Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) 8th annual cruise3sixty conference and trade show, April 25-30, 2012, at the Broward Country Convention Center, registered more than 1,200 travel agent delegates from 42 states, seven Canadian provinces, and 13 other countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Australia, CLIA reports in its post-conference wrap-up.
A record-breaking 3,144 participants attended the 18 CLIA professional development and training seminars, up from 1,365 when cruise3sixty was first established.
The focus of the conference was the future of travel agents as CLIA, with support of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), issued a report entitled “From Travel Agent to Travel Advisor: Defining, Elevating and Promoting the Role of Travel Agents for the Next Generation.”
CLIA’s President and CEO, Christine Duffy, and Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), also rallied delegates in support of USTA’s nationwide “Vote Travel – Get America Moving” grassroots campaign to call attention to the economic importance of the travel industry.
In announcing the “Next Generation of Travel Agents” report, Duffy said, “Our aim is to begin a meaningful, industry-wide discussion that articulates the unique role agents play in today’s travel industry and considers the steps necessary to develop a strategic roadmap for developing the next generation of agents.”
ASTA’s CEO, Tony Gonchar, added: “This report is an excellent first step to help begin a dialogue with the travel industry to ensure the future growth of the travel agency community. ASTA is a strong believer in ensuring that we have a thriving retail travel industry and has worked closely with CLIA in the creation of this report, as well as with the White House to develop initiatives such as the Joining Forces Travel Industry Coalition, which has a goal of bringing 3,000 industry jobs to U.S. vets and their spouses by 2014.”
During the opening day general session on April 27, “A Cruise Industry Perspective,” a panel of cruise line CEOs discussed issues ranging from business forecasts to marketing, industry innovations and the future role of technology. The executives agreed that recent sales figures point to continued recovery in the industry and predicted that pent up demand will help drive stronger results in the coming months.
CLIA noted the panel then offered examples of innovation – a hallmark of the cruise industry that plays a large role in its success –including further globalization of itineraries, and new dining experiences such as “raw cuisine” and wine cruises. Speaking on the role of travel agents, MSC USA’s President and CEO, Rick Sasso, summed up the panel’s shared opinion by saying, “I could not imagine a cruise industry without travel agents. You’re our key brand.”
Representing the fast-growing river cruise segment of the industry, Rudi Schriener, president of AMA Waterways, noted his company’s 10 years of record bookings, saying river cruising hasn’t even scratched the surface of sales potential for travel agents, CLIA noted.
That theme continued during morning-long discussions on Sunday with other leaders on “Making the Most out of a Small Ship Vacation Experience.” Moderated by CLIA’s executive vice president Bob Sharak and Gaye Stewart-Loudis, director of membership, three separate panels of cruise line sales executives talked about the opportunities for agents to sell luxury small ship vacations, river cruises, and unique, destination-rich voyages.
Headlining another general session, marketing consultant Rick Barrera urged agents to “overpromise and over-deliver” as a way to establish a unique and compelling personal brand. Citing Apple and other companies that stand out as “radically different” from their competitors he advised the audience to align all aspects of their business, from the product to the human element, to deliver a comprehensive, totally relevant experience. A panel of cruise line executives then offered their perspective on marketing strategies.
CLIA said conference attendees were delighted by a surprise visit on Sunday April 29 of USTA’s “Vote Travel” bus that is a centerpiece of USTA’s “Vote Travel – Get America Moving” campaign to inform policy makers and the public of the positive impact the $1.8 trillion U.S. travel industry makes on national, state and local communities.
Describing the details of the 20,000-mile Vote Travel Bus Tour, Roger Dow, USTA’s President and CEO said, “We are galvanizing support and asking all Americans to ‘Vote Travel’ this election season.” Endorsing the campaign on behalf of the cruise industry, Duffy added, “Travel is a bipartisan industry. Vote Travel is not an endorsement of any political candidate or political party; it’s a vote to Get America Moving. The cruise industry’s economic contribution has been substantial, more than $40 billion annually to the U.S. economy and generating more than 350,000 jobs a year.”
In addition to CLIA training and seminars, conference attendees participated in the inspections of more than a dozen cruise ships in nearby ports, and visited the 300+ exhibitor trade show, CLIA reports.
Other highlights of cruise3sixty included destination and travel industry supplier workshops and several panel discussions featuring cruise line executives and other experts on ways to build niche or special interest cruise business, develop group sales, create effective marketing strategies and other topics, CLIA said.
American Express was cruise3sixty’s Presenting Sponsor in 2012, as it has been since 2005. Other leading sponsors included Amadeus, Sabre, Port Everglades and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. In all, more than two dozen industry partners joined CLIA to ensure cruise3sixty’s success.