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"Day in the Life" of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.October 13, 2011 By: Susan Young
|CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. headquarters|
Hundreds of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. travel agents are onboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas this week, but other times of the year they’re on the front lines -- selling cruises and land vacations from their offices or on the road.
But these agents aren't alone.They’re supported in their cruise and vacation sales efforts by a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., headquarters organization that boasts 85 staffers in operations, training, IT, accounting, CRM, agent support, marketing, sales, administration and other functions.
The headquarters staff allows the agency owners and agents to do what they do best – to sell.
Travel Agent spent a day at the Fort Lauderdale headquarters of the two groups last week. We wanted to see what made the headquarters group tick and who the people were behind the scenes. Here's a snapshot of part of our day with CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
About 9 a.m., we spotted the headquarters building with its large WTH (or World Travel Holdings) banner blowing gently in the breeze.
Tropical foliage surrounded the entryway, and once inside, the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. offices were just off to the left on the ground floor. We were greeted by Elly Skellenger, the executive assistant to Dwain Wall and other executives. A digital sign also displayed a welcome with our name -- a nice touch for visitors with appointments.
The entry area was decorated with unique wall art reflecting four types of travel – a cruise ship, mountains, the tropics and a cityscape. When asked what her job entails, Skellenger, who has worked for the organization only since January, simply said, “I do everything,” with a smile and plenty of enthusiasm.
In addition to handling administrative functions for executives, Skellenger also manages the facility issues – coordinating with building management if something is needed. She is attending her first national conference this week.
Recruiting New Agents and Franchisees
At 9:15 a.m., our headquarters tour begins, handled capably by Alicia Lago, the recruitment marketing specialist. Lago’s job is to focus on attracting qualified new franchise owners for CruiseOne and new affiliated agents for Cruises Inc. CruiseOne will celebrate its 20th year next year, Cruises Inc. its 30th.
Lago also works to attract potential new franchisees and agents on social media. Who are the people interested in buying a CruiseOne franchise or perhaps becoming associated as an agent with Cruises Inc.?
"We have a lot of veterans who are interested,” said Lago. She also sees many educators and restauranteurs with interest.
The organization is in the midst of a recruitment and promotional campaign called Second Chance at Success. It will give away five CruiseOne franchises to laid-off teachers.
More than 150 educators have applied, and results will be announced in mid-November. And, for those qualified educators who are not winners but want to buy a franchise, CruiseOne will discount the required franchise fee.
|Vui Nguyen, senior developer analyst|
At about 9:30 a.m., we moved on to chat with Noby de Oliveira, technical support engineer, who agents call with whatever issues arrive. He works to resolve those so agents stay connected and keep satisfying and selling to clients.
Much of his work, he said, involves “how the computer interacts with the applications.” He’s been at the firm for six years. Almost everyone we meet in the hallways and individual offices and cubicles at CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. seemed to exude an upbeat, friendly attitude.
It seemed a busy -- but not loud -- office environment. Employees talked in each other's offices, focused on issues, projects or agent feedback.
At about 9:30 a.m., we met Vui Nguyen, a developer. She was working on the next phase of My Cruise Control, the organization’s multi-faceted booking engine and CRM system.
Once something new is designed, Mark Rosenblatt and Scott Burke in Quality Assurance focus on testing how things work. As so-called “super users,” they told us their job is to look at whether the tools or programs are doing what they’re designed to do.
As we moved through the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. headquarters, silver and blue balloons decorated office cubicles. It was part of a promotion for Make-a-Wish Foundation charitable efforts that the CruiseOne, Cruises Inc. and entire World Travel Holdings team have undertaken.
|Wendy Fish, project manager, IT and Amy Monahan, business support specialist, IT|
At about 10 a.m., we encountered Wendy Fish, project manager , IT, and Amy Monahan, business support specialist, IT, They showed us a hand-made quilt and other small items that will be utilized to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Moving on, we met Kevin Samrajeet, fax administrator, Desiree Trave, group reconciliation specialist; and Melissa Segal, group reconciliation specialist.
We also said hello to Richard in the mailroom. He has the important task for mailing out the ever-important cruise documents and luggage tags to agencies throughout the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. network.
New Field Sales Effort
At 10:30 a.m. we said hello to Susan Hall, field marketing specialist; she is one of three employees now targeted at field sales. Another such employee is Kimberly Faiello, field marketing and agent engagement manager, whose previous experience at Liberty Travel gives her first hand-knowledge of the work life of an agent at the local level.
The new field sales team will help generate publicity and marketing promotions locally that will assist local franchisees in building their client bases.
Some franchise owners are good at marketing, others not. So, this will give them support where they need it most – locally. Agents will opt into certain promotions, or not.
What should local CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents expect? You'll likely see promotions with sports teams, outdoor advertising, and marketing to snowbirds, for example. The goal is to drive brand awareness to local agencies.
Helping Agency Owners
Then it’s on to meet Lisa Bell and Linda Brooks, who says her job is troubleshooting – helping agents and agency owners “get out of a predicament.”
Georgia DeCosta , CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.’s manager of support services, has worked at the firm for nine months, but has a wealth of experience in the business. She worked 20 years in the Carnival Groups Department and at American Express in the Centurion and Platinum areas helping clients with travel and cruise vacations.
Helping CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.’s agents is her goal: “We know it all, we do it all and if we don’t know, we have to know where to get it.”
At about 11:15 a.m., we chatted with Karen Leonard and Dustin Jones, both training specialists. They’re highly involved in a new Webinar teletraining Bootcamp project, which is an intense five-week program for which agency owners and agents may volunteer.
It’s an interactive program that lets retailers share experiences with each other and the management team. The course focuses on knowledge, role playing and qualifying the customer. In one role playing exercise, for example, one participant plays a World cruiser, the other his or her agent.
Pretending that “I’m a World cruiser” is an eye-opening experience for many agents as they see what someone plopping down $25,000 to $100,000 or so expects – and in fact demands – from their travel agent.
It’s a bootcamp, much like the Marines. Leonard said the participants have homework and “timely attendance is mandatory.” Otherwise, they’re booted to the door or they opt out voluntarily. Typically the group starts out about 30, and drops down to about 15-20 who finish, says Leonard.
|Tim Courtney, a former volunteer firefighter, shows Travel Agent his fireman's hat.|
Growing the Business
Next we moved to Tim Courtney’s office. He’s the director, network development, and gives us some perspective on growth. CruiseOne is up 28 percent year-over-year from last year in terms of new franchises. Cruises Inc. is up 78 percent year-over year in terms of agent recruiting.
Overall, the two organizations have shown 92 percent growth in the past 10 years. Many potential new agents and franchise owners are corporate employees now weary of constant traveling or a daily grind of driving to an office.
“We look for entrepreneurs, we look for veterans, and we’re in the top five for veteran recruitment of all franchise organizations,” said Courtney. He also said CruiseOne also attracts “mom-preneurs,” which are mothers who have been in the business and worked professionally in companies, but wish to work from a home office.
For Cruises Inc., many new agents recruited are often working at other agencies. Or, they might be stay-at-home moms who feel they’re too busy to own and operate a business. They like the Cruises Inc. model because they can set their own hours.
Courtney’s background is interesting. He was a former “Jerry Maguire” as a stock broker, he’s sold cruises in the past, and has had a stint in corporate training as well. He’s worked up and down the East Coast, and if your house is on fire, he’s also a good person to have around.
During a previous work life in Long Island, NY, he was a volunteer firefighter for 10 years. He showed us his firefighter’s hat when we visited his office.
He supervises a team of 10 employees all over the country, from Mark Bryant in Hartford to Wendy Denny in Seattle. Other team members are in Long Island, NY, Phoenix, AZ, Pennsylvania, Savannah, San Francisco and Ormond Beach, FL, among other locales.
|Luis Zuniga, vice president of marketing & communications, talks with Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager|
Marketing To Build Sales
At about 11:15 a.m. we received a briefing by Luis Zuniga, vice president of marketing and communications. Essentially, the group works to reach consumers on the consumer side. New logos rolled out at this week’s conference.
Zuniga says there are three primary marketing objectives. One is to help agents grow their business year-over-year by doing marketing that drives traffic, and to create marketing materials – direct mail, email and brochures, for example – that allow agents to showcase cruise and vacation products to clients.
A second goal is to teach agents to market themselves locally and to create ways for them to promote themselves in the marketplace. And the third goal is to expand the overall agent network of agents and franchise owners.
A Direct Mail Calendar shows all the pieces of direct mail the company initiates and agency owners can then design their own marketing efforts around those. Typically, 25-40 direct mail pieces are sent out annually, and agents opt into those or not. Many bundle various pieces of direct mail for a discounted price on multiple pieces.
Agents and their clients also benefit from a Vacation Connoisseur brochure with colorful photos, deals and information about cruise lines and itineraries, World Traveler magazine is a slick, traditional magazine with hefty editorial content; it's designed to entice consumers to consider certain types of travel, to fulfill the vacation desires on their bucket list, and to contact their local agent about those opportunities.
The organization’s e-Savers program creates customized emails for agents, while the SeaLuxe program assures that agents have customized luxury websites.
A robust lead program takes leads from the corporate website and loops them back to the proper agents and agencies. Content is continually updated on that site to provide the latest and most enticing editorial copy to drive clients to want to talk with an agent. The company has invested in paid search, keyword search, and marketing on third party online sites like TravelZoo, Dunhill and CruiseCritic. That helps drive traffic to agents.
Zuniga says the organization's e-mail marketing campaigns involve a tremendous number of contacts; the company has access to 280,000 contacts, and in a February 11 promotion, added 7,000 new contacts. The group’s average an email sent once a week to clients.
Social media is a growing phenomenon so the annual conference training schedule included a session by Rosemarie Reed (whom we met on this office visit) about social networking marketing.
Continuing through the office, we then talked to Karee Norton, marketing services manager, who manages three designers and copy writer, as well as the e-Savers and e-Send programs.
|At left, Jo John, group reconciliation manager, with Joelle Delva, vice president of operations, shown at right.|
Next we visited with Joelle Delva, vice president of operations. She’s a veteran who has been with the organization for 21 years. She started out as a receptionist, a mailroom employee, and – after college – the accounting department, business manager and finance employee.
Today, she supervises operations, including the primary call center when franchisees need help, they can’t tell what to do, and need help with various transactions. She also assures that written guidelines help smooth the processes within the organization.
Among the important tasks on Delva’s radar. Her team creates corporate group space for CruiseOne franchisees, so they can book into that.
Her group also verifies the work output of agents for Cruises Inc., assures that the information entered by agents into the system and their deposits/payments match with what the supplier has for the vacation booking.
All monies from clients are sent to Delva’s department, and CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. headquarters then pays the cruise lines and other suppliers for client bookings.
Delva also supervises the mailroom, reservations accounting, the group team and administration functions. Her employees engage with the franchisees and agents, so the agents know whom they’re e working with and vice versa.
Keeping Sales Numbers Up
After lunch, we chatted with Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance. Daly was an agent for 16 years for NLG and World Travel Holdings before starting work with CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. The affable Daly stresses: “I love the home based model in helping people.”
Daly said typically that 70 percent of new franchise owners for CruiseOne are fresh faces to the industry. He’s involved with putting on one sales training program a month for CruiseOne franchises; those typically take place at the headquarters’ building’s learning center, a large room with approximately 40 computers, and large maps of continents on the walls.
Typically 35 new franchise owners come in for training as they begin their business life with CruiseOne.
In contrast, Cruises Inc. employees take a 40-hour virtual training program, but there is also about one class per quarter for those who wish to come to headquarters.
The groups are also shifting into regional training, going out in the field to train agents. Last year, there were five of those classes, this year there were eight and next year there will be 9. Attendance at these has soared, according to Daly, who describes them as "mini-conferences.”
Online training also assists CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents and the two groups field a portfolio of live Webinars with travel partners. And training for new CruiseOne agents involves sailing on a short ocean cruise, and next year, a river cruise in Europe.
My Cruise Control
While at the headquarters building, we also met with Sandi Szalay, vice president of information technology, and got a sneak peek about the new My Cruise Control booking engine and CRM system.
Among the highlights? Agents will discover a new “qualifying” screen with access to the passenger profile, access to the cruises-and-stay program, shore excursions and many other resources. Also new will be ship reviews, more ship imagery, and not just inside and outside lead-in pricing, but also such pricing for suites and balconies.
And Szalay said one of the most requested new features will give the agent the ability to search for new clients on every new page of My Cruise Control. The system will also allow for emails that are fully editable and professional ; they're also tied into the CRM, so the agent can always see what has been sent to the client. The new upgrades will be released in phases at various times throughout 2012.
|Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.|
More than 750 CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents are attending the annual conference this week. We talked one-on-one with Dwain Wall, the two organization’s senior vice president and general manager, late in the afternoon. He explained that growth – helping agents grow their business -- is a constant priority.
How do agents do that? Besides giving agents all the training and tools to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, “we’re focusing on having a one-on-one conversation with the customers, whether it’s through a handwritten note, or a phone call or email,” emphasized Wall.
With today’s mass communications, personal service at times is lost in the shuffle, he noted, stressing that this is how CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents can set themselves apart.
He addressed the new branding -- more modern, stylized logos that reflect the broadening of the sales efforts -- announced at this week’s conference. “It gets us out of just cruise only and helps us focus more on vacations,” Wall said. “We’re creating memorable experiences.”
While today’s economy is a challenge, it’s important to keep a positive attitude and keep moving forward, he says. He notes that boomers are the most cautious right now, as they don’t all have jobs and some are living off savings or investments.
Still, he says, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. agents are in the travel business, and their mission is to make dreams come true. His organizations have a “very, very high rate” of retaining franchise owners and agents, “one of the industry’s highest,” Wall said. “But it’s never high enough.”
As for his headquarters staff, "I’d like to think this is a happy place to work,” Wall says. The company has a performance-based pay system, and bonuses are based on performance.
We met with many other employees and managers during our day at CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. Quite frankly, there was just too much to describe in one article. We wish we could have profiled more employees and shown all their photos here. But in the slide shows above, you can see many of the staffers.
Overall, the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. group at headquarters seemed friendly, team-focused and not level-conscious, as some big groups are. It also wasn’t a stuffy environment, but rather appeared busy, yet relaxed.
Employees seemed to communicate well with a team approach – continually talking to each other about projects and working to put together this week’s conference programming and logistics.
Executives say the goal at CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. is to create a fun workplace environment, and that’s not just part of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.’s philosophy, but also that of parent World Travel Holdings. Owners Brad and Jeff Tolkin maintain offices in the facility and are sometimes on site.
Certain times of the year, all the vice presidents host a barbecue; yes, they actually cook, brandishing chef’s hats. The group still has holiday parties.
Simply put, the organization seemed to exude a sense of family, something many organizations have watched disappear in the past decade.
During our day-long visit to the Fort Lauderdale offices, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.'s headquarters operation and employees hummed along nicely serving agents throughout America.