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CLIA’s Andy Harmer: ‘Supporting the trade is our key focus’

CLIA UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer

Gary Peters sits down with Andy Harmer to discuss what support CLIA is providing to its travel agent members and the importance of mental health.

Who else longs for the day when meetings can be conducted over a cup of tea in a café or something suitably stronger if it happens to be after 5pm?

A big fat yes from me. I thought I had cracked the whole video interview process. Got the intro script down, a somewhat professional background (either bedroom wall or cluttered bookcase), perfected my tone and remembered to watch the language.

I’m also experienced when it comes to remembering to record my interviews. Or so I thought. My initial pleasure at one, finishing a successful interview and two, realising it was fast approaching clocking off time on a Friday afternoon was quickly wiped away.

Yes, the video had recorded, but the audio had not. Just a video of nodding heads and smiles. It was most certainly a failure of technology – nothing to do with the operator.

Thankfully, the man at the other end of the interview, CLIA UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer, is a good sport and soon we are back on track.

CLIA has hosted a number of virtual events for agents

An eventful time

“It’s been an eventful few months for CLIA and the wider UK cruise community,” says Harmer, who throughout the whole pandemic has, alongside his colleague at CLIA, fought a sustained battle to push a positive message and worked extensively behind the scenes with other associations in discussion with the government about a pathway to resuming operations.

“We’ve been working hard to advocate for the safe and gradual resumption of operations when the time is right and continue to create engaging resources for travel agent members,” he explains.

“There has been a lot of work going on in the background, with extensive collaboration between the cruise industry, health experts and government to help develop further health protections to be implemented when sailings resume.”

All of this work has of course taken place via virtual formats. For an association that holds all manner of in-person events, including the annual bash ­– the CLIA cruise conference – it has been a speedy transition to a new way of working.

“It has been great to see the dedication and commitment from our CLIA travel agent members who have joined us for all the virtual events spanning across 2020,” Harmer continues.

“Our agents have been able to hear from industry experts via our podcasts and webcasts and keep up to date with sector changes through live webinars, where they also have the opportunity to put their questions forward to be answered live.

“In absence of the CLIA cruise conference, which we were sadly unable to hold this year, in December we will be hosting a virtual cruise showcase, where experts will share industry updates alongside the chance for virtual networking.

“As always, CLIA continues to provide a host of exclusive online resources, providing agents with current industry insight, trends and statistics.”

Fear not, however, all those who are desperate to meet face-to-face, as Harmer confirms that next year – if conditions allow – “we plan to host a number of in-person events while continuing to offer a variety of virtual events throughout the year”. Best of worlds, there.

Framing the framework

Back in October CLIA worked with the UK Chamber of Shipping and numerous others to create the Covid-19 framework document. This is a hugely detailed piece of work that lays out the foundations on which cruise lines can build to sail again.

The project includes sections dedicated to operators, passengers, and seafarers, each containing specific advice and recommendations.

“The reaction has been positive, as the documents show that the industry is working together,” Harmer explains. “The documents also help to instil confidence in agents to confidently sell cruise and echoes what we have always said as an industry, that the health and wellbeing of passengers and crew is absolutely paramount.”

The other paramount need is to ensure agents can understand and explain the messaging in the document. On this point, Harmer highlights an agent toolkit that “breaks down the key information into a digestible format alongside FAQs”.

He adds: “We have also hosted live webinars with cruise industry experts looking at the next steps for the UK industry following the launch of the framework. The toolkit and webinars are available on our website – cruising.org.”

Focusing on mental health is “essential”, says Andy Harmer

Mental health

Perhaps the key question, however, is about mental health and how agents and all in the industry can remain in a positive mindset.

For Harmer, his time away from the hustle and bustle comes in the form a therapeutic dose of fresh air in the countryside close to his home – “I make sure I go out for a walk every day to help me unwind,” he says.

“My advice to agents would be to make sure you are taking time out at least once a day when you can just focus on the present. Whether it is going out for a walk, or even just reading a book, taking the time to look after your mental health is essential.

“Try to remember that the time will come again when we can sail the seas. The desire to travel and explore the world will never diminish.”

That is most certainly another day to long for.

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