Wednesday, 1 October 2014

CLIA restructures membership program for travel agents

CLIA restructures membership program for travel agents

By Tom Stieghorst
CLIA logoCLIA has overhauled its travel agent membership program, which for most agents will mean lower costs and additional benefits. Changes take effect Oct. 1.

Dues for individual CLIA memberships will drop from $119 a year to either $99 or $49. Fees at the agency level will remain unchanged at $339 annually for companies that employ less than 25 agents.

In a change that reflects the size disparity among agencies, new gold and diamond level memberships have been created to provide larger agencies and agency consortia and co-ops with more benefits at a higher cost.

Agents who work for CLIA member agencies who also enroll as individual CLIA agents will become eligible for a raft of bonuses and incentives from 25 cruise lines that source passengers from North America.
The benefits include bonus commission on a first booking with a cruise line, preferred rates when sailing, priority access for training, invitations to inaugural sailings and seminars at sea.

The landmark revision evolved over 18 months during a series of more than 85 meetings with agents, agency groups, cruise lines and outside consultants, CLIA President Christine Duffy said.

“Fundamentally the change is moving from what for 40 years has been an agency membership model, to [become] agency and individual agent membership. That’s the big shift,” she said.

The new model will let CLIA build a database of individual agents, rather than just agencies. Currently, CLIA has nearly 13,000 member agencies and another 2,000 individual members.

“We know that they represent 50,000-plus agents, but who those agents are has been invisible,” Duffy said. “Now, each individual agent becomes somebody real, with an ID number where we know who they are, [someone] that we can engage with.”
ChristineDuffyAgents who are members of groups or agencies with gold or diamond designations will be able to buy individual annual memberships for $49.

The new system may not work as well for an individual or small partner agency that must still pay $339 for an agency membership that includes only one $49 individual membership. At the silver level of agencies with one to 24 agents, each subsequent membership is $99.

Duffy said CLIA is “waiving” the $80 application fee that has historically been charged for agency membership.

Agents will not be able to join CLIA without being affiliated with a CLIA member agency, Duffy said.

She said she does not anticipate that agency groups will require CLIA membership, as Signature recently made membership in ASTA a requirement for members.

The full package of benefits from cruise lines is a “hard” value of $3,600, Duffy said.

The specific benefits will vary from line to line and be administered by member companies, Duffy said. Details will be posted on the CLIA website and can be viewed after membership is obtained, she added, but she gave a few examples.

Many will offer a $50 bonus for the first booking; some will offer $75. Cunard Line will offer four $50 bonuses per agent. The bonuses alone could more than pay for an individual membership, Duffy said.

Of the North America CLIA member lines, only Disney Cruise Line is not participating by offering agent benefits.

Duffy also said that only agents with $5,000 or more in annual commissions will be eligible for CLIA membership, but that the policy will be enforced at the agency level. So, if an agency has a novice agent it wants to nominate for CLIA membership, it can do so.

The number of CLIA agency members has been declining since the mid-1990s, driven in part by consolidating distribution, Duffy said. CLIA hopes its new incentives can reverse that trend.

The need for a new membership structure was driven by technological change, the increased number of home agents and the rise of multiple large travel agent host companies and consortia, Duffy said.

In addition, cruise lines offer more product training than ever, especially through online courses and webinars. Cruise and agency leaders felt a need to streamline and coordinate those efforts, Duffy said.

“Our line is 100% behind this new program,” said Vicki Freed, vice president of sales at Royal Caribbean International, “and I hope every agent who is serious about their business and their future takes advantage of this opportunity.”

John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Leisure Group and Vacation.com, said he’s encouraging the 35,000 agents affiliated with those groups to support the new membership structure.