Cruising Along: CLIA Sees Smooth Sailing for Cruise Industry

CLIA's Cindy D'Aoust talks to Successful Meetings about attracting meetings to the seas

ship - 370

At the annual Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) State of the Cruise Industry press conference, held today in New York City, the overall message was clear: cruising continues to grow across all segments.

Adam M. Goldstein, newly appointed CLIA chairman, who also serves as the president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said that the global organization estimates that a total of 23 million people will sail on a cruise in 2015, an increase of 900,000 from 2014, representing a growth rate of 4 percent. Cruise market growth in the past few years has remained steady at 5 percent year over year. In 2013, cruising had a global economic impact of $117 billion, and ship capacity has grown a total of 18 percent from 2009 to 2013.

CLIA is also planning to focus more on reaching out to the meetings and incentives segment. On Dec. 1, the organization appointed Cindy D'Aoust, the former COO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), to the position of executive vice president of membership and operations. In the wake of Christine Duffy's recent departure from the post of CLIA president and CEO, D'Aoust will manage CLIA's U.S. operations as well as its teams in Washington, D.C., and Fort Lauderdale, FL. 

Given D'Aoust's extensive background in the meetings industry, she hopes to use her new position as "an opportunity for CLIA to work more with sister associations such as MPI." "I'm a huge proponent of meetings at sea," she told Successful Meetings. "I want to bring about more collaborations between meeting planners and the cruise business so we can grow all of our businesses together."

D'Aoust points out that today's cruise ships are ideal for meetings and incentive groups. "The members of our panel [at the CLIA press conference] mentioned how the various eating venues on so many of the new ships are exactly the types of venues that meeting planners and groups need now as meeting spaces," D'Aoust said. She added, "If you look at today's ships, it's all there. It's about making the right match for the meeting and the right ship."

In order to focus on attracting more MICE business, D'Aoust says there's an opportunity to educate both the meeting planners and the cruise industry. "We want to deliver education to planers to help them feel more comfortable about the safety and health situations on the ships, for example, and to show them the variety of vessels available. Likewise, we want to educate our cruise industry partners about how to speak to planners. We've had some conversations with MPI to work together on this."

She says that CLIA may soon be reaching to both its travel agent members and to meeting and incentive planners to ask both groups to participate in giving feedback to each other, and showing them how easy it is to book a cruise meeting. "If we could bring those two groups together, they could really learn from each other and there would be a whole new set of assets and tools for them to use."

D'Aoust is also tasked with spearheading efforts to find a replacement for Duffy, a transitional period that mirrors D'Aoust's appointment at MPI. D'Aoust served as an interim CEO for MPI for approximately 11 months when she joined that organization two years ago. She says, however, that her strategies at CLIA are a bit different from those she had at MPI. 

"When I entered MPI, we spent that first year going to back to basics and re-examining our roots," D'Aoust explained. "Here at CLIA, they've already heard from their members and the industry and they have a road map for where they want to go. They're building a new model." 

In identifying what's to come in the cruise industry, Maria Miller, senior vice president of marketing for Norwegian Cruise Line and chair of CLIA's marketing and public relations committee, said that there are seven major trends in 2015 and beyond. They are the following:

--People continue to set sail
--Size doesn't matter
--Specialty cruising continues to thrive
--Travel agents are key influencers
--Oh, the new places we'll go
--Caribbean is queen
--Passengers are at the helm, and they expect experiences to remember; to stay connected; to travel in packs; to engage in celebration travel; to cruise on themed cruises; and to enjoy foodcations

Staying connected while at sea was a topic discussed at length by panelists at the conference. Jim Berra, chief marketing officer for Carnival Cruise Lines, noted that today's ships have much better Wi-Fi capabilities than in years past and that Carnival and "other lines are now innovating with multiple ways to deliver connectivity." He added, "There are faster speeds, less latency, and more bandwidth, as well as increased speeds and lower costs."

At Royal Caribbean International, for example, the line works with a satellite system, called O3bMaritime, to provide high-speed, satellite-delivered broadband service to some of its ships, including the brand-new Quantum of the Seas. "It's fiber-like connectivity at sea," described H.J. Harrison Liu, manger of brand communications for Royal Caribbean International. "It opens up the possibility of being able to do hybrid meetings at sea, too."