By Susan Young
It’s been nearly 40 years since the founding of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) yet its membership model – despite some tweaking over the years – still harkens back to an earlier era of trade sales.
Today, that changes. The world’s largest cruise trade association is launching a newly redesigned travel agency and agent membership program. Agents and agencies can register starting today, with membership for the new program effective Jan. 1, 2015.
To create the new program, CLIA tapped into focus group research, cruise line feedback and travel agent ideas and suggestions.
Acknowledging it’s CLIA’s biggest change ever on the membership side, Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO, said “the previous membership model was launched 40 years ago, done at a time when agents were all still in storefronts. It was all about being a CLIA agency.”
So what’s new? CLIA is debuting new Silver, Gold and Diamond membership levels and a much stronger, more cohesive focus on attracting more individual travel agents with perks and benefits just for them. The new model also recognizes that many more agents work at home or are affiliated with host agencies or franchise/consortia groups. “What we see is creating a value proposition and membership model for the individual agent who isn’t in a storefront,” Duffy said.
It’s also the first time host or franchise groups or consortia can become full-fledged CLIA members. “We couldn’t be any happier about the new CLIA membership program,” said Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners. Her organization has now joined CLIA as a Premium Diamond Member: “The new program speaks to the changing dynamics of the cruise industry and reinforces CLIA’s commitment to travel partners.”
Stronger Focus on Individual Agents
For 2015, Silver level membership for an individual travel agent starts at $49-$99; the price agents now pay under the existing 2014 program is $119. All agents applying for individual membership still must work for an agency that’s a CLIA member.
One new requirement is that individual agents must earn a minimum of $5,000 total cruise commission in a year (verified by the agency or host group). “Putting in the minimum sales requirement assures we are serving professional agents,” said Duffy.
The best perks? Individual agents who join CLIA will get their own membership number; previously, they used the agency’s number, but now they’ll log in with their own number to www.cruising.org and have a more personalized online experience.
More than 25 cruise lines will also provide what Duffy calls “exciting special offers” for the individual agents. Some of those offers are also enhanced for those agents affiliated with consortia or host groups.
The package of perks for all agent members is valued at an estimated $5,000; it will include bonus incentive commission for individual agents (paid to the agency to be distributed to the specific agent); reduced rate cruises for agent personal travel; priority FAM trip invitations; onboard credits for agents and their clients; and points towards CLIA accreditation.
Under the new set-up, cruise lines will track all individual agent members; they’ll know which agents are performing well in selling their products and whom to reward with added perks. Many will have “cruise expert finders” that will allow consumers to see a list of CLIA member agents on their websites.
CLIA will also list agents in its own Cruise Agent Finder on www.cruising.org. There will be extra benefits or incentives for those who are certified or who achieve different levels of CLIA certification.
While the normal training requirement has been “waived” for 2015 membership, agents must take one annual CLIA designated course and a “state of the industry” type exam for renewing their membership, starting with the 2016 membership year.
CLIA cruise lines offering exclusive agent member incentives include AmaWaterways, American Cruise Lines, Avalon Waterways, Azamara Club Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Hurtigruten, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises, Tauck River Cruising, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Windstar Cruises.
Duffy stressed that in the past individual agents joined CLIA primarily because they were pursuing CLIA training accreditation. While that’s still an important part of CLIA’s support for the trade, “now, we think that CLIA individual agent membership isn’t just for those who want to enroll in certification,” she said. “It’s for anyone actively selling cruises.”
Agents who join as individual CLIA members will also receive advocacy and insight reports from CLIA’s legislative efforts in Washington D.C.; preferential pricing for CLIA products; and preferential registration for ship inspections. And, members may register for CLIA’s extensive training programs and its annual cruise3sixty conference.
Brian O’Connor, chairman of CLIA’s trade relations committee, as well as vice president of North America sales for Princess Cruises and Cunard Line said both CLIA and the supplier executives on the trade relations committee truly value and champion the important role of travel professionals: “It is for that reason that we have collaborated to redefine and enhance the value proposition of what it means for a travel advisor to be a member of CLIA. It’s exciting to see so many rich and even exclusive benefits to reward and encourage agents through their CLIA membership.”
Duffy said the perks the cruise lines are offering to individual agents basically pays for the Silver level membership fee of $49 by the time the agent sells a second cruise.
“Individual agent bonus commission will be going directly to the agent as opposed to the agency,” Duffy stresses, calling that one of the “rich benefits that the cruise lines are providing in support of agents.”
Travel Agency Membership Changes
CLIA has also redesigned its travel agency membership by adding levels based on the agency’s number of agents and creating a premium category for larger agencies as well as hosts, franchises and consortia.
Silver level agency membership is for small to mid-sized agencies with one to 24 agents. A new Gold membership tier is for larger agencies with 25 to 99 agents. New Diamond membership is for very large agencies with 100+ agents as well as for the consortia and host groups.
For membership renewal, a Silver agency will pay $339 in 2015, the same price it paid this year under the old program. For new agencies joining CLIA, the Silver level fee for 2015 is also $339 but they actually will save $80, as CLIA is doing away with the $80 application fee charged under the existing program.
Membership fees will rise for the premium level agencies are considerably higher. A Gold agency now will pay an annual membership fee of $3,000, and a Diamond tier agency or consortia/host/franchise group will pay $5,000 annually.
Duffy stressed that given that strong initial response from Diamond-level members, it’s clear these groups will promote individual CLIA membership to their agents. That’s a type of support CLIA hasn’t had in the past.
She believes that by moving from an agency model to an agent and agency model, CLIA could attract upwards of some 50,000 individual agents, simply based on the numbers of those affiliated with consortia, host agencies or franchise groups that have already said they’d become premium level agencies.
While CLIA has enjoyed a large number of agency members, around 13,000 globally, Duffy said the number of agents who are direct CLIA members within that has been relatively small, perhaps around 2,000 or so, again mostly because they were seeking CLIA certification.
Among those who have already signed on for Diamond level membership are: AVOYA Travel, Cruise Planners, CruiseOne, Cruises Inc., Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Montrose Travel, Nexion, Signature Travel Network, Travel Leaders Group, Travel Planners International, Uniglobe, Vacation.com and Virtuoso. “This membership really reflects what agents want and will help us to mold our agents into strong cruise sellers,” believes Fee, who says she’s also happy to encourage all her franchise agents to join CLIA.
Similarly, John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, expressed his support, noting that his group’s agents now may take advantage of CLIA’s many sales and marketing tools, cruise line benefits and education: “I’m personally encouraging our 35,000-plus travel agents to join forces with us in supporting the new CLIA membership structure.”
From one cruise line’s perspective, Andy Stuart, executive vice president sales and passenger services with Norwegian Cruise Line, described the new membership program as “a win-win for everyone in the cruise industry.”
He said the agent benefits – from CLIA management training to incentives for themselves and their clients – are outstanding and “a major outcome will be a healthy distribution channel for cruise sales.”
More to Come
Over the next several years, CLIA will move into additional phases of the program. There will be redesigned CLIA courses and more online CLIA training.
Moving forward, agents also will get something they’ve been clamoring for — credit for training that they might receive through their host agency, consortium or franchise group, or, alternatively, through individual cruise line product training.
In the past, agents who took a Norwegian Cruise Line or CruiseOne course, for example, didn’t get CLIA credit. “Therefore, they didn’t see a benefit,” Duffy said. That change is on the horizon.
Duffy told Travel Agent that some of the training enhancements will be introduced at CLIA’s annual cruise3sixty conference in Fort Lauderdale, April 22-26, 2015. CLIA also plans to introduce new technology tools for its agent and agency members in 2016.
The entire effort, said Duffy, is to help agents do their job better and support them to the fullest as they sell cruise vacations. “We’ve heard loud and clear from agents and the agency community that technology tools make it easier for them to find things about the cruise lines without having to go to multiple sites,” she said. “We do have a resource directory now, but we’ll have a new CLIA Resource Center that’s much easier to use.” It will be a one-stop place for all member line information, ship profiles, cruise line profiles, photos and more.
With more technology investments, CLIA hopes to move the needle in terms of the numbers of consumers who take a cruise. “We still have a lot of great opportunity with those who have not cruised before, so we think the more tools and more training [that CLIA can create or integrate for agents], the more lift everyone will have,” said Duffy.
Duffy also pointed to hiring earlier this year of Dwain Wall, a former CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. executive; he’s now CLIA’s senior vice president of agency and trade relations and was actively involved in the new membership program development, as were other CLIA staffers.
In addition, sizable input for the new membership program was provided by CLIA’s Travel Agent Advisory Board and its trade relations committee. CLIA also tapped focus group research and individual agent feedback.
The association also brought in Mark Conroy, former president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, as a consultant during the membership design project. The goal was to ensure the organization was looking at all angles. “He has a broad and deep relationship with many agencies,” stressed Duffy.
While acknowledging it’s a significant investment, Duffy said the new membership program changes are “totally supported by the CLIA board” and that the organization believes it will gain higher membership volume. Over time, she believes it will pay off with more cruise sales and, hopefully a stronger market penetration for cruising as a vacation choice.
“CLIA’s new travel agent membership program is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International. “It offers agents more training and rewards and reflects the value that the cruise industry places on them.” Freed said her line is 100 percent behind the new program and “I hope every agent who is serious about their business and their future takes advantage of this opportunity.”
CLIA’s membership model was tweaked over the years, but with the rise of consortia, hosts and franchise groups, plus the diversification of the agent “workplace” to include agents working from home offices, it definitely needed more significant changes, Duffy said, adding: “We think it’s time.”
The new CLIA membership model is only for North American travel agents and agencies. Duffy said the Australia/New Zealand, Asia, United Kingdom and Ireland business models for agencies are, in and of themselves, quite different than the North American agency model. So, CLIA will continue to work with CLIA groups in those global regions as to what might be applicable and best practices, but it’s also sensitive to the culture as well as legal and regulatory requirements and modeling.
The organization is, however, looking at a more global level of training for 2016, which will include more online training and new courses, such as one on the groups market. “There is a lot more opportunity for agents to be selling groups on cruises, affinity groups or corporate incentive groups,” Duffy said.
Agents can find out more information about the new 2015 CLIA agency and agent membership program at www.cruising.org/ridethecruisewave.
Original article found on www.travelagentcentral.com