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The Cruise Lines International Association's Cruise360 conference got underway Wednesday at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. The lineup (taking place through April 23) includes CLIA seminars, general sessions, cruise line showcases, an all-day CLIA marketplace and several days of ship inspections.
The Hall of Fame Awards Dinner-an event highlight-takes place on Thursday.
TravelPulse is on hand at the conference, CLIA's biggest professional development event of the year. Things kicked off in earnest Wednesday afternoon with the traditional opening general session and luncheon. At its centerpiece was The Presidents Panel, a lively discussion on the state of the industry and role of the agent therein.
Participants included Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International; Rick Sasso, chairman of MSC Cruises USA; Orlando Ashford, president, Holland America Line; Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO, Celebrity Cruises; and Josh Liebowitz, chief strategy officer for Carnival Corp. and senior vice president, Cunard North America.
Overall, the general consensus is that business is strong, and agents remain in good stead. But, neither lines nor agents can afford to be complacent.
"A lot of ships are coming out this year. And next year, we'll see the most capacity that's ever entered the market. So, it's incumbent on everyone here to truly understand each brand, know what they're about. That's how you can match the right guests for the right brand," Lutoff-Perlo said.
Deciding which brand is right for clients depends on a number of factors. At Royal Caribbean International, it's all about delivering a great vacation, said Bayley.
"Our focus is on family and multi-generational travel. I've just come off Symphony of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, which is our flagship," he said. "We don't take ourselves too seriously. That's been in our DNA since the beginning of Royal Caribbean. We stay focused on innovation, creativity and fun."
MSC's Sasso, by contrast, emphasized the line's impressive growth.
"All of us have to thank all of you, because as we kept adding ships, you kept adding new customers. We've only been doing this for 14 years and have the fastest-growing line in the history of cruising," Sasso said. "We've all hear the expression, 'If it's not broken don't fix it.' We say, 'If it's not broken, make it better.' The types of ships we're designing and delivering have different platforms to address what cruising is going to be like for the next 20 years."
Innovation is crucial to consumer satisfaction, said Lutoff-Perlo.
"The more we can do unique things, the better we are. My biggest frustration is the copying that goes on in the industry. I don't think it's good for any of us. And, it just confuses the consumer in an industry that has a long way to go," she noted.
Ashford chimed in that it's healthy for each line to focus on what it does really well. But ultimately, he said, "We need to make sure that we're delivering the right message to compete against land-based vacations."
The discussion was not without some levity.
"Today is the 145th-year anniversary of Holland America Line. Any organization doing something for that long is doing something right," Ashford said.
"We want to congratulate Holland America for 145 years. We're going to celebrate 178," Cunard's Liebowitz quipped.
Ana Figueroa is a veteran travel industry writer based in Los Angeles. She's a former contributing editor for Travel Agent...
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