Bob Sharak, Executive VP of Marketing and Distribution for CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) is the guy with all the numbers. He and his team set the education goals for travel sellers that are unique in the industry. He directs consumer and trade marketing efforts, including the annual cruise3sixty travel agent conference and trade show, Web site development, collateral production, CLIA’s annual National Cruise Vacation Month and World’s Largest Cruise Night campaigns.
TRO: When one thinks of education in the travel industry- you have to think of CLIA.
Bob: CLIA is the cruise industry test book. There are not many travel schools and colleges left to teach the agents.Over 15,000 agents have earned certification as a cruise counselor, with 11,500 actively enrolled and pursuing their education.
Currently our trainers travel to 180 cities and offer twenty programs. And we have testing online too. CLIA also offers an Associate Program for students where local agents are invited to mentor and offer job placements
TRO: Many of the sales techniques and geography lessons taught in the CLIA workshops are good training for all aspects of selling travel – cruises and tours.
TRO: CLIA has its own Olympic size plans for Vancouver, June 2-6th.
Bob: At cruise3sixty, agents will have the opportunity to accrue 150 credits. There will be 15 different seminars including two new ones, ”Getting Connected: A Primer on Social Media Networking“, and “Selling Successfully Across Cultures.” Also a product and destination seminar. We’ll have our Hall of Fame presentation, panel discussions and lots of networking. Plus agents can experience British Columbia with fams, a trip to Whistler, the local sites. We’re expecting 1400 to 1600 agents.
TRO: Ship inspections?
Bob: Agents can select two of the seven being offered. And of course, the entertainment is going to rival a top venue, with Blue Man Group performing, presented by Norwegian Cruise Line. And Celebrity is featuring 42Five, an a cappella group from Florida.
TRO: And the theme this year?
Bob: This year’s event will also honor the outstanding women that have made major contributions to business and the cruise industry.
TRO: There has been controversy in the past about the card mills. How has this affected CLIA’s ID cards?
Bob: Times have changed, actually, we issued 50% fewer cards last year. We looked at our program and found it to be an enabler. We changed the rates and the requirements. Remember, it does take effort, time and expertise to qualify. In order to apply for a card, the applicant must enroll in and pass an exam each year.
TRO: Besides the training, there are also other benefits with CLIA.
Bob: CLIA agents get coupons that total over $51,000. It’s an effort to give them a tool to recoup their dues and make some money too.
TRO: CLIA is a supplier based association. How are the suppliers chosen?
Bob: We now have 25 of the major cruise lines, serving North America. In order for a cruise line to be represented by CLIA -Cruise Lines International Association- they have to be vessels of significant size in tons or beds. So there is a variety, from the largest ships to AMA Waterways and Avalon.
TRO: Let’s deal with some more numbers, Bob? What are the latest stats on how many people have cruised?
Bob: – A 2008 consumer study shows that 19% of the US population has taken a cruise. And internationally- it’s 23%. When it’s broken down, it’s 3% of the entire US population and just 1% of the European population. The demand is high, yet the penetration is still low.
TRO: CLIA also started a PR theme that has blossomed into something very lucrative – the World’s Largest Cruise Night.
Bob: Yes, we are putting into practice what we preach. Creating an umbrella for both cruise lines and agents. It motivates the agents. Last year, there were 1000 agencies who planned live events that day, with 4000 more promoting online. This created over six million dollars in commissions! Both agents and suppliers are now planning further out for next October.
TRO: Congrats on the new look of the CLIA website.
Bob: It’s for the agents and the consumers. It really lays outs the focus of what CLIA represents.
TRO: You’ve worked in different areas of the travel industry before coming to CLIA in 1993.
Bob: I’ve worked for Hertz, Continental Airlines, and you can say that I was one of Donald Trump’s first apprentices, when I worked for Trump Shuttle.
TRO: What’s your favorite vacation?
Bob: I’ve been on lots of cruises, and haven’t found one I didn’t like.
TRO: And on your bucket list?
Bob: – Costa Rica or Australia- going to the Barrier Reef. I’m really the happiest just being on a fishing boat somewhere.