|CLIA Global President and CEO Christine Duffy: “100 percent” committed to North American travel agent members.|
The success of Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) evolution starts with the numbers. In 2012, CLIA had only 26 cruise line members. Today, following its move toward an increasingly global and singular voice for the industry, it has nearly 60 member lines.
In 2000, CLIA-member lines carried 7.2 million guests, 91 percent of them sourced from North America, while the 2013 forecast is for 17.6 million guests, with 67 percent from North America. In total, more than 20 million passengers worldwide will sail on all lines.
“Globalization makes CLIA more attractive in many ways to partners, whether they’re cruise line members or travel industry partners,” stresses Christine Duffy, CLIA Global’s president and CEO. More than 40,000 individual travel advisors employed by 11,000 travel agencies are CLIA members, and that will grow as agents in the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries join CLIA.
But is globalization really good for North American agents? “The globalization of CLIA is a positive step as cruising is truly a global industry—both in where customers originate from and where they travel to,” says Brad Tolkin, co-chairman and CEO, World Travel Holdings, parent of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. Since CLIA is embraced by both the agency distribution system and cruise ship companies, he believes “its worldwide presence will have a great impact on all issues and opportunities.”
John Lovell, president, Vacation.com, a Travel Leaders Group company, also sees CLIA’s globalization as a plus for the cruise industry and the travel distribution channel. “It is our hope that CLIA can foster standardized safety and regulatory rules across all cruise lines,” he stresses. “Safety of our mutual clients needs to be the top priority of the cruise industry and CLIA can help in that process.”
Observing CLIA from a leadership perch over the years has been Mark Conroy, former president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, former CLIA chairman between 2001 and 2004 and now a principal at Mark S. Conroy and Associates. After 9/11, Conroy says he and other cruise executives bantered around the idea of merging CLIA, the cruise industry’s marketing arm, with the International Council of Cruise Lines or ICCL, its regulatory/lobbying group.
While initially perceived as “a bridge too far,” that merger did occur in 2006, a major, proactive step for CLIA in becoming a bigger “umbrella” organization. Similarly, after CLIA and the industry were buffeted by regulatory and safety challenges following Costa Concordia’s accident in Italy last year, Duffy and CLIA’s cruise line members sought to extend CLIA’s reach across the world—so the industry could better speak with one global voice.
More Ships and Beds Worldwide
More capacity means a bigger global footprint. In 2012, the CLIA member lines fielded 342,155 beds on 221 ships, and by 2015 those numbers will rise to 378,256 beds on 239 ships. This year more than 34 percent of CLIA line capacity is positioned in the Caribbean/Bahamas, 22 percent in the Mediterranean, 11 percent elsewhere in Europe, 5 percent in Australia/New Zealand/Pacific, 5 percent in Alaska, 4 percent in South America, 3 percent in Asia and nearly 16 percent from other destinations.
“It makes no sense to have an organization only active in North America,” says Conroy. “We’re a global business, not a single entity. There is not a single major cruise line that doesn’t do at least 20 percent of its business outside the U.S.” Some do much more.
Multiple cruise associations around the world have now come together under a common, unified CLIA Global structure with one voice. These include the European Cruise Council, Asia Cruise Association, Passenger Shipping Association, France’s AFCC, Brazil’s ABREMAR, North West and Canada Cruise Association, Alaska Cruise Association and International Cruise Council Australasia.
This year several regional CLIA groups also began providing European resources under the new CLIA Global structure; CLIA Netherlands and CLIA Germany were added earlier this year. CLIA Global is now governed by a Global Executive Committee, currently chaired by Howard Frank, vice chairman and COO, Carnival Corporation.
Historically, CLIA has represented more than 90 percent of the world’s cruise capacity, and now appeals to niche and river lines as well. Tauck River Cruising joined CLIA North America in January as part of the organization’s Specialty Cruise Collection, a mix of niche, river and small ship lines. “We’ve really made an effort to segment a portion of our cruise line members,” notes Duffy who says CLIA has a vested interest in getting those niche oceangoing, river and luxury lines in front of the North American market. “The travel agency community is primed for that,” she adds.
In a sign of the times, two niche lines from Asia and Australia recently called Duffy inquiring about CLIA membership. Some small ship lines including Viking River Cruises choose to participate in regional groups such as CLIA Australasia.
Lovell believes “CLIA should have a bright future provided they can balance the needs of both constituencies [cruise lines and agents]. CLIA needs to make sure they are fighting for the long-term economic viability of the distribution channel, not just the viability of the cruise lines,” but he adds that both must flourish for the success of either, as they are intertwined.
What emerging customer markets is CLIA targeting? “Obviously Brazil is an important emerging market for the cruise industry,” Duffy acknowledges. She also cites Russia, Mexico and, over the long term, Asia, as good potential source markets. Costa Cruises says it will offer the industry’s first-ever roundtrip world cruise from China, sailing from Shanghai on March 22, 2014.
In a CLIA survey earlier this year 85.3 percent of agents, mostly from North America, believe cruise sales in 2013 will be as good or better than 2012; 38 percent believe 2013 will be better and 18.6 percent say 2013 will be their best year ever. Will North American agents be overlooked with a globalized approach? Absolutely not, says Duffy: “CLIA is 100 percent committed to North America and our North American travel agent members.”
|cruise3sixty will be held at the waterfront Vancouver Convention Centre, with ship inspections at the adjacent Cruise Ship Terminal.|
cruise3sixty and Beyond
Worldwide, CLIA will deliver travel agent services and training either directly or via licensing agreements with other travel partners. More than 1,250 travel advisors will attend this year’s cruise3sixty, CLIA’s annual conference on June 19-23 in Vancouver, BC, with 10 ships available for inspection. Forty-six percent of the attendees will be Canadian, and agents from all 50 U.S. states will participate. Forty agents are expected from Australia.
“For agents, CLIA runs great training programs and trade shows,” says Tolkin. “The content for both is phenomenal.” CLIA is committed to cruise3sixty, but is also now assisting agents with shorter training programs, some offering virtual ship inspections. “We want to offer shorter segments if they can’t make the time,” Duffy says.
Tolkin also says that with globalization, more agents will tap into the trade group’s training, providing more industry revenue, which could help CLIA expand the number of agency training programs. CLIA UK & Ireland are putting on their own version of a “river cruise3sixty” sometime this fall in Germany; North American agents will be encouraged to attend, says Duffy.
Trendwise, river cruising is hot, with 77.2 percent of agents in the CLIA survey identifying specialty cruising as a growing sales opportunity. Serving as godmother for AmaWaterways’ Ama
Certo last year, Duffy personally understands the draw. River destinations are close to the ship; clients just walk off and explore. Vessels are also typically smaller than most ocean ships. "The ship is less the destination and the river is more the destination," Duffy says. "The ability to see the destination from the river is a very different experience." And for veteran river cruisers, ships on the Mekong, within the Okavango Delta and elsewhere await.
On the ocean side, Duffy identifies “a higher level of onboard dining and entertainment” as one robust trend. That encompasses culinary cruises, celebrity chef involvement, reality television offerings such as Holland America’s “Dancing with the Stars” and other branded experiences. She stresses that cruise line innovations aren’t just for new ships, but are being added on refurbished vessels too.
Yet, despite cruising’s high guest satisfaction, the trick is to find more first-timers. “Themed cruises have become the best way to get first-timers to take a cruise,” Duffy imparts. The scope of themed choices is mind boggling. For instance, a “Wholly Genes” Genealogy Conference onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Grandeur of the Seas sails October 17 from Baltimore.
With ocean cruising, people love the destination experiences but the ship is also a destination. Duffy says that “feeds the trend of multigenerational travel and that is what continues to drive the popularity of cruising.” And multigenerational cruising isn’t solely in the Caribbean; people are heading to Australia or Europe together, too.
With an average annual passenger growth rate of 7.2 percent since 1980, CLIA member lines are pushing for more sales from skilled agents who can help consumers navigate through myriad choices. One perspective? “The cruise industry is too small to prosper without an agency distribution system and cruising is too popular for the agency system to not love selling this great product,” Tolkin says.
More than 20,000 travel agents have achieved Certified Cruise Counselor status with CLIA; multiple levels reflect training and experience. These include Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC); Master Cruise Counselor (MCC); Elite Cruise Counselor (ECC); Elite Cruise Counselor Scholar (ECCS); CLIA Luxury Cruise Specialist (LCS); and Accredited Cruise Manager (ACM).
With CLIA’s TrainingFest, North American agents with less time can complete four classroom courses at a time. Duffy says this year the organization is launching a new series of CLIA regional events in place of TrainingFest called the cruisExcellence series, designed for agents not geographically close to port cities. Agents receive a series of courses and virtual ship inspections.
On the Horizon
In the future, Duffy says, CLIA plans a new focus for managing events and group travel. “That’s another big trend in [CLIA’s efforts] to get out in front,” she says, noting that “meetings are a huge opportunity.” While CLIA previously had a group sales training course, the newly updated version of that will outline the latest trends in group sales and add training about financial planning and budgeting for selling groups and managing the same. Another new course focuses on romance and will debut at cruise3sixty.
CLIA is also making a major investment in a new technology platform; it will launch this month. Ongoing is a continuing effort to educate the public about the benefits of a cruise vacation and that the absolute best way to book that is through a travel agent, Duffy says. Unfortunately, many still don't "get" what a travel agent is and does.
It’s an issue every agency leader, cruise executive and travel industry leader continues to wrestle with, Duffy acknowledges. “We’re still struggling to figure out how to move the needle.” Over the years CLIA has worked with ASTA and tried to engage industry leaders but more is needed, she says: “We are just as committed as ever…but I think it’s going to take a coalition of everyone working together to have the kind of impact the profession needs.”
One challenge is to attract both younger agents and younger clients. In Australia, people view travel as a profession and positive career choice when they’re in their 20s.
“We have to figure out how to do the same thing elsewhere,” notes Duffy. Yet, with globalization comes complexity. “Outside of the U.S., the agent’s role is seen differently,” Duffy says. Travel agents are more closely aligned with suppliers.
To reach a younger, more diverse audience, CLIA recently introduced Cruise Industry TV at www.youtube.com/cruiseindustrytv with three YouTube channels streaming visually compelling content about cruising. It’s also hopped on the social networking bandwagon. Agents might follow Duffy (@CLIACEO) on Twitter.
While Lovell praised CLIA’s sizable efforts on behalf of National Cruise Vacation Week, helping drive more first-timers onto ships, he also has a request: “It is our hope that CLIA can help the cruise lines understand that we all operate in a truly global market. As such, cruise lines need to recognize that borders don’t stop people from doing business with those they trust and engage with.” Some lines inhibit or don’t allow sales by U.S. agents to consumers based in other countries.
“Globalization of any product should not limit one’s earning capability; rather it should open up a better customer buying experience. All agents should be compensated for their service, regardless of where a client lives at any given moment, or what passport they carry,” notes Lovell. He says CLIA should be out in front on the issue.
Operationally, it’s been a challenging 18 months for CLIA, starting with the Costa Concordia accident in January 2012. The investigation into that accident, Congressional hearings and then Carnival Triumph’s difficulties all created a negative focus on the industry. Some officials perceived a “lack of” safety and regulatory checks, despite the fact that a typical cruise ship undergoes more than 60 safety, environmental and health inspections annually.
Improving Care and Comfort
Ten new operational and safety policies were approved by the CLIA board in late 2012 and implemented across member lines’ fleets. Members too are now committed to conducting risk assessment evaluations and taking action to improve redundancies and preparedness. Duffy says they’re also asking themselves, “How do we continuously improve, especially in the area of passenger care and comfort?” Carnival Cruise Lines has initiated a $300 million fleetwide program to retrofit its ships with additional emergency power generating systems and equipment, and has added an internal safety and reliability review board.
Still, agents, cruise executives and even CLIA itself say more can and will be done. Tolkin would like to see the industry speak “more harmoniously” when confronted with challenges and presented with opportunities. To help in that regard, CLIA recently established CruiseForward (www.cruiseforward.org) to help communicate about the industry’s operational, charitable, environmental and global social responsiveness and provide details on issues like port infrastructure and safety.
What’s Duffy’s biggest challenge? “This year, my focus in particular is global implementation—working with all the associations under the CLIA umbrella,” she says. It’s a long way from her first travel industry job—selling travel at a brick-and-mortar agency on Philadelphia’s Walnut Street in the 1980s. “It was dynamic and busy,” she says. “Center city on Walnut Street was ‘travel agency row.’ ”
But some things haven’t changed, she says. Back then, she learned a big trip is a big investment with lots of coordination and details to be handled by an agent, who can do it best. “I believe the value is there,” says Duffy. “What’s missing is that we need to figure out how to tell the story and help consumers understand the value and benefit.”
It’s all about educating the public about an agent’s value and the industry’s economic drivers. The cruise industry generated more than $40 billion in total economic activity for the U.S. economy in 2011 (the most recent reporting year available) including 350,000 jobs paying $16.5 billion in wages to American workers.
Still, it’s been a challenging era. “Christine is very qualified to lead CLIA,” Tolkin stresses, but he says that “due to the unfair assault on the cruise industry [post-Concordia], one person and one organization can take the lead, but it takes the whole industry—agents, cruise ship companies and CLIA—to tout the value of cruising, the phenomenal product, the repeat rate which speaks for very high customer satisfaction and the incredible safety record.”
|Christine Duffy, godmother of AmaWaterways’ AmaCerto, notes that most CLIA agents see river cruising as a growing sales opportunity.|