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CLIA Conference 2022: Agent importance and the drive for sustainability

CLIA cruise conference 2022

At the CLIA Conference 2022, a clear message emerged: travel agents are more important than ever.

The cruise sector descended on Southampton from 19-21 May for this year’s edition of the CLIA Conference, emblazoned with the #LoveCruise theme.

Taking place across three ships – MSC Virtuosa, P&O Cruises’ Iona and Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas – and exactly a year since MSC Cruises restarted UK cruises, there was an undeniable sense of optimism in the air.

The progress made in the last 12 months to get cruise back on its feet and ships back out at sea has been nothing short of miraculous – a point reinforced by the maritime minister Robert Courts during a pre-recorded message played to delegates on day two.

“Thank you for your outstanding work,” Courts said. “I am absolutely delighted to see the sector bounce back in the way it has, but it is down to your tireless effort that the cruise industry continues to be a key contributor to the economy.

“Cruise is a vital part of levelling up our coastal communities. A silver lining during the last two years is the strengthening of our relationship with the cruise industry.”

That message reflects the way in which cruise, perhaps more than ever, has transformed how it works with those in the corridors of power.

Among the general population, cruise is increasingly looked upon in a positive light, a far cry from those difficult days when the pandemic first struck and negative headlines were a daily occurrence.

Cruise needs travel agents

This transformation undoubtedly helps agents. As CLIA UK & Ireland MD Andy Harmer outlined, 80 per cent of Brits say they will cruise again, and among new-to-cruise guests, 68 per cent are interested in booking a cruise holiday.

With 18 ocean ships and 16 river ships joining the global fleet across this year, opportunity is knocking.

Royal Caribbean VP EMEA and CLIA chair Ben Bouldin highlighted: “It’s now about looking forward. We are a more robust and resilient industry, and we have proved we can adjust and pivot.

“We will continue to attract new-to-cruise guests; the world has more respect for how safe cruising is.”

P&O Cruises boss Paul Ludlow
P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow

On day two on board Iona, P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow outlined: “Agents are still – and will be for a long time, if not ever – the major source of business for our brand.

“We’re becoming more dynamic with how we work with agents.”

To demonstrate this support, Ludlow revealed a new booking incentive whereby agents who make a booking on the line’s upcoming ship Arvia between now and the end of July will be invited to join the ship’s inaugural activities at the end of the year.

As for booking trends, Ludlow spoke of how the wave period was not as strong as the line had hoped, but it was seeing volumes akin to wave for June.

“Booking patterns might be a little messy for a while, but it will even itself out,” he added.

Speaking via video, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings chief executive Frank Del Rio echoed the agent sentiments, saying the industry “can’t survive long-term without the agent”, adding that the NCHL group was seeing an increase in bookings through agents.

CLIA also launched two new initiatives for travel agents at the conference, as part of the #LoveCruise theme.

CLIA conference sustainability
CLIA’s Marie-Caroline Laurent on stage discussing sustainability in cruise

Cruise should not be ‘shy’ on sustainability

A part of the future of selling – and in the conversations agents have with clients – is sustainability.

Even though it has been discussed at length at previous CLIA events, with each passing year the issue is becoming just that bit more prevalent and urgent, hence its appearance on the 2022 agenda.

CLIA Europe director general Marie-Caroline Laurent told delegates there was “no future where we do not work on sustainability”, adding: “We should not be shy in talking about it. Cruise can become one of the most sustainable ways of seeing the world. We are truly speaking about a zero-emission ship by 2050.”

Del Rio also spoke on this issue, saying: “Society is aware that the earth is in trouble. The conversion [to more sustainable operations] will not be easy, but we have to do it.”

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