CLIA’s CEO on sustainability, innovation and new cruisers

Cindy D’Aoust talks to Michele Witthaus about steering Cruise Lines International Association through challenging and exciting times over the past two years

CLIA’s CEO on sustainability, innovation and new cruisers
Cindy D’Aoust dances on stage at an industry event with Carnival Corporation president and CEO Arnold Donald and a DJ

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Cindy D’Aoust took on the role of CEO and president of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in 2016 after Christine Duffy left to become president of Carnival Cruise Line. It’s been a busy time for D’Aoust since then. An important aspect of her remit has been progressing CLIA’s stated commitment to work with organisations in the cruise sector to advance innovation and establish the cruise industry’s leadership in this regard.

“CLIA is harnessing our history of continuous innovation by developing solutions that both showcase our strength as a united industry and allow us to speak with one voice,” says D’Aoust. “We’ll surpass expectations of addressing the world’s most important challenges.” 

D’Aoust believes that the industry’s rapid growth makes CLIA’s leadership in innovation even more critical, especially as the number of people expected to cruise hits 28 million passengers in 2018. “When you consider cruising’s tremendous growth and global reach, it’s hard to believe we’re still a relatively young industry,” she says. “Since 1966, the cruise industry has constantly broken ground in helping solve many challenges facing travel and tourism by innovating, leading change and raising our standards.”

One of the organisation’s goals, especially this year, has been to forge partnerships that can help it grow responsibly. “Promoting pristine waterways and sustainable destinations is a job bigger than any single industry can handle,” D’Aoust explains. “By engaging in partnerships with leading conservation groups, scientists, non-governmental organisations and other experts, we’ve committed to making ourselves good stewards of the environment and good partners, so we can all aid in identifying the most advanced tools, the best business practices and the cutting-edge technologies that will advance sustainability.”

D’Aoust adds: “We’re at sea, so we must be more efficient, effective and mindful than land-based resorts. We can achieve this goal through innovations in clean air, clean water, preservation of marine ecosystems and sustaining local destinations.”

This zeal for environmental sustainability seems to go beyond the baseline of what’s expected of a modern organisation for D’Aoust, precisely because of the nature of cruising and the way it interfaces with destinations and itineraries. “No single industry relies more on the splendour of our planet’s oceans and seas or the pristine beauty of the world’s harbours and seaside communities,” she comments. “That’s why no single industry has a greater imperative to protect our environment and ensure the ports and destinations we visit thrive sustainably.”

Guaranteeing that cruise holidays meet the expectations of the cruising public is a big part of what CLIA does in its work with travel agents. But the young and new-to-cruise may not share the same values or perspectives as an older generation that is more accustomed to cruising. So how are CLIA-affiliated travel agencies changing and developing to anticipate and meet these needs?

“We’re a young industry for young cruisers who are looking for a transformational experience,” says D’Aoust. “From cultural immersion and volunteerism to extreme adventures, young cruisers have a shift in perspective and sense of accomplishment. The role of travel agents across the world is to connect travellers with the best-suited experience, not the product. Travel agents can provide what people want, not just what they need. Selling travel is selling good times, wanted adventure and exciting experiences. Travel agents have the ability to see the world, while helping others fulfil the trip of their dreams.”

D’Aoust is passionate about supporting travel agents in this process. “CLIA constantly updates our training materials and professional development opportunities for our travel agent community across the globe.”

Community involvement is important to CLIA’s member cruise lines, many of whom take on projects to help build resilience and well-being in the places they visit. D’Aoust thinks that CLIA itself has a crucial role to play in helping to promote the positive impact that cruising can have – particularly for the communities and destinations where people don’t, or can’t, normally travel.

“No single industry has a greater interest than we do in ensuring the destinations we visit are thriving and vibrant,” says D’Aoust. “Seven out of 10 cruisers say that destinations are the most important factor influencing their vacation choice. We therefore have a duty and desire to work with destinations to preserve their unique heritage and character. Without beautiful, sustainable destinations, we would not have an industry.”

It’s clear that D’Aoust sees CLIA’s role as integral to the future of the cruise sector. “Cruising has taken a leadership role in working with destinations to develop solutions that enhance sustainability,” she remarks. “With growth comes responsibility. The travel and tourism industry must work together to find solutions that ensure the destinations we all visit are strengthened and preserved.”

To this end, she outlines how CLIA works with existing bodies that oversee travel and tourism. “CLIA has partnered with the World Travel & Tourism Council and Uniting Travel to conduct destination research that results in the implementation of best practices regarding sustainable tourism, both as a travel industry-wide issue and cruising’s impact on it,” says D’Aoust. “In Dubrovnik, for example, we are working with local political leaders on their “Respect the City” programme. For the 2018 season, CLIA’s member cruise lines have made scheduling adjustments that will help relieve congestion at the Old Town’s Pile Gate. We are also working with local tour operators to add new excursion programmes to distribute visitors across a broader area.”

These are not isolated instances, but are part of ‘business as usual’ for CLIA and its members. “The cruise industry is actively engaging local stakeholders in destinations around the world to ease overcrowding and protect the unique heritage of the areas we visit.”

Despite joining CLIA as a ‘cruise outsider’, D’Aoust will likely be leaving the organisation with an enormous store of knowledge of, and a deep affection for, the cruise industry when she steps down at the end of 2018.

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Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
05 November 2018