Sam Ballard reports from this year’s Clia conference, which saw a surprise showing from the Virgin boss, plus insights from other industry insiders
Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Voyages, made a surprise appearance at the 2019 Clia Conference in the line’s latest bid to woo travel agents. The event, which was the largest travel agent conference in the country, came under the theme of Next Generation. Lisa Lutoff Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, Larry Pimentel, CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, and Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages also spoke at the event.
Approximately 500 travel agents attended this year’s conference, as well as around 250 suppliers, with the sessions taking place in Portsmouth’s Guildhall, while
the trade fair and gala dinner were held in Southampton.
During an onstage interview McAlpin hinted that Virgin Voyages would be “changing the norms” when the Scarlet Lady, its first ship, launches in 2020. He said: “Why do you have to get up at 6am on the day you disembark? Why do you need to leave your luggage outside your door the night before?”
The Virgin Voyages boss then told the audience that Branson had recorded a video especially for the conference. After a couple of seconds the video crashed and the entrepreneur walked into the room.
During an interview, Branson was asked about his passion for the environment, where he revealed that Scarlet Lady would have dispensers for reef-friendly sunscreen on board. He also imparted some business advice for delegates: “Stay true to yourself, your reputation is all that you have in life. Never do anything that will damage the reputation of your company or yourself.
“It’s important that when your staff go to the pub at night they can be proud of who they work for.”
Elsewhere during the conference, Larry Pimentel advised agents that they must take time to educate themselves “as not every ship is created for every traveller”.
He described the industry as undergoing a “renaissance” and referred to travel agents as “value interpreters”.
When it comes to selling holidays to luxury travellers, he advised those in the room that: “You don’t go to the world’s most expensive restaurants and order from the bottom of the menu. Don’t do that.”
Pimentel also revealed that the company’s land and cruise packages were performing well, with between 38 and 42 per cent of passengers who take such holidays having
never been on a ship before.
During the family cruise segment of the conference, Ben Bouldin, associate vice president and managing director of Royal Caribbean International, and Iain Baillie, vice president of international sales at Carnival Cruise Line, spoke onstage.
“We have been so focused on millennials, but the fact is that millennials now have children,” Bouldin said. “A cruise ship gives you a great opportunity to spend quality time together as a family. There aren’t many ships where the activities aren’t all-encompassing.”
Baillie added: “Eight-hundred thousand children sail every year on Carnival Cruise Line. That’s double what it was a decade ago. The value is significantly greater than what you would find on a land-based holiday.”
Lisa McAuley, managing director of Gold Medal and Travel 2, also revealed that Cruise Plus would be running its first-ever cruise multi-fam during which 26 agents will be split into four groups to experience either ocean, luxury, river or expedition cruising. To be in with a chance of winning agents must make a booking before June 29.
Delegates at the conference also got the chance to tour either Celebrity Edge or MSC Cruises’ Preziosa, while the event was rounded off with a tour of Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.
Clia also revealed that its next Cruise 360 event will be held in Malta this October.