Cruise editor Rebecca Tobin spent a day with travel agents at
the Cruise Lines International Association's biannual CLIA
Institute in Miami. Her report follows:
he Cruise Lines International
Association bills its CLIA Institute as "a comprehensive two-day
program for advanced sales, marketing and management skills."
Most of the attendees spent the day before the Institute
officially opened taking additional CLIA courses with
"power-selling" techniques. Sounds like serious stuff.
But it's not all serious. We are, after all, talking about
vacations. Or are we? One of the interesting aspects of the
Institute is that the seminar leaders, who are instructors at the
University of Miami, are not travel professionals themselves.
"Sometimes we hear from ourselves so much that we forget there
are other things out there," explained Tom Cogan, the director of
CLIA's training programs.
CLIA has tweaked the program several times since it started in
1993, and so far about 5,700 agents have graduated from the program
(although prospective students can relax; there's no exam at the
Here's how we spent a day:
• 7:30 a.m. Each attendee gets a CLIA tote and the official CLIA
Institute three-ring binder full of all the materials needed for
the course. The binder is divided into sections by course, with
tabs labeled: "Attitude ... the Key to Success," "Successful
Closing Strategies" and "Marketing Plans," among others.
I grabbed both my extra-strength coffee and the binder and took
The first order of business, according to Cogan: Introduce
yourself to the people sitting next to you and tell them how
wonderful they look.
I chatted with the three women on my right. Kathy Urbaniak,
Shelbie Held and Pamela Smith had traveled from Homewood, Ill.;
Fort McCoy, Wis.; and Plainview, Ark., respectively, to learn more
about the cruise business.
The trio represented a cross section of agents with varied
Urbaniak is a "professional travel consultant" who works for
Escape Cruises and Travel, which is owned by a husband and wife
Held, a "leisure vacation specialist," flies all over the world
with Sato Travel to handle travel for the military.
And Smith is a home-based "senior agent" who gets most of her
leads for the two-person Global Dream Vacations through the
In his introductory remarks, Cogan thanked the 139 retailers for
attending what he likes to call "the Cadillac" of training
programs. This program, he said, should teach us "not to be better
travel agents but to be better salespeople."
• 8:15 a.m. CLIA binders out, pens poised and ready for
note-taking. Let the learning begin.
Motivational speaker Joachim de Posada took the floor.
De Posada told a story about frogs.
"Three frogs are floating down a river on a leaf," he said. "One
decides to jump out. How many are left?"
"Two," said the audience.
"No!" de Posada said. "Three. Because deciding to do it and
doing it are two different things."
Between talking about the nine factors for success in business
and appreciating the value of great employees, there were anecdotes
about de Posada's native Cuba, elephants and Ghandi's grandson --
and laughter from the audience.
"He's a character," said Urbaniak as she flipped back and forth
in her binder, taking notes in the printed version of de Posada's
• 9:15 a.m. Coffee break. I approached Linda Roessiger, who runs
an agency in a Venice, Fla., Wal-Mart. "I'm bettering myself to be
a better seller to our clients," she said.
"The attitude is important," she added. "To come here and not
come back without enthusiasm for our team, you might as well not
spend the money."
• 9:30 a.m. We reconvened. "I've already noticed shortcomings in
myself," said Held. "This guy is a great motivational speaker,"
• 10:15 a.m. De Posada yielded the floor to Stephen Wolfson for
a fast-paced seminar on "Consultative Telephone Selling"; in other
words, telemarketing tips.
"People won't let you sell to them if they don't like you,"
Wolfson's task: To convince agents to call 30 prospective
clients a day and invite them to the agency for wine and cheese or
a continental breakfast. This tactic gets clients in the door of
the agency, but more importantly, it gives agents an excuse to call
a prospect with a nonthreatening sales pitch.
The idea of inviting clients to "the agency" wasn't quite so
obvious to home-based agents in the audience, of whom there were
many. In fact, about half the class said they were home-based or
The class also briefly discussed ways to convince clients to
book with an agent and not on the Internet. A suggested rebuttal:
"I understand that the [Internet] agencies' prices are better. But
when you book with us, you become part of our family."
"That's what we do," Smith said.
• Lunch: A recap of the morning took place over plates of
"This is a whole different meaning of telemarketing," said
Elizabeth Wong, a consultant with Unionville, Ontario-based Cruise
Added her colleague Kathy Desson: "He's saying to call between 9
a.m. and 11 a.m. [I thought] that was more intrusive. But if you
can leave a message saying, 'Hi, stop by,' -- that might work."
"They kept it interesting," she added -- a reference to the fact
that we had been in nonstop seminars for more than four hours.
• 1:30 p.m. Travel agents returned to the auditorium ready for
another four hours of seminars. But we weren't prepared for
"Effective Personal Sales Communications," taught by Debbie
In this class, we learned how to identify personality types as
an aid to selling.
First, we tackled our "communication style." Am I an introvert
or an extrovert?
Huffman tossed out several characteristics of both -- "In an
office of extroverts, there's talking all over the place," she
said. Then, Huffman directed extroverts to gather on one side of
the room, introverts on the other. Our task was then to introduce
ourselves to neighbors.
Sure enough, after five minutes of getting-to-know-you
conversation, we extroverts wouldn't quiet down.
"In selling [to introverts], you need to listen," Huffman told
the extroverts after the room was silent. "Allow clients the
opportunity to talk without interrupting them."
To the introverts, she said: "Allow clients to think out loud
when describing their cruise needs."
• 4 p.m. Now that attendees had an opportunity to meet and
mingle, the room was buzzing with conversation and laughter.
Everyone seemed to be gearing up for the evening event, a night on
the town hosted by the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
As I left the auditorium, I ran into de Posada, on his way in to
conduct "Successful Closing Strategies." He handed me what looked
like a million-dollar bill.
It turned out to be his business card.