CLIA and the Cruise Industry's Decade of Change

CLIA’s President and CEO Christine Duffy: “CLIA continues—on behalf of all the cruise line members —to be very committed to the work we do for travel agents and the travel agency community.”
CLIA’s President and CEO Christine Duffy: “CLIA continues—on behalf of all the cruise line members —to be very committed to the work we do for travel agents and the travel agency community.”

In 2014, an estimated 21.7 million guests will sail on Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) global cruise fleet of 400+ ships including 15 new ships. That’s a lot of berths to fill. Another 20 ships will join the CLIA global fleet between 2015 and 2018.

A decade ago, cognizant of the industry growth and the increasing need for more skilled travel agents to market and sell cruises, Cruise Lines International Association launched its first cruise3sixty conference. That sold-out show welcomed 1,300 travel agents and since then, CLIA has conducted the conference annually, mostly in South Florida but also twice in Vancouver, BC.

Between April 2-6, more than 2,000 travel agents will converge upon the Broward County Convention Center within Port Everglades, FL, for CLIA’s 10th anniversary cruise3sixty conference, poised to become the organization’s biggest and most productive ever.

“We’re so really excited for cruise3sixty’s 10 years and, in addition, next year CLIA will be celebrating 40 years,” says Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO. “We have a lot of milestones. CLIA continues—on behalf of all the cruise line members—to be very committed to the work we do for travel agents and the travel agency community. We’re excited to see record [attendance] numbers.”

Keeping a pipeline of professional travel agents flowing into the cruise selling marketplace is more important than ever. Today’s CLIA is far larger than in the past, with 13 cruise industry associations worldwide operating under one organizational umbrella, and 61 cruise line members. CLIA also has 250 executive partners—port authorities, destinations and maritime and industry suppliers.

Trade-wise, more than 13,500 CLIA travel agency members reach over 50,000 agents throughout North America, UK & Ireland, Australia, Asia and elsewhere. Karin Viera, vice president of sales, says many of her group’s members attend cruise3sixty and find it very beneficial: “The training, panels, networking and ship inspections have the highest satisfaction.”

Concurring is Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, who has encouraged her group’s franchise owners to attend. “The reason is simple—education is the key to success,” she says, adding that in an age of information overload, as an agent, the days of being an order taker are over. “If you want to win new business and keep clients satisfied, you need to be at the top of your game, so educating yourself is paramount.”

Evolving Cruise3Sixty

What’s new for the 10th anniversary cruise3sixty conference? First, CLIA shifted cruise3sixty to April 2-6, a bit earlier in the year than normal. It’s usually later in April or in May or June. Duffy explained that this allows for more ship inspections. Seasonally home ported ships often sail away from South Florida sometime in April. Moving the conference a bit earlier allows agents to tour more ships including some not previously available for inspection.

New this year, a record 26 ships will be available for agents to inspect at Port Everglades and PortMiami. In addition, at past conferences agents could sign up for two or three ships to inspect, but this year agents may register for up to four ship inspections with the possibility of even a fifth or sixth, pending availability. Among the ships are Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas, Carnival Sunshine, Celebrity Reflection, Disney Wonder, Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, MSC Divina, Norwegian Getaway and Royal Princess.

Advance registration is required and Duffy urged agents who haven’t done so to sign up now. “Ship inspections are one of the most popular and important aspects of cruise3sixty,” she says. “They always sell out quickly.” At press time, 14 ships were still available for inspection reservations.

In yet another development, CLIA is introducing a completely revitalized training curriculum. Duffy pointed to 10 new, one-hour training courses that were created directly from agent feedback. She says they’re more contemporary in content and format and also shorter than some past CLIA courses. Agents receive 10 certification credits for each course completed.

Approximately 35-50 of Nexion’s agents typically attend cruise3sixty, according to Jackie Friedman, that host group’s president. She said the Institute Track, a fast-track approach to CLIA certification with multiple courses and ship inspections offered at the conference, as a big plus. Agents enrolled in Institute Track may quickly earn up to 150 credits toward their Associate Cruise Counselor (ACC) or Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) certification.

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas is among the newest, and one of the two largest, of the growing number of mega-ships.

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas is among the newest, and one of the two largest, of the growing number of mega-ships.

Mike King, co-owner, Travel Leaders, Fredericksburg, VA, credited the 2012 conference for helping him more quickly achieve his MCC certification. “The ship inspections made the classroom knowledge come to life so that I could come back and be more knowledgeable as I dealt with customers for cruises,” King emphasized, noting that another travel advisor from his agency will attend this year.

Duffy has confirmed that four top cruise industry executives will participate at the first General Session on April 4; speakers include Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation; Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.; Kevin Sheehan, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line; and Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises. Duffy’s own keynote address, “From the Helm,” will give agents insight into her vision about the cruise industry, CLIA’s globalization, industry trends and the invaluable role travel advisors play and contribute to the cruise industry’s success.

“I’m looking forward to the general sessions, to hear from various industry leaders, and to get a glimpse of the industry from their perspective,” says Christopher Lingren, franchise owner, Cruise Planners-American Express Travel, Noblesville, IN. Also, “I’m very excited to say that once I complete cruise3sixty this time, I will have completed the MCC requirements within 15 months of starting the program. I cannot wait to get there and work through the classes, and complete the last two remaining ship inspections that I need.”

Industry Evolution

Agents say it’s critical they stay current, given the wild ride in the travel industry over the past decade. Advisors have weathered everything from a challenging recession to a social media revolution. Ships and brands have also changed sizably. “Personally, I find the event extremely valuable as everyone needs a once-a-year refresher on the industry,” noted Drew Daly, vice president of sales and performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. “I always walk away from each session with some new tidbit that I can apply in the business.”

Just how much has the cruise marketplace changed in a decade? When introduced in 2003, Cunard’s 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2 was the world’s largest ship. Today, Royal Caribbean International’s 225,000+ ton Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are the giants of the seas. In fact, many 1,800-passenger ships are now considered mid-sized, while just a decade ago they were categorized as large.

In the past decade, luxury cruising has soared in demand. Pictured: Silver Spirit, Silversea’s largest ship.
In the past decade, luxury cruising has soared in demand. Pictured: Silver Spirit, Silversea’s largest ship.

With the advent of mega-ships, designers also have focused on spreading guests out more evenly throughout the ships by creating such innovative spaces as Boardwalk and Central Park on the Oasis-class ships. CLIA member line ships boast bowling alleys, skating rinks, zip lines, virtual simulators, water slides, art studios, ice bars and shops galore.

Many agents cite the 2001 launch of Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Cruise Line’s first purpose-built “Freestyle Cruising” vessel, as a game changer; today’s newest Freestyle ship, the Norwegian Getaway, boasts 28 different dining experiences, some along The Waterfront, an outdoor al fresco dining and strolling area.

Scott Koepf, vice president of sales, Avoya Travel believes “the number one development [in the past decade] is the continued growth and extraordinary diversity of the product available within the cruise industry.” From Friedman’s perspective, the ships are now destinations unto themselves: “The new ships have a much wider range of stateroom choices, offer a wide range of cruise duration options, and they travel to more exotic destinations, making these ships a more complex product to sell. Qualifying the customer is more important than ever before.”

Alternative dining concepts vary sizably by line, but diversity and flexibility rule. MSC Divina has the trendy Eataly, Crystal Cruises has upscale Nobu venues, Holland America Line offers a restaurant with Pacific Northwest cuisine, Disney Cruise Line has the adults-only Palo and Remy restaurants, and Carnival Cruise Lines has a steakhouse. Many agents say it’s hard to remember when Celebrity Cruises didn’t sail with Solstice-class ships, which boast such dining venues as Blu for AquaClass guests and, based on availability, suite guests. At the quirky Qsine, guests read the menu on iPads. And the list goes on.

A new CLIA “Eat, Drink & Cruise” course offered at cruise3sixty will show agents how to tap into culinary offerings—from themed cruises to onboard cooking demonstrations and celebrity chef restaurants. Lucinda Belden, franchise owner, CruiseOne in Carrollton, TX, told Travel Agent: “I’m most looking forward to the coursework on food tourism as this is my niche.”

In the past decade, luxury cruising has soared in demand. Products have become more inclusive. Luxury ships have also evolved. In 2005, Seabourn Cruise Line operated the small-ship Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, and Seabourn Spirit. This year and next, they’re shifting to new owner Windstar Cruises, while Seabourn operates four larger, newer Odyssey-class ships, with an even larger new ship on order. Silversea Cruises launched its largest vessel, the 540-passenger Silver Spirit in 2010, plus has added several intimate expedition ships. Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a new 738-passenger ship on order. Agents headed to cruise3sixty can learn more during a new CLIA course, “The New Face of Luxury Cruising - New Luxury Clients, New Luxury Ships.”

Another decade-long trend? “Upper premium” took off in 2003 when the new Oceania Cruises began sailing with the 684-passenger Regatta. Today, Oceania has five ships serving 4552 passengers. Upper premium competitor Azamara Club Cruises launched in 2007 and operates two ships on global itineraries.

One of the hottest trends is soaring consumer demand for river cruises. In 2003, CLIA member line AmaWaterways sailed (under the Amadeus Waterways name initially) with just one 148-berth vessel. Fast forward to 2015, when AmaWaterways will operate 20 ships with 2,836 berths. No longer a vacation appealing solely to elderly, mass-market clients, the latest river vessels are amenity-laden with upscale dining, active options, customizable arrangements, balcony cabins and suites. Some even have butlers.

Strong growth is also evident at CLIA’s other North American member river lines including American Cruise Lines, Avalon Waterways, Tauck and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection“This style of cruising is very attractive to consumers who have traditionally taken land vacations,” Friedman says, noting that agents will find river products very profitable to sell.

Niche cruising, with such products as Hurtigruten, has also blossomed. As river, small-ship, luxury and niche lines desired to differentiate themselves from larger, oceangoing mass-market lines, CLIA responded by launching the Specialty Cruise Collection in 2012. This year’s conference will have two Specialty Cruise Collection Showcases, in addition to CLIA Brand Showcases that feature more traditional oceangoing lines.

Other 2014 trends, according to CLIA, are improved technology and connectivity at sea, more all-inclusive packages, and an increase in multigenerational travel. The organization also says first-time passenger growth is being driven by the 95 million “Millennials,” many of whom have had positive experiences in cruising with their parents.

As the global fleet grows, voyages have become more eclectic. This year 37 percent of CLIA line capacity is positioned in the Caribbean/Bahamas, 19 percent in the Mediterranean, 11 percent elsewhere in Europe, 6 percent in Australia/New Zealand/Pacific, 5 percent in Alaska, 3 percent in South America, 4 percent in Asia, and 15 percent from other destinations.

Assisting Travel Advisors

Today’s cruise agents recommend which category accommodations are best for clients, evaluate ship-within-a-ship options, book shore excursions and spa treatments, handle arrangements for pre- and post-cruise stays, find specialized cruises and make customized arrangements. CLIA’s new course, “Where to Find It – Must-have Resources and Apps,” will help agents find the right information to fit the client’s situation.

“When cruise3sixty launched 10 years ago, e-mail was the only major form of online communications,” Fee says. “Today, the world has been taken over by social media.” Catherine Heeg, a tourism, travel and hospitality industry expert, will teach two new social media and technology courses at cruise3sixty; they are “Facebook 2014 –What You Need to Know Now” and “Get Your Geek On! – Emerging and Evolving Social Media You Need to Know About.” The latter explores social platforms, tools for video applications, microsites and blogging, and updates for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+.

RELATED: Social Media Tips From the Experts

With the rise of social media, “consumer reporters” are onsite when a wave breaks a ship’s window or a customer issue develops. Quick, fact-based responses by cruise lines and travel agents are important, both for balanced news and future sales. “Handling and dealing with consumer media—from both a positive and negative implication on the cruise industry—would be the second development,” Koepf cites about changes of the past decade. “Be Your Own Paparazzi,” another new CLIA training course, explains how public relations has changed and provides tips for agents.

Eataly Steakhouse, MSC Divina is emblematic of the trend toward alternative dining concepts.

Eataly Steakhouse, MSC Divina is emblematic of the trend toward alternative dining concepts.

The past decade also has revealed the value of partners. “I’d be remiss not to include the growth of the importance of host agencies,” says Fee. “In an online driven marketplace, it’s tough to go it alone today, and host agencies make it possible for smaller players to compete.”

In addition, 61 percent of travel agents participating in CLIA’s recent Travel Agency Survey listed “a home port” as a major motivator to take a cruise. “The ability to attract the drive market, along with the attractive price points, has brought many first time cruisers into the market,” Friedman says. To assist agents in explaining how to cruise, be personal with clients and show passion for the business, CLIA will offer these new courses: “What’s My Line? - Connecting Clients to Cruising in One Sentence”; “Put the Person Back in Personal Selling – They’re People, Not Apps”; and “Sell Your Passion” (focusing on niche markets).

Separately, CLIA has also developed a workshop series for cruise3sixty with such courses as “Selling to Win! - Lessons from the Sales Coach”; “The New National Cruise Vacation Week - Cruise Events that Grow Sales”; and “Reinvent your Travel Agency in One Hour.”

More than 77 percent of travel agents surveyed by CLIA cited the destination or itinerary as a major consumer motivator for booking. “I’m especially looking forward to learning more about destinations in Europe and Asia,” says Eric Sternberg, franchise owner, Cruise Planners-American Express Travel, Napa, CA.

Cruise3sixty will have 50-minute workshops that highlight global destinations, hotel products, agent services, and cruise and industry products—everything from Hawaii to Cruise Baltic, from the Dominican Republic to France and Alaska. Carnival will put on a workshop about “Hook ‘em and Book ‘em – How to Throw a First-Time Cruise Party.”

Continuing Globalization

CLIA was primarily North America-focused in 2005. Other cruise groups represented lines in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. But Costa Concordia, norovirus, safety, and operational issues have demonstrated a need for “one voice” in tackling challenging industry issues and talking to government and regulatory agencies across borders.

The CLIA Global umbrella now includes (with previous names in parentheses): CLIA North America (CLIA); CLIA North West & Canada (North West and Canada Cruise Association); CLIA Alaska (Alaska Cruise Association); CLIA ABREMAR-Brazil (ABREMAR); CLIA Europe (European Cruise Council); CLIA UK & Ireland (Passenger Shipping Association); CLIA France (AFCC); CLIA Netherlands (DCC); CLIA Belgium & Luxembourg (Cruise & Ferry World); CLIA Asia (Asia Cruise Association); and CLIA Australasia (International Cruise Council Australasia). In addition, these groups are newly established CLIA national chapters: CLIA Germany, CLIA Italy and CLIA Spain. This week, Bud Darr, CLIA’s senior vice president for global, technical and regulatory affairs, heads to Washington D.C. to testify at a cruise ship safety forum initiated by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). CLIA member line experts and officials from the International Maritime Organization and The Bahamas also are expected to participate.

Drew Daly, VP of sales, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.: “I always walk away from each session [at cruise3sixty] with some new tidbit that I can apply in the business.”
Drew Daly, VP of sales, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.: “I always walk away from each session [at cruise3sixty] with some new tidbit that I can apply in the business.”

RELATED: CLIA Chief Updates State of Cruise Industry (VIDEO)

On the trade side, Duffy just returned from the first cruise3sixty Australasia in Sydney, speaking to a sell-out crowd of 400 agents. Australia/New Zealand sourcing for cruises is up 130 percent from five years ago. Duffy also recently delivered a keynote address at ITB Berlin; German passenger sourcing is up nearly 81 percent from five years ago, CLIA says.

CLIA UK & Ireland plan to host another river cruise convention in Europe, something the group has done since 2011. “There are surprises in store that agents won’t want to miss, from the much-anticipated new location [yet to be announced] to the exciting selection of ships,” says Duffy. “The 2014 River Cruise Convention is expected to be in November, and we anticipate another year of record-breaking attendance as more and more agents and consumers are interested in river cruises.”

The USA remains CLIA’s top market for cruise sourcing—with nearly 52 percent of global passengers. Travel Agent asked Duffy about any potential for having two North American cruise3sixty conferences annually—one each on the West and East Coast? While it’s been discussed, she says Australian agents who came to the past Vancouver conferences likely won’t make the journey in the future, given their own Australasia conference. She also noted that CLIA has revamped its cruisExcellence 2.0 regional training. (See sidebar on page 30).

In other news, Dwain Wall, former senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., is CLIA’s new senior vice president of agency and trade relations. Michael Sinn, owner, Cruise Planners-American Express Travel, Las Vegas, NV, described Wall as a “great fit.” He’ll be highly visible at cruise3sixty.

From Koepf’s perspective, “cruise3sixty has always provided topical content based on the ever-changing industry, including promoting the value of host travel agencies as well as technology updates and the newest approaches to marketing.” Keep the content relevant to front-line sellers coming, though, he stressed, noting that’s “always an opportunity that will provide great benefits.”

Friedman praised CLIA’s good mix of hard and soft skills training as well as technology training, but she’d like to see more successful cruise agents in break-out training classes and general session panels. Daly says CLIA’s structured educational curriculum definitely helps agents achieve the knowledge they need to be successful in selling cruises; he encourages his agents to invest the time needed to become certified as an MCC.

“The organization continues to be on trend,” from Fee’s perspective. “There is a lot of choice in what they present, which allows an attendee to select the path to what will bring them the most success.” Already an MCC, Belden will use cruise3sixty to get a jump start on her Elite Cruise Counselor (ECC) certification and to “reconnect” with suppliers and other agents. “When you work alone in a home office, [reconnecting] is most important to me to be able to share and exchange information and bounce ideas off other agents,” Belden noted.

As for CLIA itself, “the steadiness of the number of people who attend cruise3sixty every year speaks to the ongoing interest and support of travel agents, the agency community and cruise lines,” stressed Duffy. “It’s stood the test of time.”  

Updated Regional Training

CLIA has also revamped its cruisExcellence 2.0 regional training program. A new, one-day Saturday program will be conducted in 11 cities through October. The fast-paced format offers new content in one-hour seminars. Also included are virtual ship inspections plus new training segments.

For example, in some cities a 90-minute Alaska Expert session is conducted by Visit Anchorage; agents learn about everything from day cruises to flightseeing and lodging choices. One agent’s name will be drawn in each city during the training to receive a free Alaska familiarization visit, including air, during August.

The first cruisExcellence 2.0 programs were conducted earlier this year in San Pedro, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and Houston, TX. Upcoming programs will be held in these cities: Washington, D.C/Arlington, VA, April 26; Seattle, WA, May 10; Detroit, MI, May 31; Las Vegas, NV, June 14; Atlanta, GA, July 19; Toronto, Ontario, Canada, August 16; Orlando, FL, August 23; Denver, CO, on October 4; and New York City/East Rutherford, NJ, October 5.

For more on CLIA’s cruisExcellence 2.0 or cruise3sixty, visit