Cruise Lines International Association has named its latest leader: Kelly Craighead, the former executive director of the National Travel and Tourism Office and a longtime D.C. insider who served under two presidential administrations.

She joins the cruise association during a period of robust growth — 28 million people are expected to cruise worldwide in 2018, up from 21.3 million in 2013. But that growth comes with some concerns that the industry has been forced to address, including issues surrounding overtourism and worries from Wall Street about whether demand can keep up with all the supply growth on the horizon.

Craighead, who starts as president and CEO Jan. 1, will be the cruise industry group’s fourth CEO since 2014. She replaces Cindy D’Aoust, who said in July she planned to leave by the end of the year to “focus on family priorities.”

In a statement, CLIA said Craighead will direct the global team — which includes 15 offices around the world — to “continue to unify, represent, advocate and promote the common interests of the organization’s members and the global cruise industry.” A CLIA spokeswoman said Craighead will not be available for interviews before she starts the job.

CLIA members include cruise lines, travel agents, cruise suppliers, ports, and destinations.  In recent years, executives from the largest operators in the world have spoken more about the importance of sustainable tourism practices. Cruise lines have become visible representations of the downside of bringing multiple people into a destination all at once, and some cities have sought cooperation from lines or put restrictions in place to lessen the impact.

Kelly Craighead, incoming CLIA president and CEO

The last three CLIA executives have come from backgrounds working with travel agents, meeting planners, or the Coast Guard, but Craighead’s history working on tourism should give her a fresh perceptive for the cruise industry. Terry Dale, who was CEO from 2003 to 2010, had previously worked for several destination marketing organizations including NYC & Company.

“Demand for cruising is exhibiting strong growth, making the cruise industry a critical partner to localities, regions and nations around the world,” Craighead said in a statement. “I am excited to be joining such a strong and well-respected organization at an important time for the industry. I look forward to listening, learning, and better understanding the needs of our members and building on the strong foundation and success of the current team, in order to most effectively lead CLIA in the years ahead.”

CLIA said in its statement that in her role at the National Travel and Tourism Office, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Craighead “led initiatives that generated over $250 billion annually from international visitors to the U.S. while also representing the United States internationally.”

Craighead was U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Travel and Tourism and executive director of the National Travel and Tourism Office from 2014 until 2017, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The office made headlines earlier this year after suspending the release of information about international tourist numbers, citing technical issues with data provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Flaws in the data collected at some ports of entry reportedly dated back to 2013.  The U.S. Department of Commerce has since addressed the glitch and revised some earlier data.

Before taking the travel and tourism job, Craighead was president and managing director of the Democracy Alliance, a progressive philanthropy group, for 10 years. She worked as a deputy assistant to the president in the Clinton administration for eight years; according to news reports, then-U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton officiated at her wedding in 2001.

A biography on a U.S. Department of Commerce site said Craighead advised the Clintons on activities including “Save America’s Treasures,” a federal initiative that helps preserve historic buildings, art, documents, and other items. She also served at one point as U.S. Commissioner to UNESCO.

That political experience could be an asset at CLIA, which does its share of lobbying. The association consolidated its U.S. offices in Washington, D.C. in spring of 2015 after operating with offices in Arlington, Virginia, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“I am extremely pleased that Kelly will be joining CLIA to support the global cruise industry during this golden age of cruising,” said Global CLIA Chairman Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corp., in a statement. “Her extensive experience in the hospitality and travel industries, combined with her leadership skills and passion for results, are second to none. This is an exciting time for our industry, steeped in opportunity and I look forward to working with Kelly in the years to come.”

Photo Credit: Cruise ships are shown in St. Maarten in this photo from April of 2017. The cruise industry's trade association just named a new CEO. sofakingevil / Flickr