It has been about a month since I returned from my very first CLIA Cruise3Sixty conference in Vancouver and details of what I learned and who I met at the show has now had some time to sink in. It also gave me a chance to think about the expense and time involved and if it is worth it or not.

Even though this was my first experience with the fairly new CLIA project I am no stranger to travel related events. Starting years ago when I first started in cruise travel, a well- respected travel magazine, Travel Trade, hosted what they called Cruise-A-Thons which was very similar to what is offered today. They were held in Miami, Vancouver, and even in Nassau. Our host hotel was the then Carnival Cruise Line owned Cable Beach Resort and Casino. In the olden days, before the now tight security issues, we were set loose for ship inspections of 8 ships all docked in Nassau in one day.

For those that have read my columns over the past year or so know I am a firm believer in education and training in our industry. After over 35 years I continue to attend training sessions and seminars, always learning new ideas. It is also great to re-discover that many of the things you do every day are still in current training modules. At least you know that you are doing something right!

OK back to Vancouver. You start to learn from the minute you leave your house for the trip. In my case I wanted to see what it was like to fly into Seattle and take a bus and train to Vancouver like many Alaskan-bound cruisers ask about. The bus was my northbound experience. It takes longer than you think. Once you are at the border you de-bus, take your luggage thru immigration with the Canadians and get back on the bus for the rest of the trip. If you are lucky your bus doesn’t have to make too many pickup stops along the way. Five hours later, I saw the skyline of Vancouver, a very long day.

The return to Seattle via Amtrak’s Cascade was much easier, quicker and fun. We were delayed brieflydue to an issue with the locomotive but the engineers fixed the problem and we were on our way. The tracks took us along the beautiful British Columbia coastline to the border where the US Immigration officers asked us to show our IDs and we were on our way again, no disembarkation or lines. We just stayed in our seats as they came thru the cars.

My hotel was an experiment too. I figure anybody can stay at a chain hotel but I wanted something unique. I booked the Kingston Bed and Breakfast about 6 blocks from the Vancouver Convention Center. This 28 room hotel (originally a rooming house built in 1913 and still under the same family ownership), was friendly and fun. My third floor room, which was the top floor, overlooked the street. The building is on the Canadian Historic Preservation List so to the dismay of the owners of the skyscraper being built on both sides of the Kingston, the building cannot be torn down. I had no problems with any construction noise because I was at 360 all day and most evenings. Each morning my little hotel hosted fresh bagels and toast, fresh orange juice, and coffee to get me on my way for a short hike to Canada Place.

Cruise3Sixty is jammed packed with activities and events from CLIA’s extensivetraining programsof which I did three. Two were on group cruise marketing and budgeting, the other beingworld geography. I had already taken the others that were offered in conjunction with earning my Elite Cruise Councilor Scholar. The tireless professional CLIA trainers, Cella, Heidi and John were at their peak covering all 16 training seminars in just a few days.Their training is the best in the industry.

I made time to network with other agents and cruise line execs which I found priceless. Where else do you really have that opportunity? It was not all work, there was some play too. Cruise Vancouver graciously hosted a reception at the Vancouver Aquarium, home to twobeautiful Beluga Whales along with a very fascinating presentation of jellyfish. The Hall of Fame Dinner was highlighted with a show headlined by Broadway star Megan Hilty and the creative vocal group Mosiac.

Ship inspections were on the schedule too. Out of the three ships I had the opportunity to visit I was most excited about the Diamond Princess. She is generally in Asia so the opportunity to tour and enjoy lunch in the dining room was a rare opportunity during her Alaska season.

But wait, there is more! General Sessions were chocked full of valuable education including brand new statistics offered from American Express, a panel on taking your business to the next level, and my favorites, “Cruising Through Stress and Humor” presented by Kathleen Passanisi, “Being an Indispensable Cruise Seller” by Nolan Burris, and the telephone doctor Nancy Friedman’s “Golden Nuggets of Sales and Service.” These were worth the whole trip.Add two afternoons spent on the Trade Show floor filling in the gaps and meeting old friends.

Five days later, I return to my office, a bit tired but in a good way. I realize that the effort and money spent for this CLIA event and others presented by the current travel magazines like Travel Weekly are truly worth their weight in Gold. It helps to plan ahead and take advantage of all the opportunities offered be it taking a bunch of valuable seminars and training or kicking back and talking story with other agents, nothing is lost……..it’s all good. I am looking forward to my next one.