When agents think of CLIA, they identify Terry Dale, Bob Sharak, and the very popular Bernie and Tom. But there is another face associated with CLIA, Jim Smith, the Director of Marketing. And he certainly has been busy with the new enhancements to help travel agents, and the consumer.
TRO: You are certainly a veteran in this business
JS: I’ve been in the industry 39 yrs- Starting in my teens. From a retail end, I ran over 120 ski trips before I was 21 years old. Later on I headed the largest consortium, GEM,
TRO: You’re coming off a “high” with the very successful CLIA Cruise 3Sixty conference in Vancouver.
JS: We had a great group of agents, many new ones attending, 46% of the delegates were Canadian. We sold out 8 weeks prior to the show. But it’s on to our next one in Ft. Lauderdale, Apr 14-17th.
TRO: The conference is only one facet of what CLIA is doing. You’ve been hard at work working on aids to help travel agents.
JS: We have begun three new initiatives. The first is the “Industry Events Calendar.” Events for up to two years in advance, tradeshows, vendor shows,will be on the website, www.cruising.org/travelagents. Our second enhancement is CLIA VISION. We’re rolling in with 28 video vignettes This provides great value for the existing professional agents. This has become an “Information Intense Business” and CLIA VISION has the info in one spot to intensify the overview. Agents can watch all the vignettes in only 44 minutes. CLIA’s core business is to provide tools and programs for the agents to enhance their professionalism. Some of our best kept secrets are the topics on our websites. And our third enhancement is our certification. We’ve recently updated our cruise industry textbook with information on 25 member cruise lines. Agents can absorb the knowledge the best way they want- online textbooks, DVDs, tradeshows. We have our Road Warriors doing 170 shows a year. Our workshops get tweaked and refreshed. We’ve added new topics – now covering different cultures and social media. Agents can learn the best ways to sell to the boomers, the x-generation and millinnials…. And the social media…facebook…There is a variety of ways to network too. Agents can reach the consumers through You Tube or put something on Facebook and link to their clients. This is just the embryonic tip of the iceberg.
TRO: You’ve been around a long time in this industry, and have experienced seeing the ups and downs.
JS: Back in 1995 there were 43,500 agencies on the day when the airlines began capping the commissions. The numbers then decreased. After 9/11, there was a huge increase of home based agents. Since Aug 2008, the number of agencies may have dropped off. But technology has allowed the home based market to explode again. The market moves so fast you have a hard time to play catch up. CLIA recognized a need to reclaim its brand equity. We’re not in the ID card Business. To qualify for a CLIA card, the requirements necessary have forced out the hobbyists and the wannabees. The agents who register and attend, are there to become educated. Professionals are dedicated to ongoing knowledge and acquisition
TRO: You do offer a lot for the agents, but what about the public? What is CLIA doing to let the public know the certification requirements of a travel agent?
JS: More and more consumers are coming to the CLIA website, looking for a travel agent in their area. The cruise expert link defaults first to the agent with the highest certification in that area. There are daily CLIA clips, literally thousands of pick-ups, available for the media to use. Unfortunately good news doesn’t always sell! But, we keep the pipelines filled. And of course we have the World’s Largest Cruise Night in October. CLIA can provide banners, invites, press releases, and agents can even get a free website. All of this is to maximize the opportunity for the agents to sell more cruises,
TRO: In our conversation, I notice that you are also using the word “travel” a lot, rather than “cruising.”
JS: 48% of the business is Cruising, the rest is other leisure travel. We recognize that and agents learn how to market and sell travel! We teach business skills not just how to sell cruises.
TRO: CLIA certainly expanded the recognition agents now have with many suppliers. But one hold out is still Marriott.
JS: We have an open dialogue with Marriott. There have been some very positive conversations.
TRO: Now for your bucket list.
JS: I have 17 year old twin boys, and I just want to spend time with them. That’s getting harder and harder. Perhaps a river cruise, or Moorea and Bora Bora.