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Seatrade Floats Gizmos of the Cruise World


© St. Petersburg Times

MIAMI BEACH -- So you've just bought your first cruise ship and you need to decorate it, stock it with everything from linens to casino chips, decide which ports to visit, even get some engines to make it go.

Grab your giant shopping cart and head to Seatrade, for one-stop shopping.

An annual business meeting and marketplace, the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention has been held for years in Miami Beach. Reflecting the spread of cruise travel around the world, Seatrade conferences are also set this year for Amsterdam and Cairns, Australia, and next year again in Miami Beach, as well as in Genoa and Singapore.

The attraction for the nearly 8,000 people who attended the Miami Beach meeting last month ranged from more than 20 discussion panels to hours of networking to the vast trade show that filled two halls in the Convention Center. That's where the action was during the five-day conference: At about 850 booths, both imaginative and straight-forward, industry representatives were ready to sell everything needed to operate in the booming cruise market.

Kevin Thibault, the field engineer at the Control Masters Inc. booth, told me he didn't expect to take any sales orders for his product -- governors for the huge engines that propel commercial and military ships -- but he would be getting Control Masters' name in front of potential customers.

The drawback I saw here was that he lacked a gimmick, a promotional item to hand out.

That put him in the minority.

For instance, representatives touting the French region encompassing Provence, the Alps and the Cote d'Azur presented everyone attending with a plastic card that could be swiped through a magnetic strip reader. If your card opened the lock, you won a trip for two to France.

The Persian Gulf sheikdom of Dubai, touting itself as "a favored port of call," offered those who dropped off a business card a chance to win an authentic dhow, the ancient wooden sailboats of Mideastern renown.

Realizing that a luggage tag in the hand is worth two business cards in the dhow-bowl, the folks from Astoria, Ore., were laminating business cards and fixing them to briefcases.

The Port of Tampa sought to stay prominent on the information superhighway by distributing mousepads -- and if you knew the secret, you also could get a cigar from cruise director Ron Ardis' supply. The secret: Ask for one.

Key chains were all too common: The Barbados had wooden ones shaped like the island, AT&T offered foam rubber items, and a gambling company gave away key chains that included a mock casino chip encased in plastic.

If conferees wanted to call attention to themselves, they could have stopped by the booths for the ports of Virginia and Houston, where tin lapel badges featured flashing red lights. (Houston won that competition by audaciously proclaiming itself "America's cruiseport," though it has but one ship calling there.)

For no discernible reason except Southwestern hospitality, the same booth dispensed small cups of an excellent Houston microbrew, Shiner Bock Beer.

But if conventiongoers were thirsty, they didn't have to wander over the hundred-thousand-plus square feet of exhibition space looking for that booth:

Free bars were opened for some lunch breaks as well as at the end of each day's meetings. There were kegs of draft beer served much of the day by the consortium of German port cities, glasses of wine courtesy of the French Mediterranean ports and miniatures of various kinds of rum and guavaberry wine from the Caribbean nations.

The Germans thoughtfully served between-meal slabs of bread covered with pate and slices of wurst. The Spanish ports proffered oranges. From Amsterdam and Antwerp came small but delicious chocolates, while sesame-seed sweets called Turkish delights were offered by that nation.

I brought my own pen but laid in an emergency supply from among those offered by Shell Oil, CNN and the Loipart firm of Helsinki, which manufactures assembled bar and kitchen units for ships.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Port Everglades the Ports of Virginia were among exhibitors providing tote bags to carry some of this loot -- mine also held seven pounds of printed matter I took from Seatrade.

I also came away with a creamy yellow towel, offered by a vendor that sells to several Suncoast hotels and that hopes to start supplying linen and terrycloth wares to the cruise lines.

Besides mock roulette wheels and golf-ball driving booths, the flashiest exhibit was that of Wessco International. The Los Angeles company displayed its line of imprinted tote bags, etched glassware for repeat-passenger gifts and children's toys for onboard shops. The hot new item in that last category: Carnival Cruise Lines Barbie, sailing from a port near you this fall.

On an aisle at the far edge of the exhibit hall stood two entrepreneurs on the very snipping edge of consumer trends: Cigars At Sea. A Coral Gables company in business just a month, the firm is a spin-off from their onboard-ship photography by co-owners Lucia M. Mills and Carlos J. Fernandez. They already supply four ships and are hoping to provide decor-customized humidors or even cigar lounges to more vessels.

Ms. Mills, quit smoking cigarettes 14 years ago, said she smokes "a cigar or two a week" and noted that "in the old days, women were not excluded from ships' smoking salons. The one on the Titanic was unisex."

I also stopped at the display for Ocean Books. Having carved a niche for itself 10 years ago, the British firm stocks libraries on 60 ships.

While most vessels are content with 2,000 to 3,000 volumes, the Queen Elizabeth 2 with its multitude of long-distance itineraries and an older, more-educated clientele, carries about 7,300 titles. Included are works in Spanish, German, French, Italian and Japanese.

Cruise directors will often "send us faxes and e-mails from ships at sea, asking for new reference works on ports of call or more children books," general manager Emma Rowley said. "We re-stock the libraries every spring and autumn, but anytime there is a new John Grisham title, we have to put two aboard all of our ships."

Ocean Books had only business literature to hand out. Not so at Millar Elevator Service Co., which captured the unofficial title of most-unusual promo.

That Deerfield Beach firm installs the glitzy, glass-walled elevators that are so popular in cruise-ship atriums, as well as multi-story escalators that speed waiters from galleys to dining rooms.

William W. Welge Sr., general manager of Millar and a somber type, read my name badge and handed me a blue-green flyback paddle -- the oldtime toy that has a rubber ball connected to a wooden paddle with an elastic band. This one also had the Millar name printed on one of its faces.

"But what has a flyback paddle got to do with shipboard elevators?" I asked.

"Nothing," said Weigle, looking me in the eye. "But it will keep our company's name in your mind."

I have to admit that if I ever needed an escalator or elevator for my ship, Millar would be my first choice.

Originally published April 13, 1997

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