourage them to help you achieve your goals year after year. You are never going to be satisfied with the same sales year after year, so you must create rewards that make it easier for you to hit your sales goals. Having great reward options also vastly improves your chances for agent acquisition. Your competitors are offering reward packages – you’re essentially penalized and lose the opportunity to recruit quality agents if you don’t. Let us help you identify the most effective reward structure to fit your goals that can help attract and retain talent. Look for ideas of proven reward strategies in part 2 of this series in next week’s blog post.

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              CEM President, Michele DeClerck, Honored as Clive Citizen of the Year

              The DeClerck Family to be honored as Clive Citizens of the Year (as featured in the Clive Online Newsletter 2-10-16)


              The DeClerck Family accepted the Clive Citizen of the Year award on Tuesday, February 16 at the Clive Chamber Annual Dinner

              On Tuesday February 16, the Clive Lions along with the Clive Chamber of Commerce will be honoring The DeClerck Family as the Clive 2015 Citizens of the Year at the Clive Chamber’s Annual Celebration. The Annual Celebration will be held at NCMIC Group, 14001 University Avenue in Clive. The Celebration will start at 5:30pm, with dinner served at 6:45 pm. The program will follow dinner and will include the presentation of the Clive Citizen of the Year award to The DeClerck Family.

              The DeClerck Family has called Clive home since the late 80s. Immediately Jaime and Michelle became involved in the community, joining the Clive Jaycees and running Clive After Five. They participated in many wonderful charity projects in their numerous years as Clive Jaycees. In 2004 Michelle started her business, Conference Event Management in Clive. In 2011, she was named Iowa NAWBO woman business owner of the year.

              Growing up in a house of charity, the DeClerck children quickly learned to give back themselves and their son, Dylan designed and built the garden entry walls at their church in Clive through Dylan’s Eagle Scout project which the family still maintains to this day. At the age of 16, Dylan founded Opportunity on Deck, which provides low income students in the Des Moines area the opportunities to participate in organized sports. Since its creation it has served over 536 families. The entire DeClerck family is involved in the set up and facilitation of the sporting events. Leah, Dylan’s sister, spends most of her time playing ball with the girls and working the registration table. Jaime and Michelle serve on the Board of Directors. For all his hard work Dylan and Opportunity on Deck have won numerous awards, from top student at Drake University to most recently, Iowa’s Philanthropy Student of the Year. The quality of life in Clive is enhanced by the actions of people like The DeClerck Family and their actions represent the behaviors the Clive Lions Club seeks for this award.

              The Clive Citizen of the Year recognition was initiated in 1979 by the Clive Community Development Association. This year’s nomination process yielded several nominations and the selection committee consisted of representatives from the Clive Lions Club.

              Tickets to the Annual Celebration are $50/person and those interested can RSVP by February 12 online at  For more information on Clive Citizen of the Year please contact Clive Mayor and Clive Lion, Scott Cirksena at or 515-223-6220.

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                How to Handle Entitled Attendees

                Sometimes when you offer an incentive, attendees can start to push for more than they
                actually qualified for or that they are entitled to. This often Michelle DeClerck, CMPsignificantly increases your event budget. Read on for easy tips on how to deal with these situations and the benefits you’ll receive from standing your ground.

                The Problem:  You’re Being TOO Generous! We know you don’t want to say no to your producers – they are the reason you have your job after all and why your company is so successful.

                Companies that try to be all things to all attendees start caving in on special requests and before too long, they create monstrous situations that are costly, sometimes embarrassing, and frankly, unnecessary.  Excited qualifiers can quickly turn into troublesome attendees and they often know immediately which of your staff they can push for more favors.  It’s not uncommon for them to persist until you cave and provide them with unwarranted upgrades on flights, extra activities, food and beverage credits, additional hotel nights, cash outs, and even paid vacations for extra guests. Sometimes, they forget that we are your partner, calling us and using the words “cave” and “give in” to describe their trophy win over your staff.

                When companies start giving in to get the complainers to be quiet, the opposite can happen and they go tell everyone else – including your other producers – what they scammed you for and now you’ve gone way over budget and your other producers are feeling left out.

                Having traveled worldwide with attendees from every state, unfortunately we have seen all types of poor behavior from attendees.

                The Solution:  Our best advice is to publish rules for the incentive in your very first year and then, as close as possible, stick to those guidelines in as many situations as you can. This will help you avoid showing favoritism, create an expectation for your future events so attendees know the extent of their reward package, and allow you to actively involve your meeting planning team to help you deliver the “no” message to the attendee.

                To tackle this from the start, provide clear communications to qualifiers throughout the invitation, registration, ticketing and rooming processes so they know what to expect, and what is and is not included with the program. Clarity rules in this situation.  (A great website can often address all these issues.) When attendees try to ask for additional perks or concessions, train your staff to remain steadfast. If an individual is determined to be worthy of additional care or expense, treat the situation discreetly so other attendees don’t feel treated unfairly, involving your meeting partner throughout the entire process. Deviations should only occur under unique circumstances and reviewed carefully on a case-by-case basis to keep your budget in check.

                Your Best Option: Outsource these conversations to a third party, like Conference Event Management, that has the experience and finesse to handle delicate situations and attendee communications. This prevents you from having to feel like the “Bad Guy” that won’t give your attendees what they want. We understand your goals and your event finances and want to help protect your investment and return.

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                  2016 Meetings Today Trends Survey Planner Interview with Michelle DeClerck, CMP

                  This post originally appeared as an article in the January 2016 Meetings Today magazine. 

                  Michelle DeClerck, CMP, President, Conference Event Management, West Des Moines, Iowa

                  Do you find that your booking window (the time between starting the process of researching and booking a meeting and the actual event) is increasing or shrinking? Are you finding it harder to book rooms/meeting space in a short timeframe at hotels and other meeting facilities?

                  The booking window has diminished and one reason may be attributed to the reluctance of clients to fully commit to their event as quickly as is needed in this seller’s market. This short notice, coupled with a lack of space availability, has proved challenging due to the increase in business and the pending shortage due to supply and demand dynamics.

                  Is the duration of your meetings either shrinking or expanding? Why?

                  Most of our events have remained the same, with the destination determining the length of event more than any other factor. International and longer route destinations have once again garnered longer stays for attendees.

                  Is the attendance at your meetings shrinking or expanding? Why?

                  We’ve seen an incremental increase in event attendance, with more pre and post stays than in prior years.

                  Did you have a smaller or larger budget to work than with last year? If so, how much do you estimate it was decreased or increased?

                  Clients’ budgets have remained relatively the same, although we’ve been better educating our clients and they are reacting to the increased hotel and travel rates by working toward increasing their budgets.

                  Are perception problems (meeting at luxurious properties, resort destinations, etc.) a great concern for your organization? Do you expect any perception problems in 2016?

                  We find that our clients are well traveled and educated, and run programs based on integrity, and are not relatively affected by perception problems. When our clients aren’t choosing luxury properties, it’s typically due to the rates outpacing their budgets.

                  Do you feel this is a buyer’s or seller’s market? Any observations on this to share?

                  Within this seller’s market, properties have not been as generous in offering the same kind of concessions or reduced group rates. Hotels continually share with us that the reality is that if they don’t accept our business, they’ll have another piece of business come along tomorrow that will be equal to or greater than this business. It’s our job to continually educate our clients on the importance of making decisions quicker if they have a specific preference for their event or they’ll be limiting their options and negotiation power.

                  Are you more optimistic, or less, about the meetings industry and the economy than a year ago? Why?

                  We are considerably busier with referrals and prospects reaching out to us, driving more business than ever and providing a high level of optimism for events into 2018. There is no mistaking the importance of face-to-face meetings.

                  How do you think 2016 will shape up for the meetings industry? Where do you see costs (hotel, restaurant, venue prices, etc.) going? Do you think your budget and/or attendance will increase or decrease? Why?

                  Being an election year in 2016, there is a lot that could change, but for the time being, I see costs continuing to increase at properties. Attendance of the events could vary–if budgets do not increase I see less people attending, but if budgets increase attendance could increase.

                  What other trends are you seeing in the meetings world, such as changing attendee demographics (i.e., Millennials), or any other trends that are impacting your programs?

                  We’re seeing an aging audience for many of our client’s incentives, many who have traveled extensively. They appreciate their free time, they want to have an experience they might not have on their own, all while having access to senior management to share their perspective. We’re challenging our vendors to provide more creative options for this age group and all attendees.

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                    How to Get the Advantage with Cruise Sourcing Services

                    Is it time to reconsider a cruise? Where do you start? While you can spend a weekend in any destination and visit half a dozen properties – it takes serious effort to visit even one ship in port. And since ships are mobile, you have to be able to catch one in a location that changes daily. Add to that the fact that ships have tight security and you need special clearance if you are “just visiting.”

                    So where does a cruise sourcing partner come in? Cruise Sourcing Specialists are unbiased industry experts who have seen and sailed on all of the ships in the market. They will tell you the difference between river, luxury, sailing, boutique, premium, mass market and mega liner categories. Additionally, they can enlighten you on the features and benefits of the various brands. Once they have your group specs, your Cruise Sourcing Specialist will walk you through the products that will best suit your program and its demographics. They help you decide whether to book a block of cabins or charter an entire ship. They are savvy on negotiating rates, and contracting protection terms and amenities that are in YOUR best interest. You thought working with a hotel was challenging at times – it’s nothing compared to working with a cruiseline – you need a Cruise Sourcing Specialist on your side to get the cruiseline’s attention

                    A Cruise Sourcing Specialist can also help you manage the operations of your program or provide consultation on how you can do it yourself. Meeting planners who work directly with a cruise line can find the process challenging, therefore having a reputable cruise sourcing company to guide you as you build your onboard and shore side events will ensure that what is contracted is properly executed. They act as the planner’s personal representative and deal with the cruiseline on your behalf, saving time and avoiding aggravation.

                    Choosing a cruise for your next incentive program should not be scary. Just arm yourself with an expert Cruise Sourcing Specialist like CEM who can help you make the right choice. CEM’s Cruise President sails over 21 weeks a year ensuring our recommendations are perfect for your group. We are proud to say that our Cruise President is a winner of the coveted Norwegian Cruise Line Incentive Partner of the year award, and two-time winner of Celebrity Cruise Lines Partner of the year – given to only one company annually. With CEM, you know you are in good hands and your needs will be met, while your expectations are exceeded.

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