CLIA: ‘We’re Making Significant Investments for Agents’
by  and  rew Sheivachman

This is the first of two parts.

In a turbulent year for the cruise industry, CLIA president and CEO Christine Duffy has presided over several significant initiatives – most visibly the Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights – as well as promising enhanced support for travel agents.

Duffy sat down with Travel Market Report in New York this week to discuss these and other issues. In a wide-ranging interview she defended the passenger bill of rights in the face of charges from U.S. legislators that it is toothless.

Christine Duffy

She also responded to accusations that CLIA fails to support travel agents. The conversation also touched on the globalization of cruise and of CLIA.

Some travel agents say CLIA represents the interests of the largest cruise lines and doesn’t care about agents anymore. How do you respond to that?
Duffy: I think people are always suspect of change. An organization like CLIA that’s been around since 1975 has made a lot of changes over time. Many of the people who were in leadership positions at CLIA [in the past] are at different organizations now. I think some of the feedback is people’s reaction to the unknown.

The proof will be in the pudding. We’re making significant investments for agents in technology and on our website.

We are telling consumers to consider CLIA agents when they’re booking a cruise. Cruise rookies are the ones we’ve got to attract, and we think CLIA agents can do the best job of pointing them to a cruise vacation.

While some people may perceive that the work CLIA is doing globally isn’t actually for them, I think the opposite. It is already a global industry, and the more we can galvanize the agent community the better.

What’s new from CLIA for travel agents?
Duffy: At cruise3sixty in Vancouver we continued to focus on the consumer messaging we do on the value of using a professional travel agent when considering a cruise. We have 21,000 CLIA-certified travel agents in the U.S., and we want to promote those agents who have made an investment in their professional development.

What’s new on the training and education front?
Duffy: Agents are not necessarily going to go to an event and spend a day with 80 other agents to get CLIA training anymore. Agents want to be able to access training online, for shorter periods of time. We have feedback from agents who say the virtual ship inspections are even better than the in-person inspections. We need to make certification less cumbersome than it is today.

At last week’s U.S. Senate hearings, senators charged that the Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights doesn’t actually hold cruise lines accountable to consumers.
Duffy: It is inaccurate to say that the Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights doesn’t mean anything. Many of our members were already doing these things. This sets a standard and an expectation.

There was a lot of discussion [at the hearing] about ticket contracts because we did not require all our members to change their contracts; that would have tremendously slowed down the process of getting the bill of rights completed.

The bill of rights now supersedes the ticket contract. It is legally enforceable, and some of our members may choose to revise the passenger ticket contract in the future.

What are your thoughts on how lawmakers are addressing cruise safety issues?
Duffy: There have been some inaccuracies reported, especially around the issue of crime reporting and the Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights. Both have been maligned [in the media and in Washington].

Sen. Begich [D-Alaska] pointed out that this [passenger bill of rights] is something the industry did on a voluntary basis very quickly following the proposal from Sen. Schumer [D-N.Y.]. I think the feedback we’ve heard from the agency community has been positive.

Do you see enhanced crime reporting as another major step toward transparency?
Duffy: I think the industry has been singled out [on crime]. There are legal and criminal penalties for under-reporting, and we’re not aware of any example when a crime was not reported since the CVSSA [Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010] was implemented.

Our three largest cruise line members, representing about 90% of the North American cruise market, will begin posting all allegations of crimes effective Aug. 1.

We’re the only industry we’re aware of that’s required to disclose this type of data, like alleged crimes. Our focus hasn’t been to make comparisons to other forms of travel, so we’re just going to put our data out.

Next time: Where CLIA stands on its new global structure, and details on cruise industry capacity growth.

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Tip of the Day
I learned a lot about better ways to market the product while I was onboard [the Viking Star]. The biggest challenge for travel agents is understanding which is the best line for each customer, being able to distinguish the products from one to the next.
John Werner, MAST Travel Network president
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