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The Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) 2022 Cruise360 conference began and continued with optimism this week on Tuesday, March 29th through Saturday, April 2nd, providing training for travel advisors on key skills, CLIA certification classes, destination and cruise line workshops as well as an update on cruising from key leaders in the industry.
Events included general sessions with leaders from CLIA's member cruise lines, workshops that provided updates on destinations ranging from Japan and Singapore to Barbados and the Dominican Republic, as well as training on skills from marketing and selling techniques to introductory courses on CLIA's member lines, which include Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings' brands, among others.
The event also provided an update on the state of the cruise industry during two general sessions that included speakers like Harry Sommer, President & CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, Nikki Upshaw, Senior Vice President, Sales for Oceania Cruises as well as Adolfo Perez, Senior Vice President of Global Sales & Marketing at Carnival Cruise Line, who also accepted this year's CLIA Cruise Hall of Fame 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony during the conference.
The leaders were unanimously optimistic about the future of the cruise industry.
Charles Sylvia ECC, Vice President, Industry and Trade Relations for CLIA and the host for the general sessions, declared the "renaissance of the travel advisor profession has begun!"
In fact, the event has seen many first-time attendees, including new-to-the-trade travel advisors Princess Shands and Darcy Solis.
Princess Shands, from Dinwiddie, Virginia, is the owner of Shands Happy Travels and is a member of InteleTravel. After starting her agency during the pandemic nearly one year ago as she continued with her career as an auditor for the federal government, Shands finds the learning experiences at Cruise360 rewarding: "The most rewarding thing is...just to be here and to be surrounded by the industry and learning so much about these cruise lines, things that weren't really in front of me at home."
Darcy Solis from San Antonio, Texas began her career as an independent agent only four months ago and is also a member of InteleTravel. She began looking into becoming a travel advisor after spending years planning travel for members of her family. "I did it for free for so many years!"
After applying to become a member of CLIA, she was notified about the event and decided to attend in order to get an introduction to the cruise industry.
There's reason to be optimistic about the future of the industry. On March 30, during the event, the CDC removed its Travel Health Notice for cruising after over two years of ranking on the list, which can be likened to the U.S. State Department's travel advisories.
President & CEO of CLIA, Kelly Craighead, was the first to applaud the news during the event: "As many of you know, the cruise industry in the United States went on a very long pause in March of 2020. And long after the world had started to reopen to cruising, with our cruise line leaders engaging experts in medicine and science to create protocols that were effective...the United States was still not operating…"
"If you haven't had the chance to see the news today, the Travel Health Notice warning people against cruising has been removed...And it's magnificent because it does level the playing field, it does start to treat us similarly with other venues on land, and that means game on."
According to Craighead, the U.S. cruising industry is a $5.5 billion industry and employs at least 350,000 Americans. Many cruise lines have spent the last two years innovating, choosing to commit to sustainability while also working to continue promoting their lines.
Nikki Upshaw, Senior Vice President, Sales for Oceania Cruises, mentioned two important things the cruise line has been preparing as it welcomes its entire fleet back into service this week; it's one of the many lines that announced this year would see their entire fleets enter service for the first time since the pandemic began.
"The first thing is that we realized we needed to invest more than ever in travel partner training, education and tools," said Upshaw during Cruise360's trade show. "So we spent a lot of time not just looking at how to create more opportunities to know Oceania, but how we can be better business partners to give them selling tips, business ideas, affinity group ideas…But we also have spent time on our brand."
"We have a new ship launching next year, Vista, and so [we're] thinking about how we make sure that Oceania Cruises stays true to the guests that have come to us again and again and again, but evolves with the guests that are now looking for a number of premium experiences."
The cruise line launched two new excursion types this past week as part of these new premium experiences, Go Green and Beyond Blueprints, which appeal to travelers interested in sustainability and architecture.
The optimism isn't only from cruise lines. Also represented at Cruise360 were destinations and their tourism organizations, such as Cruise Baltic, the Japan National Tourism Organization and Cruise Barbados.
Barbados is a great example of a destination that is optimistic about the restart to cruising. Like many others in the Caribbean, tourism is the island's main economic driver and as a result, it was hit very hard by the pandemic, according to Cruise Barbados' Business Development Officer, Tia Broomes, who attended Cruise360's trade show as well as co-hosted a destination workshop for attending advisors.
Cruising resumed to Barbados on June 7, 2021 and welcomed at least sixteen ships on their inaugural Caribbean voyages, which were only possible due to the island's health and safety protocols.
"We had to create all of these protocols to ensure that we resumed operations safely because we not only had to protect the cruise visitors, but obviously our local population," said Broomes. "...they really helped us to carry out the business of cruise safely and to mitigate any spread on-island from cruise activity, so so far, so good."
With so many ships already visiting Barbados, the island is optimistic about the future, but Broomes especially emphasized the role of travel advisors in its recovery: "...[For] cruise especially, travel agents are the gatekeepers of our story. They're the ones who translate the value proposition of the holiday...they're the ones that help to translate the value of experiencing destinations. We see travel agents as a very integral part of our effort in getting tourists to the island and spending money in-destination."
After two very difficult years, the future of cruising is beginning to look brighter than ever.
Lacey Pfalz is a freelance Associate Writer for TravelPulse. When she's not writing about traveling, she's often found fussing...
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