Clia Conference 2017: Andy Harmer interview

Clia Conference 2017: Andy Harmer interview

We sat down with Andy Harmer, senior vice president, membership, Clia, ahead of this year’s Clia Conference, the 11th annual event.

Cruise Adviser: What’s new at the conference this year?
Andy Harmer: This year’s conference will focus on the theme ‘Together’ and will celebrate the cruise industry’s collaboration to drive the success of cruise holidays. 2016 saw 1.9 million people from the UK take a cruise holiday, a number we aim to increase by continuing to work together and spreading the word to more people who have yet to cruise.

Andy Harmer awards 2016
Andy Harmer

This year’s event will feature a full conference day, a ‘Great British Cruise Fair’ which will allow agents to meet individually with cruise line representatives and sponsors, and the gala dinner to end the conference featuring the live final of the Princess Cruises Variety Performance. As always, agents will also have the opportunity to experience two ships first-hand: this year they will be welcomed on board Cunard’s newly remastered Queen Mary 2 and Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.

We also have a running theme this year to focus on cruise entertainment – so much has changed in this area in recent years that it is a great time to showcase some of the modern entertainment available – and the ship tour on Navigator of the Seas will be wholly entertainment themed; and expect some surprises!

This is the 11th conference — what’s changed since you began?
The event has very much evolved each year in terms of content, themes, venues and the ships used. We always try to add a surprise element to proceedings, and to make sure that the pace of the event keeps everyone engaged and interested.

What has been consistent is the inclusion of the four main elements – multiple ship visits, conference sessions, a trade fair, and evening events. The event was created to bring the industry together, to update everyone on some of the exciting developments, and to inspire travel agent delegates to return to work and grow their cruise sales. We really think that with a three-day immersive event we can achieve a great deal!

We also continue to invite the industry’s most prominent figures to speak and share insights into their areas of specialism. This year we are welcoming Christine Duffy, president, Carnival Cruise Line; Rudi Schreiner, president and co-owner, Ama Waterways; Gavin Smith, senior vice president international, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited and Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO, Clia.

What’s the reaction from agents each year?
As the event is in its 11th year, it is something that agents know to put in their diary. This year we reached a record number with 450 agents confirmed to attend. Feedback from agents has always been positive as the conference is a chance to learn new skills to build their businesses and gain first-hand experience by visiting ships. Agents tell us that they love to visit ships and attend speaker sessions as they are very insightful. It is also a great opportunity to network and learn from industry peers.

The UK cruise industry has hit a record high — how does it keep increasing?
We have found that people are choosing to cruise because of the wide choice of holiday experiences, worldwide destinations and high levels of service offered. Whether a customer is looking for a holiday for the whole family with activities for all generations, or for a more exclusive experience on board a smaller ship visiting lesser known destinations, there really is a cruise out there to suit everyone. Agents play a vital role in achieving this as they continue to match holidaymakers with their preferred cruise thanks to their in-depth specialist knowledge.

Does the UK need more ships leaving from UK ports?
As seen in the CLIA Cruise Review this year, the number of UK passengers starting their cruise holiday from a UK port grew to 48 per cent of the market. It seems that a combination of the convenience of travelling to the port, the number of ships now sailing from the UK and the great value for money that ‘ex-UK’ sailings offer are proving an attractive option when choosing to cruise.

Is the cruise industry unique in the way it works together?
Collaboration between agents and cruise lines is what drives the success of this industry. Everyone shares experiences and knowledge in order to better the sector as a whole. By working together we do a great job of driving awareness.

What do you say to agents who haven’t sold cruise before?
Clia offers fantastic resources to drive travel agents’ success. It’s very easy to become a Clia member and in doing so, agents have the opportunity to learn, grow and increase their sales. From online courses, seminars, events and masterclasses, Clia aims to support and educate agents in order for them to better sell cruise. Agents can find out more by visiting the Clia website ( which includes all the latest cruise news, details on upcoming events, factsheets, promotions, webinars and much more.

What preconceptions still exist about cruise?
Many people feel that cruising ‘isn’t for them’ yet cruise offers incredible experiences both on board and ashore. Whether holidaymakers are looking to cruise with family, friends or a partner there are so many different options out there. With Michelin star restaurants, West End performances, luxury spas, exceptional on board service and unparalleled destination excursions that allow guests to experience remote destinations, guests are treated to quality experiences throughout their trip. Together, we are continuing the spread the message that there is a cruise out there for everyone.

How do we challenge them?
Agents play a huge role in sharing their knowledge and first-hand experience of cruise in order to dispel misconceptions and help to match customers with a cruise holiday that’s right for them. More people are choosing to cruise as it ticks all the right boxes for their desired holiday. Showcasing the variety of experiences to be had challenges misconceptions and proves that there is a cruise out there to suit every taste.

 What’s cruise’s next big trend?
As we have seen from the annual Clia Cruise Review, many people are opting for ultra-luxury cruises with an 8.5 per cent increase in sales. The incredible five and six star experiences offered by cruise lines continue to exceed expectations and with so many offering trips to destinations such as Antarctica and the Galapagos, it’s clear to see the appeal.

This year’s Abta report showed that more people opted for city breaks than traditional beach holidays. On a cruise, guests have the opportunity to experience multiple destinations on one trip and with 26 new vessels taking to the water this year, we expect to see an increase in the number of passengers taking a cruise. We are also seeing more passengers choosing to take a river cruise. In 2016, we saw an 11 per cent rise in the number of people taking a river cruise and with 13 new ships on order for 2017, we expect this to grow.

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