Column: CLIA Deserves Praise for a Job Well Done

For many travel agents, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is a key to selling cruises and a respected partner in a dynamic part of the travel industry.  Thousands attend CLIA training programs annually, earn CLIA professional designations and benefit from CLIA’s membership program that includes a CLIA identification card. CLIA has in fact emerged as a respected, driving force in mobilizing the agency distribution system to support the cruise lines. 

This was driven home with this week’s Worlds Largest Cruise Night (WLCN) promotion which CLIA says sets a new participation record and could set a new record for WLCN cruise sales. Already, CLIA reports a record number of  5,500 individual agent promotions registered. And, when the final tallies are in later this month, its possible that last years record $40 million reported sales figure will be broken. Clearly this adds up to be one of the largest, most successful and welcomed promotions in the industry. And CLIA deserves three cheers – or more – for its initiative.

Led by Terry Dale, CLIA’s president and CEO, and Bob Sharak, executive vice president, CLIA has emerged as a marketing powerhouse that is advancing the interests of its 25 member cruise line members and its 16,000 plus travel agency and agent members. Its programs are well thought out, relevant and well received. CLIA training is outstanding and vital to increased cruise sales and maintaining professional standards. In short, CLIA has proven its value to the agency community and we suspect to the cruise lines in all their diversity.

True, travel agents have disagreements with specific cruise line policies – non-commissionable components and low commissions yields – but most are beyond CLIA’s mandate or responsibility to resolve. Overall, relations between agents and cruise lines are outstanding and productive – thanks to the dynamic leadership of the cruise lines marketing and management teams but also to CLIA. Cruise sales are the bedrock of many agents success – including independent agents, hosts and consortia.

Less well known to agents is CLIA’s regulatory role. CLIA was formed in 1975 in response to a need for an association to promote the benefits of cruising and in 2006 CLIA merged with the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL). Prior to its 2006 merger with ICCL, CLIA emerged as the principal external marketing organization for its member lines after consolidation with other groups. Curently, CLIA’s represents 25 cruise lines that represent 97 percent of the cruise capacity marketed from North America.

In addition, to CLIA’s well known marketing and sales initiatives CLIA’s current mission reads, “CLIA exists to promote all measures that foster a safe, secure and healthy cruise ship environment, educate, train its travel agent members, and promote and explain the value, desirability and affordability of the cruise vacation experience.”

The current World Largest Cruise Night should be another remainder to agents of CLIA’s value. CLIA moved aggressively to help agents cope with the recession with accelerated training and certification programs –85 classroom training events in the U.S. and Canada in the first quarter alone – that helps agents generate sales. CLIA’s National Cruise Vacation Week is a success. CLIA agents have reported that agent training and certification help generate average increases in sales of 261 percent.  In 2008 CLIA delivered 65,000 training events in the U.S. and Canada, including seminars at sea, DVD training and online courses. Hopefully, the 2009 totals will be higher. 

CLIA certification has also worked with currently nearly 11,000 agents actively enrolled in the Cruise Counsellor Certification program. CLIA also launched an individual membership category for independent agents of member agencies that includes a fast-track program to CLIA certification. CLIA is also helping to cut costs and boost sales via its MarketEaseOnline (MEO) program that provides personalized email marketing to clients. The MEO underscored the strong ongoing relationship between CLIA and its Preferred Partners.

Last but not least is CLIA’s successful annual cruise3sixty conference.

The current WLCN promotion also shows the economic importance of the cruise industry that continues to be an engine of economic growth globally. Growth may have slowed in the current recession – but cruising is holding its own. And travel agents continue to prove their value to cruise lines and consumers. In 2008 an estimated 13 million took a cruise.

What of the future? The facts speak for themselves. In 2009, the CLIA fleet will welcome 15 new vessels, at a staggering investment of $4.8 billion. These range in size from 82 passengers to 5,400 passengers and offer a wide range of cruise experiences including coastal and river voyages, Caribbean and European itineraries and lots more. These new ships are being launched with world-class promotional skill.

Product satisfaction is high and millions of Americans want to take cruises. The cruise lines themselves are world class managers,  innovators and marketers. All this adds up to opportunity for travel agents who can count on CLIA and the cruise lines as an ally in the competitive battles of the future.

Clearly travel agents have embraced cruise sales and have demonstrated their ability to deliver. In turn, cruise lines have embraced travel agents forming a creative partnership that continues to pay dividends. CLIA has shown  a remarkable ability to adapt to rapid changes in the cruise lines and in agency distribution. Well done!

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