A Chat With Cindy D'Aoust, As CLIA Prepares for cruise3sixty

 

CLIA's global fleet plies oceans throughout the world. Here a ship docks at Vancouver's Canada Place cruise terminal. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Cruise3sixty, the annual training and educational conference created by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), gets under way later this month in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Approximately 1,200 agents are expected to attend.

It’s also CLIA’s 40th anniversary year. Four decades ago, three cruise groups met in New York to see if they could work together to promote cruising as a vacation choice. Pre-Love Boat,” consumers simply didn’t know what cruising as a vacation was all about. Even the cruise groups themselves didn’t exactly have the same mindset about that. 

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But somehow it came together. Today, CLIA is a global organization, a cruise line trade association and the world’s largest travel agency group. See our 40th anniversary cover story in this week's print issue of Travel Agent magazine. The cover story outlines some of the industry trends and issues expected to be on the minds of agents at cruise3sixty.

Plus, the cover story features historical perspective from Rod McLeod, CLIA's chairman in the early 1980s and early 1990s, and other industry veterans.  

We recently chatted with both Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA's new executive vice president of membership and operations, and Charles Sylvia, the association's vice president of membership.

D’Aoust is running CLIA day-to-day while Adam Goldstein, chairman of CLIA, and the search committee interview potential replacements for Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO; she left the organization for Carnival Cruise Lines last December.

In other recent developments, CLIA also recently closed its Fort Lauderdale office, consolidating those functions within the Washington D.C. office

Here's a look at a portion of our conversation with D'Aoust. More of this interview as well as one with Sylvia will be featured in upcoming stories on TravelAgentCentral.com.  

In your few months on the job, what have you learned about CLIA that you hadn’t expected?

"I won’t say that I learned something different, but what it confirmed for me (that I was hopeful about) is that there are tremendous opportunities to collaborate with other industry associations --- professional sister associations -- that can bring our communities together and increase the level of professionalism of our industry.

"I also learned that we really have an opportunity to re-focus on our agent community and enhance the relationship on our deliverables with agents and agencies. And to that end, what I’m hearing from our members, whether they are agents or agencies, is that this is such a great opportunity to deliver enhanced education for the community – beyond product training and ‘how to sell cruises’ -- to help them be successful in their individual careers."

For example, D'Aoust says CLIA will help agents with the following: "How to use tools like social media to create communities? How to market themselves? Things like that. What is really exciting is that so many of the agencies are developing education and CLIA can now form a very complementary set of products and we can just come together in a better way for our agents to help them be successful."

How is the consolidation effort going?

"For all intents and purposes, we are consolidated [the final transition was April 1]. We have people that are going to stay with us through the end of April because we’d like them to have the opportunity at our cruise3sixty to have a final interaction with people they’ve known and worked with for years.

Some of the folks [formerly in the Fort Lauderdale office] will also still be helping us with training and other functions."

What’s your vision for CLIA? Where should it be in five years?

"It’s so hard for anyone – given the pace of change – to get too specific, but what’s exciting is that the mission for CLIA can remain very, very consistent. It’s how we deliver it that will be different [in the future].

I believe that our vision, our mission, is that we want more people...we want to support the cruise industry. For me it is by creating awareness, education and advocating. On the other side, it’s helping put people on cruises by helping agents be more successful.

It’s connecting with the cruise lines to provide them with feedback from the community. It’s working with consumers and bringing that group together. It’s raising the level of professionalism of the agents.

Yet, I also believe the big, big opportunity that CLIA has – and it’s our responsibility -- is to help build the pipeline of new talent into the industry."

What does it take to achieve that pipeline of new talent?

"How do we work with colleges and universities to ensure that? Through educational opportunities and awareness of professional career opportunities, we’re helping to refresh that pipeline of talent into the industry.

To me none of that really changes [whether it's today or five years from now]. It’s the 'how we do it' that will always evolve. It’s about how we incorporate digital and social media, face-to-face, partnerships with different universities and partnerships with associations. To me, that’s what will always continue to evolve.

The [need for new talent] isn’t unique to the travel agent industry. When I talk about [my background] coming from Meeting Professionals International, I would say there are more similarities than there are differences in our community. And that’s the struggle that most of these groups face.

As an association, we need to look at the value proposition that we deliver to all of our constituents, because candidly people pay to be a member of our club. We need to assure we are delivering value as the times and the landscape change."

CLIA has become a much more global organization over the past two years. Where do you go from here?

"I don’t think we can overstate the value that Christine made over the last few years to create that global framework and establishing ‘one industry, one voice.’ And other segments of our industry are still trying to achieve that.

Where we are right now? The framework has been built. The organization is in place. As with any global organization, we need to continue to evolve, invest in that and make sure that as we operate, we [also achieve a balance]. We need to be a global organization when it makes sense, but also allow for market flexibility as it’s appropriate.

You never want to lose sensitivities or the nuances to the local market. So it is that balancing act of trying to create the greater value where it is appropriate -- to be global but also to recognize you need flexibility."

Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for more of our discussions with both D'Aoust and Sylvia in upcoming stories this month. 

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