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Up Close with New CLIA ChiefDecember 17, 2010 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
It’s clear from the get-go that Christine Duffy, the affable new CLIA president and CEO, has an absolute passion for travel.
“I’m a huge believer in the power of travel on all sorts of levels – socially, economically [and so on],” said Duffy. “The world’s getting smaller.”
As a young child, Duffy was exposed to travel by her French mother who took her on travels throughout Europe, which she says helped shape her current global perspective.
Duffy, currently president and CEO of Maritz Travel, has managed more than $700 million in client programs and has been solidly focused on the meeting and incentive travel markets. But she’s also involved with all types of travel including leisure travel as a member of the U.S. Travel Association’s executive committee and board. And she’s participated in that group’s efforts in Washington D.C.
Most interesting for the trade, though?
“My roots are as an agent, and I have my CTC certification from 1983,” Duffy said. “I actually started with Rosenbluth Travel as a receptionist and then six months later, moved down the street to the McGettigan Travel Bureau back in 1982.”
As a retail travel agent, she handled FITs and affinity group travel – working with such groups as the American Bar Association and the Bell Telephone Pioneers – as well as booking personal travel arrangements for many of the affinity group executives.
While she has enjoyed her career journey and her time handling meetings and incentive travel at Maritz, “I’m excited about actually getting back to the consumer side and the leisure side, because I’ve been on the corporate side for so long,” she said.
Duffy is clearly adept at pulling off the “balancing act” so many working women deal with daily. While she resides with her family in the Philadelphia area so that her son can finish high school there, she regularly jets back and forth between Maritz’s Philadelphia office and its St. Louis headquarters.
She’ll continue those jet-setting ways when she begins her new role with CLIA on Feb. 1. Her main base will be CLIA’s Washington D.C. area office, home to its governmental relations and technical programs, but she’ll also frequent CLIA’s headquarters in South Florida, home to the association’s marketing and trade programs.
“Obviously, I’ll be spending time in both places,” she said. “Both functions are important and they’re different, so I really chose D.C. as a home base [given its] proximity to Philadelphia and a lot of my family.”
But she said it’s pretty easy for her to get to Fort Lauderdale as well. She’ll commute back and forth as needed. And, after her son graduates, she and her husband will reside primarily in the Washington D.C. area.
Changing gears from managing meeting and incentive travel to dealing with cruise industry issues won’t be the only major change for Duffy. Maritz is an organization with 800 or so employees and Duffy says that with freelancers and independent contractors that total rises to about 1,000. CLIA, in contrast, has only about 30 or so employees.
“That is a big change but I also look at 16,000 agents as part of that constituency and all of the people who work at the cruise lines that I am also, in this role, representing,” Duffy said. CLIA currently has 25 member lines.
Duffy has been involved with cruise lines through her incentive work with Maritz. In addition, she has worked with Howard Frank, chairman of CLIA’s executive committee and vice chairman of Carnival Corp., on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association. She and Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean’s president and CEO, spoke at the same Cornell University program last month. And she stressed she’s taken many cruises and knows the value of the product.
Describing her management style, “I think I’m someone who people would describe as very approachable,” Duffy said. “I like to make the human connection, and I’m a big believer in the power of face-to-face [dealings].”
She said CLIA had a great team in both of its offices, and that she had a lot more to learn about the cruise line business from them, and that she was “anxious to really get out and represent the industry.” As an externally focused person, Duffy says people can expect to see her visible in the marketplace — listening to agents and consumers, determining their needs, tracking changes in those needs and then strategizing with her CLIA team on how to move forward.
Asked if the CLIA board had given her any priorities on which to focus, she replied that Terry Dale had done a great job during his tenure and the CLIA-ICCL merger is well behind the organization. So, she says now it’s a great opportunity to ask: “What’s next to support a growing industry that is more global? For the board, it’s an opportunity to continue doing the good work that CLIA has done and to continue to grow and expand that over time.”
So Travel Agent asked whether CLIA would move to more aggressively promote and train travel agents outside North America and whether that would be a logical progression for the organization.
“We have talked about that opportunity given the global nature of the industry and certainly there are a lot of agents outside of North America as well that we may be able to tap into, but nothing [has been decided] that is specific or firm at this point,” Duffy emphasized. She said she wanted to get into her new role before jumping into any specific plan of action.
That said, she “absolutely” will continue and expand upon CLIA’s North American agent membership and training efforts. Her career background also reflects a strong emphasis on service. When asked about that, she said: “Service quality is about delivering what we promise, and making sure that what we’re delivering is what people want.” She cited the rise of customization and the importance for CLIA of staying on top of the evolving customer experience – one that includes technology, mobile applications and social media.
CLIA will really look at “how might we have different ways to engage with people,” she said. “It’s really [all about] how do we ensure the value proposition meets the needs, and how do we deliver it in a way that meets the uniqueness of individuals?”
Duffy stressed that today’s marketplace has an unprecedented five generations in the workforce and that each generation works in different ways. She’ll focus on assuring CLIA meets the needs of each generation and the "opportunity to attract the next generation to this industry as well.”