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The music pulsated. Bold graphics, videos and multi-colored
lights flashed against the high-tech backdrop, and the audience
roared with applause, at times jumping out of their seats in
Another big-ticket Vegas act?
No. Another travel agent trade show. But this was no ordinary
gathering. It was Cruise3Sixty, the second annual Cruise Lines
International Association (CLIA) “global travel agent cruise
event,” held at the Greater Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County
Convention Center April 8-11. As anyone there will attest, CLIA put
on a show that was motivational, inspirational and educational,
with attendance exceeding all expectations (1,600 in total; 1,150
of which were travel agents).
Not bad for an organization not traditionally known for its
“wow” factor. Established in 1975, the New York-based CLIA for
years was looked upon “as a puppet of the cruise lines,” said Gary
Pollard, owner of Ambassador Tours, Inc. in San Francisco, and a
member of CLIA’s Travel Agent Advisory Board (TAAB).
But that was then. Now, says Pollard, times have changed.
“I like to use Carnival Cruise Lines as a good analogy for
CLIA,” said Pollard. “Back when CLIA began, Carnival was known just
as a party-ship line. But Carnival finally grew up. They’ve
matured. CLIA is evolving in the same fashion. It’s taken them a
while, but they’re getting more respect.”
CLIA’s sheer numbers alone are enough to warrant respect. The
largest travel industry association in North America, its 20
cruise-line members represent 97 percent of cruise bookings
marketed in North America. With nearly 17,000 travel agency
members, it’s also the largest travel agent association in North
Although CLIA’s mandate promoting cruise vacations is
straightforward on its face, executing that mandate requires as
much flexibility as the new Cirque du Soleil performers on
Celebrity Cruises. Not only does CLIA simultaneously represent both
suppliers (cruise lines) and distributors (travel agents), but
those suppliers are in fierce competition with each other, and the
distributors are going through their own sea changes when it comes
to the way they do business. All this makes for a cruise industry
where the stakes are higher than ever before, and certainly one
that is larger and more complex than anyone could have imagined
back in 1975.
CLIA chairman Andy Stuart, executive vice president of
marketing, sales and passenger services for NCL Corporation, sums
it up well.
“When you’re serving so many masters, whether those masters are
the cruise lines or travel agents, you either fade into oblivion or
you do a bloody good job,” Stuart said.
Focus on Agents
CLIA, of course, is well known for its agent training programs,
which now offer three different certifications: Accredited Cruise
Counselor (ACC) Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) and Elite Cruise
Counselor (ECC). A new designation, called Luxury Cruise
Specialist, will be available in 2007.
“Our biggest audience is the travel agent, and our biggest role
is to make sure agents are as well informed as humanly possible so
they can spread the good word about cruising,” said Stuart. “My
view is that the best training in the travel industry is being
conducted by CLIA. We have over 13,000 credited cruise counselors
who have gone through some level of training with us.”
In addition to the constantly evolving training programs, CLIA
serves as a clearinghouse for extensive market research and other
data, all of which are valuable resources for agents, as well as
the media and others seeking the latest information about the
At the same time, CLIA also reaches out to consumers, with video
news releases, public service announcements and yearly events, such
as “World’s Largest Cruise Night.” The latter is one of many
innovations produced under the tenure of CLIA president and CEO,
Terry L. Dale.
Dale had never been on a cruise ship when he left his position
as executive vice president of New York City’s convention and
visitor’s bureau to run CLIA in 2003. Ebullient, wiry, with the
stage presence and charisma of a TV talk-show host; Dale’s
enthusiasm is perfect for inspiring travel agents. And his business
savvy has impressed cruise industry bigwigs, as well.
“He’s an absolute dynamo,” said Stuart.
There’s no doubt that Dale, who is fond of expressions such as
“thinking upside down and sideways,” is intent on doing things
differently. Agents such as Sharon Hathaway, product manager for
Automobile Club of Southern California (and a TAAB member), say
there’s been a discernable difference in CLIA since Dale came
“I’ve been in the industry since CLIA was first formed, and I’ve
seen a lot of changes just in the last few years,” she said.
“They’re doing a much better job at representing the cruise
vacation experience as a whole. It’s a big order, but I feel they
have gotten on track. They’re taking more proactive steps, year
For Dale, being proactive is a no-brainer.
“From the time I came to CLIA, I’ve felt an obligation to
reflect the kind of innovation that the cruise lines are delivering
to consumers,” he said.
One of Dale’s stated goals is to “rethink education and the way
CLIA approaches agents.”
Sometimes, Dale’s ideas stir things up. At the recent
Cruise3Sixty, Dale masterminded a general session with a “Consumer
Town Hall” panel. The panel consisted of ordinary citizens that had
never cruised before. Led by CLIA consultant, Dr. Marc Mancini, the
group shared its thoughts about cruising, travel agents and the
Internet. The results weren’t necessarily pretty, but they did
provide an object lesson in the misconceptions about cruising that
still abound in the public at large. If there was one message
agents heard again and again at the conference, it’s that they are
on the front lines when it comes to correcting those
An Expanding Market
The good news is that cruising is still very much in the
expansion mode. According to CLIA’s 2006 Market Profile Study,
released at Cruise3Sixty, the number of persons expected to cruise
this year will increase by 500,000 over last year, to 11.7 million.
The shipbuilding boom continues, with 25 new ships on order,
totaling 71,000 berths for delivery through 2009, at an investment
of more than $14.3 billion.
There were other bright spots in the Market Profile Study, as
well. For example, the average age of all cruise vacationers is
down to 49, and cruisers are still much more likely to use a travel
agent than land-based vacationers. But with only 17 percent of the
public ever experiencing a cruise, there’s a lot of outreach needed
to get to the estimated “core market” of 127 million future cruise
prospects. Industry leaders, such as Carnival Cruise Lines
president and CEO Bob Dickinson, emphasized at Cruise3Sixty that
attracting first-time passengers, instead of simply reaching out to
past cruise guests, is essential if the industry hopes to keep up
its growth rate.
For his part, Dale is determined to develop more programs to
help agents reach that untapped cruise market. A yearlong campaign,
“CLIA Means Business,” concentrates on business strategies, such as
how to use marketing and technology to make agents more
“We have to evolve along with the distribution system. It’s
crucial to make sure we’re relevant among all these different
distribution channels,” said Dale.
Those channels now include more home-based agents. In fact, 50
percent of CLIA member agents are now home-based, said Robert
Sharak, CLIA executive vice president and CMO. Another 33 percent
are storefront, and 17 percent are retail, though not
Debbie Williams of Near and Far Travel is an independent agent
of Joystar, working out of her Florida home.
“I really depend on CLIA for education and training, and I
thought Cruise3Sixty was wonderful,” said Williams. “It was the
first time I was at an event with such a large group of my fellow
agents. I was so amazed to see all the industry executives there.
It was a real networking opportunity.”
Obviously, that kind of praise is music to Dale’s ears. But
there are still some agency owners, managers and top producers who
question CLIA’s relevance.
“CLIA presents a good baseline resource ... But, it is only one
of many resources that we utilize,” observes Hathaway from the
Ambassador Tours’ Pollard is a little more blunt.
“Consumers don’t understand where CLIA fits into the picture, so
it doesn’t mean anything to them to see the CLIA certifications
behind an agent’s name,” he said. “And it doesn’t get me more
commissions. So, lots of travel agents still don’t understand how
they benefit from CLIA.”
Dale, of course, is hoping to change that kind of attitude.
“If agents join and then don’t take advantage of everything CLIA
is doing right now, I think they’re making a mistake,” he said.
“Obviously, our goal is to not only grow the membership, but to
have an engaged membership of professional agents that continues to
All Dale promises is that he and the rest of the organization
are up to the challenge.
“We will always be looking for more interesting and exciting
ideas to engage travel agents in CLIA,” he said.
Membership: 20 cruise lines representing the
majority of cruise capacity marketed in North America:
American Cruise Lines
Carnival Cruise Lines
Disney Cruise Line
Holland America Line
Norwegian Coastal Voyage, Inc.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Royal Caribbean International
Seabourn Cruise Line
Terry L. Dale, president and chief executive
officerRobert Sharak, executive vice president and chief
marketing officerThomas Cogan, director of trainingRobert Fuller, director, finance and
administrationBrian Major, director of public relations
Function: To promote the benefits of cruising
to travel agents and consumers through travel agent training,
public relations and promotion. In other words, to raise awareness
about the cruise experience.
Cruise Lines International Association
80 Broad St.
New York, NY 10004
Micky Arison, Chairman and CEO of Carnival
“Clearly travel agents have represented 90-plus percent of our
business forever, whether you call them Internet, home-based or
It doesn’t matter. They’ve been the key backbone to our
distribution. We see that as the way of the future as well. And
we’re gong to support whatever way that distribution adjusts.
“The pace that you’re seeing in 2006, 2007 and 2008 will
continue in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The reality is the pace of growth
I think is very sustainable, and I think most executives in the
larger cruise companies feel the same way.”
Gregg Michel, President and COO of Crystal
“We’re still planning on building a new ship.
We have a new-ship-building committee. I have met and continue
to meet with yards. There definitely is a vision out there for a
new ship. Today we have 2,000 berths in the luxury cruise market,
and with the baby boomers coming into what we believe is the luxury
market, we feel there’s growth to be had there.”
Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean
“I’ve got huge numbers of e-mails and letters from travel agents
saying we need to do a better job in getting out the message about
how safe, how environmentally friendly and how secure cruises are.
The key to that has always been and continues to be the travel
agents themselves. We can do a lot. CLIA has done a great deal ...
I think we can continue to do that. But this is more evidence of
the importance of travel agents, because they do understand what
the business has done, and they can convey just how safe and secure
cruise vacations are.”
Bob Dickinson, President and CEO of Carnival Cruise
“There are all kinds of ways to get the cruise business. Viva la
difference! If it’s Edna’s Cruise and Pizza Parlor, let’s bring on
the business. We don’t care where it comes from. But at the end of
the day, you need knowledgeable people that know the product; that
are enthusiastic; that love what they’re doing because they’re
giving people great vacations.”
Rick Sasso, President and CEO of MSC
“If you had asked me 30 years ago if executives in the various
cruise lines paid a lot of attention to environment and safety and
all those issues, the answer would probably have been no. But if
you asked me in the last 10 years, I think the industry has spent
not only an enormous amount of money, but the entire executive core
of every cruise line spends a great deal of time and professional
energy making sure that the ships are the safest on the planet,
that cruise ships are the safest place to be on a vacation and that
the environment is a priority in every corner in every office in
every cruise line.”