Duffy and Wall Talk CLIA's New Agent-Focused Executive Post

On January 30, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) named Dwain Wall to a new post as senior vice president of agency and trade relations. Wall most recently served as senior vice president and general manager of World Travel Holdings’ home-based division, comprised of the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. brands.

RELATED: Dwain Wall Joins CLIA as New SVP of Agency and Trade Relations

Is Wall a good fit? From one trade perspective, “Dwain will be a wonderful addition to CLIA's executive ranks,” said Amber Blecker, who worked with Wall as owner, CruiseOne, Aurora, CO. She said Wall’s extensive knowledge of all aspects of the trade, including retail, franchise and home-based operations, gives him unique understanding of the trade and agency relationships.

Dwain Wall at a recent conference
Dwain Wall, senior vice president of agency and trade relations, CLIA, at a 2012 conference

"He has personal understanding and experience from the individual agent level all the way up to the largest agency operations, so he can help guide CLIA's efforts to strengthen its ties with the agent selling community,” Blecker stressed, adding: "I can think of no one better suited for this role.”

Brian O’Connor, vice president of sales, Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) says the appointment is a “great move by CLIA.” He views Wall as an accomplished and respected professional who understands the needs and challenges of travel agents. “I can't think of anyone more qualified to deliver results in this role," said O'Connor. "I look forward to collaborating with him.”

Getting ready to leave for the first ever cruise3sixty conference in Sydney, Australia, Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO, talked with us one-on-one on the telephone about the appointment of Wall and what he brings to the table.

christine duffy
Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO

Supporting the Trade

Duffy said the new position was carved out to better support the North American trade as CLIA’s role with agents continues to evolve, just as the cruise industry itself has evolved over the years. “This really requires a senior executive who is focused on travel agency relations,” she said.

"It’s an ongoing evolution as to how do we really position and work so closely with agencies that CLIA continues to grow and continues [to stay] relevant,” said Duffy, noting that CLIA is the world’s largest travel agency membership organization.

“Things have certainly changed in the industry,” Duffy acknowledged, citing different types of agent training, more online work by agents, more home-based agents and more affiliations by agents with host networks or consortia. Keeping up with those types of changes and having dedicated a trade executive with Wall’s specific background at this level, “that’s part of how we need to evolve our value proposition,” she said.

She said CLIA must keep asking itself, “What is it that CLIA can really do that can empower agents and provide them with the kind of tools needed – beyond what it’s already doing today."

What does Wall himself hope to accomplish? While his first day on the job is February 3, “I can sum it up in one word – advocacy,” Wall told Travel Agent. “I’ve been a travel agent since 1980, either leading an organization or sitting in front of customers directly. What really intrigued me about this position is the opportunity to take the good work that CLIA has been doing for many years and take it to a new level in support of the travel agencies… and finding out what travel agents need to take it to a new place.”

Wall said he's observed a growing empowerment of the travel agent distribution system over the past few years. “I want to take advantage of that power that seems to be growing within the cruise industry to make sure agents have the tools they need to be as successful as they can possibly be," he said. "That’s it in a nutshell.”

Some of Wall’s new responsibilities were previously handled by Bob Sharak, the veteran CLIA executive who left the organization in late 2012. Currently, Sharak is a CLIA consultant and handles its market research. Duffy said some other of Sharak's responsibilities had been taken over by Margaret Murphy, CLIA’s senior vice president of strategic marketing, but those are also now also pulled into Wall’s new position.

“Margaret and Dwain and I have spent a lot of time together – talking about his role,” said Duffy, noting that Wall will work alongside Murphy, who will continue to have responsibility for CLIA’s travel agent education and certification programs, the North American Executive Partner program, and strategic marketing relationships and promotional activities for North America, including work with such partners as American Express, Starwood, Port Canaveral and others.

Murphy will also continue to be responsible for public relations management and will continue to handle promotions for National Cruise Cruise Vacation Week, cruise3sixty and other consumer campaigns.

Duffy acknowledged that for agents, Wall’s first-hand experience in agency operations, franchise development and host agency operations, is a huge plus, but she's even more impressed with his passion and commitment. “Since we announced this, I think everyone – whether on the agency or cruise line side -- has been extremely positive,” said Duffy.

Alan Rosenbaum, an agency owner, CruiseOne in Johns Creek, GA, noted that while people are extoling Wall for his knowledge of the industry, "that's true, but for me, I think his greatest strength is his management expertise.  In fact, I'm sure this new position at CLIA was crafted, at least in part, by Dwain himself."

Agents can expect to see Wall at cruise3sixty and other travel industry conferences. He'll have high visibility with the trade, particularly as Duffy’s role in the new global CLIA continues to expand. “Given the broad nature of the role that I have and with the globalization and spending time outside of North America, it’s important we have somebody focused [solely] on the North American market and the community of CLIA travel agents and agency members,” Duffy said.

RELATED: State of the Cruise Industry (VIDEO)

Prior to his work with CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. within the World Travel Holdings family of brands, Wall co-founded Grand Expeditions and helped develop national affiliate programs for Hotels.com. He also spent more than 10 years as a senior executive at Carlson Companies.

Wall said he wants travel agents to look at him in five years and, in answer to one question -- “Was he successful or not?” -- to respond as follows: "He’s been our advocate from day one. He listened to us. He delivered on promises he made to us. And he made sure we had the support we needed, the tools we needed and the services necessary to be successful.”

Michael Sinn, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Las Vegas NV, says of Wall, “I was impressed with him from day one. He knows how to connect with people. He’s warm, friendly and smart. CLIA was very wise to hire Dwain. He will do a fine job for them and the cruising community. He will be a great fit.”