40 Years and Counting: Full Speed Ahead for CLIA

CLIA Chairman Adam Goldstein says, “The outlook is very, very bright,” but also sees “an endless array of emerging challenges” ahead.
CLIA Chairman Adam Goldstein says, “The outlook is very, very bright,” but also sees “an endless array of emerging challenges” ahead.

In the mid-1970s, leaders from three North American cruise groups — a New York-based passenger shipping association, a group of South Florida “upstart” lines and the Pacific Cruise Conference in San Francisco — met in New York to explore the possibility of working together to promote cruising. The result? Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) was born in 1975.

Only 1.4 million people took a cruise vacation in 1980, while this year more than 23 million people globally will cruise. As CLIA celebrates a milestone — its 40th anniversary this year — it’s a very different organization than it was just a decade ago. Today’s CLIA is a multi-faceted global organization that’s poised to create more consumer demand and develop new global markets. It boasts 62 cruise line members and 13,500 travel agency members representing more than 50,000 travel agents. It also has 275 executive partners and 15 offices around the world.

Globally, the cruise industry generates $117 billion in positive economic impact, 891,000 full-time jobs with wages of $38 billion. CLIA now represents not just cruise lines and travel agents in North America, but throughout the U.K. and Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Asia and elsewhere. At the recent Cruise Shipping Miami conference in Miami Beach, Adam Goldstein, CLIA chairman and president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, provided his “take.” How’s it going? “In a couple of words, very well,” Goldstein said, noting that “the outlook is very, very bright.”

CLIA: A Look Forward

Goldstein has been assisting CLIA as its acting president, following the December 2014 departure of Christine Duffy, CLIA’s former president and CEO, who’s now president of Carnival Cruise Lines. In mid-March, Goldstein told Travel Agent that an active search was under way and candidates were being interviewed.

Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA’s executive VP of membership and operations, notes that helping agents succeed continues to be part of CLIA’s mission.
Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA’s executive VP of membership and operations, notes that helping agents succeed continues to be part of CLIA’s mission.

Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA’s new executive vice president of membership and operations, is currently handling CLIA’s day-to-day operations. Her vision? D’Aoust says the mission remains consistent — to support the cruise industry, create awareness, develop educational opportunities for agents, participate in advocacy and help agents achieve success in their businesses and careers — yet the methods may differ. Read a more in-depth interview with D'Aoust at www.travelagentcentral.com/associations/chat-cindy-daoust-clia-prepares-cruise3sixty-50844.

D’Aoust, the former chief operating officer of Meeting Professionals International, also says CLIA will move forward with more business-focused training — not simply teaching agents how to sell cruises but also helping them gain new business skills so they can be highly successful entrepreneurs. Given her background, it’s also possible that agents can expect more on the meetings-at-sea side, moving forward.

During the cruise3sixty Conference, the 1,200-plus agents attending will learn about CLIA’s new educational and partnership options, participate in ship inspections, and hear about the latest cruise research and trends to help them enhance their 2015 cruise sales. Likely trends and topics of interest to be discussed by participants are:

Positive Dollar Versus Euro: The dollar is at its strongest level against the euro in more than 10 years. Cruise executives hope this will drive sales throughout the Mediterranean and Europe in general. Bob Lepisto, president of SeaDream Yacht Club, says this travel might also be “closer in” as travelers come to realize their dollar will go so much farther in Europe this year. Clients planning a trip elsewhere may actually book a second getaway or even upgrade what they’re doing to a longer trip.

*Scheduled as of September 30, 2014                                                                   Source: CLIA

Capacity Growth and Demand: From now through 2020, some 33 new ocean ships and 22 new river ships will launch — a $25.65 billion investment. From 2009 to 2014, CLIA’s North American brands had an average passenger growth rate of 7 percent; of those, specialty brands grew by 21 percent annually, river lines by 25 percent.

Throughout this year, new oceangoing ships will launch, such as Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Escape, among others. On the small-ship side, Ponant Cruises’ Le Lyrial and 16 river vessels will launch this year.

Continued Demand for Agent Services: As cruise options become more prolific and choices more complex, consumers are often confused. Increasingly, a skilled, knowledgeable agent is becoming a “must-have” resource, as evidenced by positive sales posted by cruise groups. For example, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. experienced double-digit sales growth year over year in 2014.

The Search for New Cruisers: During Cruise Shipping Miami, Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, stressed that the industry must do a better job of developing new cruisers. While he said new ship features help attract new customers, “getting a whole new level of customer to come in is something we really haven’t found the formula for and I think that’s a big challenge for us.”

CLIA consultant Bob Sharak spent two decades on CLIA’s staff and helped develop many of the trade-oriented benefits for agents.
CLIA consultant Bob Sharak spent two decades on CLIA’s staff and helped develop many of the trade-oriented benefits for agents.

CLIA Consultant Mark Conroy, former CLIA chairman, veteran cruise executive and now principal of Mark Conroy & Associates, says one plus is that cruise products are much more differentiated than in the past: “It’s helped with deeper market penetration, but it’s a work in progress and we have to continue to evolve.” For North American agents, it’s often about educating the “anti-cruise” crowd, people who think they know what a cruise is and say “it’s not for me,” but don’t really understand it at all.

Alternatively, in places like China, it may entail taking a blank slate and educating people who have no preconceptions, but also know nothing about cruising. Arnold Donald, CEO, Carnival Corp., told the recent conference attendees that a group of Mongolian travelers sailing on one of his company’s ships based in China had never seen a swimming pool.

The “Cs” — China and Cuba: China and Asia as a whole are hot for new-customer sourcing; many lines are adding capacity. Goldstein says Asia is the world’s fourth biggest cruise market with 6 percent of available bed days, and four of every 10 Asian cruise passengers under the age of 40.

Cruise lines are also salivating over the potential of Cuba. Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, told Cruise Shipping Miami attendees last month that as soon as the trade embargo restrictions for Cuba are lifted by the U.S. government, “yes, we’re ready … I would bet that all of us in this town are ready to move at a drop of the hat.” Donald concurred, saying that once the embargo ends, “we’ll be there.”

More Value-Adds, Less Discounting: It remains to be seen whether capacity shifts to Asia and elsewhere will help pricing in the over-saturated Caribbean market. That said, cruise lines finally “get” what agents have been saying for years — offer value-adds, where possible, not rampant discounts. That’s helping avoid price erosion.

“Many of the packages allow the consumer to select from perks including drink packages, pre-paid gratuities, onboard credits, upgrades and more,” says Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of Cruise Planners. “Travelers want choices, and they don’t want to be nickeled and dimed once they get onboard, so the flexibility of these programs is appealing.”

More Technie Gyrations: Is your website mobile ready? Cruisers are increasingly booking online and on their smartphone or tablet. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ new Espresso reservations system for its three brands has new mobile capabilities and enhanced features requested by agents. New technology surfaces daily; agents need to keep pace, have an evolving social media plan, think more like millennials to attract new customers, and keep assuring clients they can stay connected at sea with faster Internet.

The Environment, Safety & Security: From Goldstein’s perspective, the cruise industry is ever dynamic and CLIA works hard to be out in front of key issues involving the environment, safety and security, but he acknowledges that there will always be “an endless array of emerging challenges.” CLIA offers agents www.cruiseforward.org for information on these issues. Still, critics argue the industry can do more. As CLIA creates a bigger footprint within the vacation industry, agents can expect more consumer questions about these issues.

CLIA: The Present

CLIA is highly focused on travel agent training, education and certification, plus it also boasts a newly restructured Executive Partner program and new travel agent membership options. “CLIA is the most prominent organization in the industry that gives us a way to be credible as cruise specialists,” says Fee, who cites CLIA’s educational modules, in-person training, ship inspection and educational cruises, which give accreditation to travel agents.

John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, Leisure Group & Vacation.com, whose organization is a Diamond Member, says, “We were thrilled to join forces with CLIA last fall in the unveiling of their all-new membership program,” while Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales, Avoya Travel, also likes the changes, noting that Avoya’s independent agencies now may join CLIA at a reduced cost.

“One of the biggest perks for agents is the financial benefits they can receive through the commission coupons CLIA makes available with almost all of the major cruise lines,” Koepf says, adding that membership is a really good investment for the extra commissions plus educational opportunities — such as cruise3sixty.

Also new, Charles Sylvia has joined CLIA as vice president of membership. He’s turning to social media to communicate with consumers and agents in new ways, holding conference calls with major trade players, and talking with agents in the field and at industry events. Sylvia promises an “enhanced level of attention for travel agents to find out what really matters to them.”

Touring around the country, Sylvia will introduce his version of “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” or, what he terms, “Cruising with Charlie.” Agents can follow him on Twitter (@cliaveep) and he’ll also post pictures on Instagram. While new to CLIA, Sylvia definitely isn’t new to cruising. In 1978, he sailed with his great aunt on Pacific Princess. He’s since taken multiple Princess voyages, and sailed 100 nights on Queen Mary 2, plus spent time on Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean.

CLIA: The Past

Back in the early 1970s, “the public didn’t know anything about cruising, the government didn’t care, travel agents selling airline tickets and tours definitely didn’t care, and we weren’t even really considered an industry,” says Rod McLeod, CLIA’s chairman in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s, who also says the agendas of the three “founding” groups proved challenging.

The passenger shipping group in New York was still unrealistically trying to resurrect the Golden Age of cruise liner sailings. Several new upstart South Florida lines were cultivating average folks interested in “fun in the sun,” not the VIPs and celebrity guests of the past. And the West Coast group had its own geographic focus and different mindset.

“I was in my early 30s and wondered if I joined the wrong business,” quips McLeod, who was in Royal Caribbean’s marketing department at the time. He strongly credits Warren Titus, CLIA’s first chairman and the founder of Royal Viking Line and Seabourn Cruise Line, as the glue that held the diverse factions together. In those early years, CLIA dealt with cruise selling logistics, introduced a marketing campaign to promote cruising and a mission to motivate and educate travel agents to sell cruises.

The trade side wasn’t easy. “You can’t begin to understand how uninterested they all were,” McLeod says. “The agents said, ‘We don’t have people who cruise. There is no market.’” McLeod acknowledges they were essentially correct because “customers were even less interested,” demonstrating the enormity of CLIA’s mission. But baby steps resulted in consistent growth.

“Cruising has long been an important, viable vacation option,” says Lovell, but adds that many industry veterans still recall a time when an astonishingly low percentage of the North American population had ever taken, let alone considered, a cruise. “CLIA, with their early partners, really blazed the trail with the retail travel community — putting on events and training that demystified the sale of cruises and simplified the learning curve.”


*As identified through December 19, 2014

 Source: CLIA

Public awareness of cruising also was boosted by the ABC television series, “The Love Boat,” filmed on Pacific Princess. On air from 1977 to 1987, it demonstrated the promotional moxie of the late Stanley McDonald, founder of Princess Cruises.

Every week, viewers watched as the “Love Boat” carried young people, families with children, professionals, working-class couples and multigenerational groups traveling together, all of whom enjoyed a great vacation with exotic ports of call. It was so popular, Princess brought back the cast for its own 50th anniversary year celebration with the original actors riding a float in the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade.

Many agents will also remember the 1980s-era “Ain’t We Got Fun” TV promotions by Kathie Lee Gifford for Carnival Cruise Lines. In 1991, CLIA launched National Cruise Vacation Month; that was followed by the World’s Largest Cruise Night, now CLIA Cruise Week. All these types of promotions helped build demand.

The industry’s onboard product and hardware also evolved with the times. At CLIA’s founding, guests might have fun onboard playing card games or shuffleboard, sunning by the pool or listening to piano music. Enter the late 1990s and 2000s with rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks and surfing pools and the 2010s with ice bars and sky diving. Dining in the 1970s was highly structured, with fixed seating being the norm; it’s now a freewheeling cornucopia of options.

What was the 1970s-era mega-ship? It was the SS France liner, which became Norwegian Caribbean Line’s SS Norway, the Caribbean’s biggest ship. Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign-class followed in the late 1980s, then even larger vessels including Queen Mary 2, Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis- and Quantum-class vessels. What was formerly a mega-ship is now simply mid-sized.

CLIA’s fleet is also evolving to include the Specialty Cruise Collection with river, small-ship and some luxury lines. Besides the six new ocean ships launching this year, CLIA lines will add 16 new river cruise vessels this year.

Many agents mentioned the trade contributions of Bob Sharak, CLIA’s former executive vice president of marketing and trade relations, who served on staff from 1992 to 2013 in various roles. “Bob was always the cement that really held everything together,” says Conroy. Similarly, Koepf says, “Bob Sharak was critical for the behind-the-scenes work in developing many of the trade-oriented benefits for agents.”

Sharak even served as CLIA’s acting president for a time after Jim Godsman, the former president, retired after 17 years, but he preferred the marketing side of the business. Put another way, “I was the Dick Cheney of CLIA,” he quips. Sharak also praised many former CLIA staffers for their contributions: “The legacy we had as an organization was working with the trade and helping establish the cruise industry as a vacation product.”

Post 9/11, Conroy and CLIA’s marketing committee hired Terry Dale, executive vice president, NYC & Company, as CLIA’s president and CEO. Dale led CLIA into a new era and created a stronger government-relations focus. In 2006, he supervised the merger of CLIA, the industry’s marketing arm, with the D.C.-based International Council of Cruise Lines, the industry’s government-relations organization. Some industry executives thought it might be “a bridge too far,” but it worked, says Conroy.

Dale was also at the helm when cruise3sixty was launched. “Terry Dale’s leadership that had a strong focus on the retail trade was very important,” says Koepf. After Dale left CLIA for USTOA, Christine Duffy was hired as president and CEO. Fresh from Maritz Travel Company, she brought new thinking, according to both Fee and Lepisto. She served during tough times — everything from Costa Concordia to norovirus and environmental and safety issues. After Costa Concordia, Duffy led the CLIA charge to proactively seek safety and operational changes for cruise ships worldwide with new standards recommended to the International Maritime Organization.

She also “globalized” CLIA from a group primarily representing North American cruising to one representing cruise groups across the globe — the philosophy of “one industry, one voice.” “Christine Duffy really did an incredible job of transforming CLIA,” Lepisto tells Travel Agent. “We in the cruise industry are still relatively small, so having one strong centralized voice from our system on a global basis … matters.”

D’Aoust says it’s vital to continue that global philosophy and one-voice focus, but as was Duffy’s perspective, she believes in flexibility when dealing with local market nuances.

CLIA is growing up, says Sharak, who sees it this way: “As you get older, you’re still very committed to the product and have great innovations, but you also have to be more of a corporate citizen, manage the legislative process and do things for the welfare of all guests such as safety and security.”

“During tough industry times, CLIA has provided insight and leadership by educating everyone in the industry about external and internal world events and providing informative updates,” emphasizes Drew Daly, general manager, network engagement and performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., and a CLIA Travel Advisory Board member.

But the glamour of a cruise remains. Sylvia’s experience on Pacific Princess “instantly instilled in me a lifelong love affair with cruising and all the romanticism associated with it.” Now, as part of CLIA’s new team, he’s eager to discover the next chapter of the cruise industry’s development, which is just beyond the horizon, around the next river bend and out on the deep blue ocean. 

Trends by the Numbers

* 70 percent of cruisers use a travel agent to book their cruise.

* 61 percent of CLIA affiliated agents are seeing an increase in cruise bookings for 2015.

* 62 percent of cruisers are repeat cruisers, who’ve taken nearly four cruises on average.

* The average cruiser is 49 years old, married, employed full-time, college-educated and has a household income of $114,000.

* 68 percent of CLIA’s target audience is interested in cruising within the next three years.

Source: CLIA’s 2015 Cruise Industry Outlook