At the CLIA Conference 2023, attendees were told that “the world is waking up to what a cruise holiday is all about”.
Those words, from CLIA chair Ben Bouldin, were heard by more than 750 people in Southampton, as the association held the largest travel agent event of the year, with a ‘cruise heroes’ theme in recognition of agents’ work.
A total of 65 per cent of delegates attended for the first time, while around a quarter had not been on a cruise ship before.
Aside from the conference sessions, held over two days, agents were also able to take part in ship visits on MSC Virtuosa, Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas, Celebrity Silhouette and P&O Cruises’ Arvia.
In an upbeat message, Bouldin said: “We will surpass two million passengers in 2023.
“Never before has there been such open mindedness from people to take a cruise and the world is waking up to what a cruise holiday is all about.
“The market has never been so accessible and new-to-cruise numbers will be up significantly.”
Highlighting the point that there are many agents now selling cruise for the first time, he added: “We know how important it is to work together and it’s about agents working in tandem with us (as cruise lines).”
Sustainability and selling luxury
As has become customary at industry events, the issue of sustainability was never far from the agenda.
Bouldin acknowledged the role that cruise has to play “in creating a greener, cleaner world”, adding: “It will continue to dominate our work.
“We must collaborate with other sectors – we don’t have all the answers today – no one does. However, the wider maritime sector will reach its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.”
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, vice-chair of external affairs for Royal Caribbean Group, was equally confident that the industry will do what is necessary to meet green targets, claiming: “Our industry has always gone above and beyond. Cruise is focused on doing the right thing for the planet.”
Luxury cruising was also in the spotlight, with agents told of the “huge opportunity” that is available to them, by Silversea president and CEO Barbara Muckermann.
“The luxury cruising market is around $2bn a year, but the luxury travel sector as a whole is $170bn a year,” she said.
“Expedition cruising is the first way to get a non-cruiser to start cruising. There is so much opportunity in getting more guests on a luxury expedition cruise.”
CLIA ‘supercharging agent engagement’
To help agents tap into the opportunities on the horizon, CLIA confirmed that it will run its biggest-ever trade engagement campaign over the next 12 months.
The “superhero-charged” opportunities include regional ships visits for agents across the UK and Ireland, in August this year, as well as the annual CLIA Cruise Week, to be held from 18-24 September.
Specialist cruise webinars – covering Europe and worldwide river cruise, plus ultra-luxury, expedition and yacht and sail – have also been arranged, while two expedition dinners will take place in London and Manchester on 16 and 18 October, respectively.
In addition, a CLIA Destination Residential will be held in Porto in the autumn.
Agents will be hosted on board Norwegian Prima, with additional ship visit options to include Seabourn Ovation and a number of river cruise ships.
CLIA UK & Ireland MD Andy Harmer said: “This was our largest ever CLIA Conference and I’m thrilled to say it proved a huge success, with great initial feedback from agents and the wider industry.
“The trade are all ‘cruise heroes’, and with so many new delegates joining us, it’s clear more agents than ever before can see the opportunities and advantages of cruise.
“We’re so excited to announce our superhero-charged programme of events, with the widest ever choice of ship visit openings, domestic and overseas events, and virtual training opportunities.
“This approach recognises people like to learn, engage and network in different ways.”