CLIA affirms its commitment to travel agent training

By Arnie Weissmann
VANCOUVER — CLIA CEO Christine Duffy on Friday directly addressed travel agent concerns that training was a casualty of the cruise line association’s recent focus on regulatory initiatives.

In her first address to delegates assembled for the trade group’s travel agent-focused Cruise3Sixty conference, Duffy emphatically said the new focus on public policy is not a shift away from agent training, saying that “our commitment to agents has not and will not change,” and that the channel is “valued and necessary.”

Christine DuffyAgent concern arose after the training staff was reorganized last year, resulting in fewer live trainers.

“What does this all mean?” Duffy asked. “It means we are evolving, we are changing. But there are things that won’t fundamentally change.”

Duffy said the evolution of training platforms would result in a mix of Internet-based and face-to-face sessions. Agents, she said, were asking for more online training, and that “programs and promotional events must remain relevant to you and the next generation of travel agents.”

Next year, CLIA will launch redesigned training that will be “more accessible and relevant,” she continued.

The internationalization of CLIA membership provided another incentive to move online, she suggested. As the session opened, she called out to delegates and leadership from Australia, Singapore, the U.K. and Ireland who were in attendance.

CLIA wants to make its certification a globally recognized credential, Duffy added, and the organization will begin to promote the use of CLIA-certified travel agents to consumers.

Consumers are overwhelmed with choice “and are looking for proof of expertise,” she said.

Duffy did not say what form the promotions would take.

A recent Harris survey indicated that a spate of technical problems on cruise ships, closely followed by media, resulted in significant erosion of some line’s brands. And the cruise industry, at its premiere marketing event, appeared to be sending the message that it both relies on agents and has a strong commitment to them.

Filmed testimonials on the importance of travel agents by cruise line CEOs and presidents played intermittently during the event. The session closed with a panel of retailers and cruise line marketing and sales executives that focused on selling.

Joni Rein, vice president of worldwide sales for Carnival Cruise Lines, circled back to the problems that Carnival, in particular, experienced, and to the importance of agents during what she called the “very challenging” time following the crippling of the Carnival Triumph.

“Over many weeks, we were inundated with emails [from agents], and throughout, you were all supportive of us,” Rein said. “We couldn’t have gotten through it without [agent support]. The Triumph is back in service, and she was sold out on her first sailing. Thank you.”

Follow Arnie Weissmann on Twitter @awtravelweekly.
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