|Christine Duffy, CLIA president and CEO, gives the keynote address at the annual cruise3sixty conference in Vancouver, BC.|
When it comes to globalization, the cruise industry has the playing field covered. “The world is 70 percent water and you can see the whole world from one of our ships,” Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told 1,300 travel advisors attending the annual cruise3sixty conference in Vancouver, BC on Friday.
“The cruise industry is a resilient one and we continue to grow, both here in North America and globally,” Duffy said. Since 2000, the number of passengers who boarded cruise ships of CLIA’s North American member lines has increased 125 percent -- from 7.2 million to 17 million last year.
“In 2013, we’re forecasting nearly 21 million people will take a cruise globally,” Duffy projected. She also said no segment of the industry understands "year in and year out" the needs and desires of consumers the way the cruise industry does.
One industry trend CLIA is seeing is the rise of big brand entertainment, such as “Dancing with the Stars” on Holland America Line and Tony-award winning theater, for just a few examples.
A second trend is the integration of new technology onboard ships with features such as iPads in staterooms, Duffy said.
Globally, Duffy said the cruise industry also is increasingly able to take guests to exotic places -- from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Australia, from Beijing, China to Antarctica. “Cruising provides guests with that opportunity for guests to see the world in a very unique way,” she said.
Global itineraries also have led to a more global management approach. In December 2012, CLIA brought together 12 cruise associations from around the world into a unified structure under the CLIA umbrella.
What does that mean to agents? “We believe that united under one banner for CLIA gives you the opportunity to learn and shape best practices from our members and from agents around the world,” Duffy stressed.
Duffy, who had traveled to Sydney to meet with trade and industry leaders earlier this year, recognized 40 agents from Australia in the audience. “To all the North American agents, look out,” she quipped, citing the Australian agents’ passion, excitement and enthusiasm in growing their cruise business and their agent community.
She also identified a CLIA representative from Southeast Asia, noting that Singapore just opened a new $350 million cruise terminal.
Duffy also said the U.K. and Ireland market is the second largest cruise market outside North America and recognized that new CLIA organization. And she mentioned that a CLIA association based in Vancouver represents the Northwest, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.
What's will CLIA's globalization mean for agents? “In the future, you will begin to see us coordinating global promotions, like a Global Cruise Vacation Week,” Duffy said. “So no matter where in the world your clients are, they will hear about cruising.”
She said that with a bigger footprint globally, CLIA expects more support from destinations as they work with ports, airports and all stakeholders that partner with cruise lines. She cited such emerging destinations as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Brazil, Southeast Asia, China and Japan.
|Conference gets under way at the Vancouver Convention Center, adjacent to ships docked at Canada Place's cruise terminal.|
Public Image and Safety First
Duffy also told the agent audience about "Cruise Forward," an initiative CLIA created earlier this year, because “there are thousands of stories that need to be told." She said it's important for the cruise industry to show the contributions it makes to society.
She believes Cruise Forward will help CLIA educate the public, policyholders and potential and current guests -- showing the cruise lines' community involvement and the jobs created by the cruise industry.
Other CLIA marketing and communications efforts include a new Cruise TV channel on YouTube, and CLIA's Facebook page, which Duffy said has nearly 20,000 fans.
Now representing 60 cruise lines worldwide under CLIA Global, Duffy said the organization's most important commitment is to assure every passenger has a safe and memorable vacation experience that exceeds their expectations. “Safety is the industry’s highest priority," Duffy said.
But putting the recent high-profile incidents in perspective with the industry's safety record, "let’s not forget that more than 21 million people will enjoy a cruise this year," she added, noting that’s more that the population of New York City, Los Angeles and Miami combined.
Many of those people are repeat cruisers, who do understand the level of commitment, care and service that the cruise industry is committed to, she told the audience. But Duffy said it was important to reach potential first time cruisers so they understand more about the industry's commitment to safety.
She addressed the industry’s new “Passenger Bill of Rights,” which she characterized as a formal way to show the commitment to guests. The document is now posted on every cruise line’s web site. She also thanked the trade: “CLIA and cruise lines appreciate the role you play in advising your cruise customers of these rights."
Adapting to a Changing World
Then the discussion took a bit of a humorous twist as Duffy talked about CLIA's progression from the mid-70s. She showed her own photo from that earlier era when she was a travel agent in Philadelphia and reminded the audience that CLIA had begun educating agents in 1975.
In that era, “the Internet was still 20 years away," she said, in showing that "a lot has changed.” Then, the audience giggled as they viewed a big-screen slide of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones performing – in the 1970s and in the 2010s. "Well, maybe some things not so much," she quipped.
Duffy's point: "These Rolling Stones just keep making themselves more relevant to more and more generations...I think there's a lesson in there for all of us."She stressed that while much has changed, CLIA's commitment to agents has not changed through the years and it will not change "It's just as strong," she said.
What has changed, Duffy outlined, is the need to evolve. Just like the Rolling Stones, she said CLIA needs to remain relevant to today’s agents as well as the next generation of agents.
“Unlike when I was an agent, your clients have oceans of information at their fingertips," Duffy said, noting that clients have 2.5 quintillion bytes of information to access online. That's a number with 18 zeros. "The scary thing is that next year it will be even more, and the following year, even more than that," she said.
The Future of Travel Advisors
So are agents relevant today and will they be in the future? “I am more convinced than ever that people need a professional travel agent -- a professional travel advisor --more than ever,” Duffy emphasized. She said the successful agents of the future will be responsible to interpret this overwhelming amount of information options and choices that consumers have.
“Agents and advisors who understand their clients and who can guide them through the myriad of choices will be valued and necessary, and will be very successful in their own right,” she said.
She said travel advisors will need to have technology, social media and digital skills, "but I still believe technology is just an enabler." Duffy said that while professional travel advisors need to understand that technology piece, they also need to understand their customers, know what they want and "what is their dream cruise."
What's increasingly important for the trade? "I believe that today, not just travelers but consumers in general are looking more and more for proof of expertise -- meaningful credentials that set you apart from others," Duffy said.
She said CLIA aims to make its certification program a globally recognized credential, as consumers seek that. She compared CLIA Certification with the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
She thanked the agents attending the conference for "leading the way" as most indicated they were certified or are working on their certification. "You have raised the bar," she said.
"We are evolving, we are changing, and maybe a little bit like the Rolling Stones, we're getting a little bit older, but there are things that fundamentally don't change," Duffy said, adding: "The investment, commitment and passion that CLIA agents bring to their role is unmatched."
In 2014, agents will see redesigned CLIA training for all 38 courses to make it more accessible and relevant for agents today and in the future. CLIA has heard from agents that they want training when it's convenient and they want a mix of both online and in-person training, she noted.
A major development? In the coming year, she said CLIA will begin more aggressively promoting and publicizing CLIA certified agents.
"So if you're not CLIA certified, I urge you to enroll today and get started," she stressed. "We want to support and recognize people who have made the investment in certification."
Duffy said the organization also wants to engage and communicate with agents. CLIA is on Twitter at @cliafacts and on other social networking sites.
Moving into the future, Duffy said CLIA's "goal for our travel agents members is to be 'the go-to source' for all things cruise and you will be part of a global community."
Ending her speech, she stressed: "This community, the CLIA travel agents, are a real strength and backbone of the organization. We know that. We are committed to you."