360 Degrees of Success

CLIA Focuses on the future at the association's annual gathering

By: Kenneth Shapiro

The 1,200-plus attendees to CLIA’s Cruise3Sixty event in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., last week heard mostly positive news for agents. With a record number of cruisers last year the majority of which used a travel agent and 85 percent of the total U.S. popula-tion having never cruised, the potential cruise market has room for growth, and there is certainly cause for optimism. While the conference also explored some challenges agents face, through the seminars, panel discussions and trade show, they were given tools meant to help them sell more cruises.

The daily general sessions included panels with many of the industry’s top cruise executives from most of the major lines, in-cluding Princess, Oceania, Carnival, Celebrity, MSC, NCL, Costa, Regent Seven Seas, Cunard, Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and Windstar. While the panels featured some lively and not always genial exchanges between the executives, they also examined trends and chal-lenges in the industry.

One of the most thought-provoking and original panels included a group of seven consumers that have not taken a cruise before. The panelists’ opinions of cruising ranged from moderately interested to strongly opposed. Some of the guests were concerned about the safety of cruising, others were turned off by a negative image of cruisers. One consumer stunned the audience by saying that he felt he could do just as good as any agent by booking a cruise himself on the Internet.

“You are wrong,” Dr. Marc Mancini, one of the panel moderators, told him to the delight of the audience.

The following day, Terry Dale, president and CEO of CLIA, announced that CLIA would team each consumer from the panel with a travel agent and send the consumer on a cruise. Then the person could come back to next year’s conference and report on what they thought of the whole experience. It was yet another innovative way to help agents understand the challenges they face.

Emphasis on Education

One of CLIA’s main missions is educating agents so that they will be better at selling cruises. Beyond the panels with top industry execs, attendees were also able to attend educational seminars and a trade show.

The seminars were on subjects such as “Creating a Cruise Marketing Plan,” “Managing your Time Effectively” and “How to Find, Train, Motivate and Keep Your Employees.” The classes were lively and very well attended by agents.

The trade show had a wide variety of exhibitors that offered agents a great opportunity for mingling with bigwigs in the industry while taking home the latest materials. Also, some of the booths were just plain fun. One of the most popular was from Carnival, as they brought agents into their “Comfort Zone” booth for a free massage. Another unique giveaway was from the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. They were giving away beta fish in a plastic container suitable for the flight home.

Hall of Fame

A highlight of the week was the formal Hall of Fame dinner. At the event, Bob Dickinson, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, was inducted into CLIA’s Hall of Fame for his many years of service in the industry.

Another inductee was actor Gavin MacLeod who played Captain Stubing on the hugely popular TV show “The Love Boat.” The show, which became a staple of ’70’s television, had a major hand in popularizing the notion of cruising to U.S. consumers. After the show, continuing to this day, Macleod has had a long-standing relationship with Princess Cruises.

Finally, at the dinner the crowd was entertained by various performances by several entertainment acts that currently appear on several different cruise lines. Particular crowd favorites included, Cirque du Soleil (Celeb-rity) and the comedy improve group Second City (NCL), as well as a lavish finale from Disney Cruise lines.

In addition to everything else, Cruise3Sixty also offered agents product and destination workshops, cruise ship inspections and lots more. When the show was over, agents definitely left South Florida with plenty of information to help them sell cruising in the year ahead.