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Five Minutes With ... Kelly Craighead

Five Minutes With ... Kelly Craighead

President & CEO | Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

Kelly Craighead joined CLIA—the world's largest cruise industry trade association—in January 2019, bringing 20 years of executive leadership experience from both the public and private sectors, including serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Travel and Tourism at the U.S. Department of Commerce. In this role, Craighead served as the U.S. government's senior representative for all travel and tourism matters.

At CLIA, Craighead is responsible for leading the organization's efforts as the unified voice of the global cruise community. CLIA's members are ocean-going and river cruise lines, industry partners, including ports and destinations, and 75,000 travel advisors globally.

Groups Today caught up with Craighead to learn the latest.

There's a tremendous opportunity for our industry to expand its meetings, events and group business. Cruise ships have state-of-the-art facilities, entertainment, dining and activities for every interest—all in one location. There's also the advantage of visiting several destinations along the way.

With such a wide variety of ships, experiences and itineraries, there's a fit for every occasion. Ship staff are skilled at working with groups, whether multigenerational families, corporate events, meetings, conferences, affinity or incentives groups. Most cruise lines have a dedicated department to support the specific needs of group travel planners.

Group cruising is an effective way to introduce the experience to those who have never sailed, and growing new-to-cruise business is essential for the industry's future. By 2027, we predict nearly 40 million passengers will cruise—30% more than in 2019. The new ship order book through 2028 shows 62 new cruise ships set to sail, representing a range of ship types and more than $40 billion in investments from cruise lines. Additionally, the appeal of cruising continues to grow, with intent to cruise among both past cruisers and those who've never cruised before being higher now than in 2019.

Our latest research ( highlights several trends, including increased interest in cruising by Millennials and Gen-X-ers. Interest in immersive cruise travel is growing, such as expedition cruising and itineraries with longer stays and overnights. And cruising is especially appealing for multi-generational travel, with family and friends having the most influence on the decision to book a cruise.

Cruising is back, and we're estimating 31.5 million people will cruise this year, more than ever before. There's a ship and experience for everyone.

That said, our biggest challenge is misinformation in the public arena that can influence how people view our industry. Often, this is centered around sustainability and responsible travel. Cruising is actually a leader in accessible, responsible and experiential travel, with facts and data to demonstrate this.

The industry is pursuing net-zero carbon cruising by 2050. Cruise lines are investing billions of dollars in reducing emissions both at sea and when visiting ports of call around the world. New energy solutions are being pursued with fuels, electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and more.

On shore, we're collaborating with ports to expand the availability of shore power in more locations. And we are working with destinations to help preserve the integrity, culture, heritage and beauty of the places we visit.

Edited by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the Sep/Oct '23 issue of Groups Today.

 Photo Courtesy of CLIA. 


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