Shakeup as CLIA plans announcement about new initiative

By Tom Stieghorst
Travel agents can expect a new approach to training from CLIA, which has shuffled the responsibilities for that key mission and plans a major announcement about the issue Dec. 17.

Sources familiar with the announcement said it will, in part, include a new direction for training.

Mike McGarry, CLIA's senior vice president for public affairs, confirmed that CLIA will unveil a new initiative on Dec. 17, but he declined to say in advance what it will involve.

The program follows the announcement Dec. 12 that 19-year CLIA veteran Bob Sharak will step down as senior vice president for sales and trade relations to become an executive consultant to CLIA.

Margaret Murphy, who had previously been a marketing consultant to CLIA, will fill Sharak's former role, but with the title of senior vice president of marketing and trade relations.

At the same time, CLIA made several other personnel changes, including the elimination of the director of membership, a position held by Gaye Stewart-Loudis. CLIA will also end its relationship with Marc Mancini, who had produced most of its training materials.

The changes don't sit well with some CLIA supporters.

"Getting rid of Bob Sharak, Marc Mancini and Gaye — that's scary," said Doris Davidoff, a Boynton Beach, Fla., travel educator and CLIA Hall of Fame inductee.

Davidoff said the moves raise doubts about whether CLIA's lobbying function is overshadowing other activities, such as educating travel sellers.
In announcing Sharak's transition, CLIA President Christine Duffy praised him as one of the "most respected, hard-working and best-known" leaders in the cruise industry. Sharak said he was looking forward to a continued role at CLIA "but from a new perspective."

Mancini said he enjoyed his nearly 20-year collaboration with CLIA's training team. "I'll really miss them," he said. Stewart-Loudis could not be reached for comment.

Sharak's transition continues a changing of the guard at CLIA since former president Terry Dale's departure in 2010. Executive Vice President Michael Crye, the former president of the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL), which merged with CLIA in 2006, stepped down in May.

The ICCL had been the industry's regulatory and public affairs arm. Since then CLIA has pursued a dual mission, advocating for cruise lines both before government bodies and within the industry.

But Davidoff and others said they were anxious about the commitment of CLIA's new leadership to helping agents, which has been one of its traditional missions.

"CLIA exists, for the agent side, for the training and marketing events," she said. "I don't get the feeling they're maintaining that."

Davidoff said the kits that CLIA members get when they sign up or renew membership this year were mailed in heavy-duty folders instead of boxes and contained no training DVDs.

"It is the weakest membership kit that they've ever sent out," she said.

Other members of the agent community said they were less concerned.

Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for Travel Leaders Group (No. 10 on Travel Weekly's Power List), said it views CLIA's functions as complementary. "In our eyes it's both. It needs to play both roles," he said.

While Loucks called Sharak "a great leader," he added the Travel Leaders stands ready to work with Sharak's successor.
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