Charles Sylvia joined CLIA as vice president of membership in March after heading the corporate-events-at-sea business for Access TCA. He became a travel agent at age 25 and says that at the recent Cruise3sixty conference he collected 434 new business cards. He recently spoke with cruise editor Tom Stieghorst about how he sees his new role.
Q: How have the first 60 days gone?
A: It's gone incredibly well. I've learned so much from our membership, from all segments of our membership, learning about how their relationship was in the past, how they perceived CLIA previously, what value we deliver to them and what they would like to see in the future in terms of enhancing the value proposition. The single most important part of my job right now is information gathering.
Q: How many agent events have you attended?
A: I'm eight weeks into the job now, and I believe I've done, including webinars, approximately 18 events. I'm on the road 11 or 12 days out of the month. I'm situated out of CLIA's Washington, D.C., headquarters, but I do work from my home in Providence, R.I. I visit CLIA headquarters about four or five days a month, but my position is one that should be in the field.
Q: What's your background in travel sales?
A: I started as a frontline travel agent in 1994 at an independent agency affiliated with Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a company called Vacations Plus in Fairhaven, Mass., which is my hometown. They hired me because I'd already been on several cruises in my childhood and teen years. I had not been a travel agent before, so this was my big break. I think it was my enthusiasm and the fact I was so passionate about the cruise experience that led to their decision.
Q: Where did you go from there?
A: I worked as a frontline agent for about six years and then I transitioned to the corporate world. Most recently, I was producing corporate events at sea for a company called Access TCA. I built from the ground up their corporate-events-at-sea portfolio. My last project was an incentive cruise for 40 sales distributors and their spouses.
Q: Do you remember your first cruise?
A: It was in 1978 on the original Pacific Princess. My great aunt Evelyn lived in Santa Rosa, Calif., and I grew up near Cape Cod. I was her favorite nephew, and she knew I loved ships. Here I am 9, 10 years old, and she took me on my first cruise. To me as a little boy, it was astonishing that this perfectly self-contained world could go from place to place to place.
Q: How is the membership program launched last year going? Have a lot of individual agents signed up?
A: We have 15,785 individual agent members signed up as of April 29. But we're not really looking to drive numbers or numbers of agencies. What's most important ... is developing a membership of credible, qualified cruise-focused travel professionals. To me, membership is all about quality, not quantity.
Q: How would you improve Cruise-3sixty?
A: I think that Cindy [D'Aoust] and the team and myself, along with our incoming CEO, want to take a holistic look from all perspectives.
Cruise3sixty was a terrific success, but I would like to see a little more interactivity at the general sessions. Past leaders of CLIA have done wonders with Cruise3sixty, and I'd like to see the new leadership take it to the next level.