Cruise360: CLIA Asks Advisors to Champion the Cruise Industry

For years, advisors have watched as Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has assertively and effectively championed the cruise industry’s causes with the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, other government agencies, destinations and more. That’s important, and will continue in 2023 as CLIA's research shows strong growth—31.5 million passengers worldwide, up from 2019. Plus, 14 new ships are joining the cruise industry's fleet.

But by 2027, forecasts show that the industry will expand even further—to nearly 40 million passengers, or 30 percent more than in 2019. With sizable growth on global waters, CLIA is now asking travel advisors to do much more on the front lines in spreading CLIA’s “one voice” messaging on key issues. Among those are sustainability and eco-protection; approaches to avoiding tourism overload; benefits to local communities; preserving nature and cultures; and so on.

Speaking to 1,800 or so travel advisors and trade executives at the annual Cruise360 conference in Greater Fort Lauderdale this week, Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s president and CEO, urged the advisors to do more to share the cruise industry's positive stories with friends, families and, most notably, their clients. 

A burgeoning number of global travel advisors—some 75,000—are now CLIA members. While in the past, the cruise industry association has asked for advisors' help on select matters such as lobbying of local, state and national officials about legislation, for instance, now it sees even more opportunity for positive storytelling on a regular basis.

While Craighead delivered an upbeat message to open Cruise360's first General Session about the industry’s return, pace of recovery, fleet growth, consumers’ propensity to cruise and other positives, she also added....'but:' “As travel comes back and the public discourse returns to focus ever more on climate and for some mass tourism, we see many potential barriers to the industry’s success,” she said. “To overcome these barriers, we really do need to talk about positive contributions that cruise makes because sometimes, some people don’t know both how great it is as an experience or how responsible we are as an industry.”

Overcoming Barriers

Bottom line? “We believe that the more people understand about the positive contributions that cruise makes, the stronger the cruise community becomes, and the more your businesses will thrive,” Craighead told the advisors.

CLIA’s is creating a constructive environment for travel advisors and the industry to succeed. She notes: “We do this by speaking in one voice, providing fact-based data and getting all the information out to all the right stakeholders, whether that’s policy makers, whether it’s our friends in the ports and the destinations and communities, whether it’s the media or whether it’s all of you as part of our member community.”

Among those critical messages is the industry’s commitment to sustainability and to achieving net-zero carbon cruising by 2050. “Now, I know that some of you may wonder about the topic of sustainability …and ask, ‘How much do my clients want to know, how much do they need to know,'” Craighead said, adding that advisors may wonder if their clients really care about the issue when they’re making a choice about their vacation. In that matter, she was adamant: “Well, I’m here to tell you that this is an area that is worthy of you paying attention because there is no greater challenge facing our industry right now that will affect our greater collective future than this.”

Getting Behind CLIA

Logo welcoming travel advisors to 2023's Cruise360.
(Photo by Susan J. Young)

From Craighead’s perspective, “the reason this room is particularly important to us today is because we know all of you are on the front lines, dealing with consumers, and there is no better person to talk about the positive contributions of cruise than a cruiser.”

Seated in the audience listening to Craighead’s opening speech, Michelle Fee, founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, said the discussion “gave me pause. I’ve always appreciated the fact that the cruise lines have taken steps towards being environmentally responsible and investing in sustainable tourism.”

However, after listening to Craighead, “I realize that we, the travel community, must also get behind the efforts," Fee acknowledged. "We also need to tell this story to our customers. It shows that the cruise industry is leading the pack when it comes to the environment and sustainability.”

Craighead told the advisor audience that cruise lines are investing billions of dollars in new ships (14 arriving in 2023 alone) that field new technologies and are also looking for new, more eco-friendly fuels. The order book through 2026, shows that there are 62 new CLIA-member-line ships set to join the global fleet, a $40 billion investment from cruise lines. Many of the new ships have cutting-edge sustainability features.

“Together, they (cruise lines) are achieving real progress,” Craighead said, "and that’s the story that we’ll tell. Because, at the same time, they’re simultaneously working toward break-throughs that will be very relevant tomorrow. This is really great news.”

Complex Subject Matter

That said, the subjects can be complex. “Most of us don’t need to know all the details, but we do need to know some of it,” Craighead added. “So, as you go about your work this week, and in the weeks and years ahead, it’s important for us that you know that CLIA is here as a resource for you.”

Getting the information needed is important, she added, urging advisors to go to CLIA’s website,, and check out the research section. 

CLIA also recently launched an interactive stakeholder tool kit that provides lots of information for communities where cruise ships call. The kit explains where ships are sailing and about the ships themselves. That stakeholder kit comes in six different languages. “It really is a great kind of basic set of information about how the ship operates and it provides a lot of positive stories about the contributions to the community,” Craighead said.

In addition, “we’re launching a new video series that’s available on demand that allows both me and our Global Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago to be able to speak more directly and more regularly with you” about any issues confronting the industry," she added. “Because we believe the more we’re all in the know, and the more that we can be aligned in our messaging and the more that we can tell the positive story of cruising, the better the industry will be, the better each of us will be and the stronger each of your business efforts will be.”

A Thriving Travel Trade

“Probably most important to this room is that we represent all of you—a very thriving travel trade community," Craighead explained. For her, it's a point of pride that CLIA’s travel trade membership grows year over year. Of all the work CLIA does, Craighead noted that the organization is pleased to have "strong travel advisors which, in turn, creates satisfied cruisers." She revealed that 57 percent of this year’s Cruise360 conference attendees are either CLIA-certified or on a path to being certified. “Being certified certainly adds to your credibility and absolutely strengthens the industry,” she believes. 

“Cruise travel—and we can’t make too little of this—also introduces people to people and places, which ultimately allows them to know each other better and creates greater cultural appreciation,” said Craighead. One of the most interesting stats that CLIA research shows is that nearly 60 percent of visitors who visit a destination for the first time on a cruise come back for a longer land vacation, which extends the entire experience further.

Advisors wait outside the ballroom at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center -- ready to enter for the start of Cruise360.
A crowd of travel advisors and trade and cruise line personnel await opening of the doors to Cruise360 on Wednesday. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

“And we know that all of you in this room are going to be the ones that make this happen as we move forward in tracking a new wave of first-time cruisers, which is essential for us to be able to succeed in our ambitious plans.”

Propensity to Cruise

CLIA’s international research shows that 85 percent of those who have cruised before intend to cruise again, up 6 percent from 2019. Even among those who have never cruised, the number who are interested in taking a cruise is higher now than it was in both 2018 and 2019.  Millennials are most enthusiastic; CLIA says that 88 percent of past Millennial cruisers plan to cruise again, higher than the percentage for either Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Craighead also told the audience about the broadening cruise marketplace—not only with mainstream ocean lines but also luxury operators, expedition ships, river cruises and yacht-like experiences.

“Expedition, river and yacht-like experiences used to be considered niche products...but not anymore,” she explained. “I’ll tell you these products are hot, hot, hot.”

New, longer voyages are also attracting even more guests. With the rise of remote work and people’s desire to travel, Craighead says that it’s no surprise that sailings longer than 21 days are expanding and selling out quickly. She added that those offer advisors stronger commissions.

Over the last few years, Craighead said the organization talked a lot about resilience and determination in the face of enormous challenges. Now, she said: “All of your hard work and dedication is paying off…Cruising is back, and we are absolutely sailing toward a brighter future.”

Challenges Await

That said, “our smooth sailing isn’t assured,” Craighead concluded. “We have real challenges in front of us—some, in fact, of the biggest challenges that we’ve seen even in light of the last couple of years.”

So, for cruise as a vacation choice to continue to grow, and for it to continue to be the best way to see the world, “we all need to work together," she emphasized. "We need to share as many positive stories about the positive contributions of cruise as we possibly can.” And, most importantly, “hear that we welcome you to join us in being able to tell these positive stories to your friends, to your family, to your clients and ultimately just know CLIA is here as a resource for you in any way that you may need us to be.”

For more from Cruise360 stay tuned Friday and Monday.

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