Brad Tolkin’s Vision For Cruise One & Cruises Inc.October 25, 2010 By: Susan Young
During the past four years, Brad Tolkin and his brother Jeff have purchased three companies, all in the travel business and all losing money prior to the Tolkin family’s takeover.
But on Friday, Brad Tolkin, president of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. and chairman of World Travel Holdings, stood before an audience of hundreds of CruiseOne franchise owners, Cruises Inc. independent hosted agents and travel supplier partners to say: “Today, [these companies] all have two ingredients in common. One, they are all in the travel business. And two, they are all making money.”
It’s clearly the Tolkin family’s vision, good business smarts, aggressive leadership and passion for travel has helped propel the companies – CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. [formerly part of NLG] as well as Villas of Distinction and Island Hideways – into profitability. He noted that the latter two are now contributing $500,000 to the company’s bottom line.
“And yes, like you, in these businesses I am a travel agent, selling to the consumer, working hard, working creatively, working differently, working more efficiently than the previous owners who were losing money on these entities ‘in the good old days.’”
So what’s the secret sauce, he asked? It’s not hard work, although that helps, he said. “It is a lot about passion but the secret sauce is change. Instead of fighting the issues of the day, recognize them and change with them. You need to be open to doing business differently.”
Tolkin said agents who aren’t open to change will fall behind and lose money. As an example, he talked about last year’s recessionary environment. He acknowledged that CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. had to embrace a lower priced product and wrestle with a shorter booking window, but, while the company made less money, it brought in much needed cash.
While some competitors were willing to wait until the storm passed, “we said, give us the business,” Tolkin stressed. His philosophy? “Stop fighting the past or things you cannot influence. Implement changes to improve your sales and improve your profitability.”
In reference to the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference theming of “2010 Engage,” he noted that “engagement is why we matter.” He pointed to an Aug. 5, 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal that reported that more consumers are interested in using a travel agent.
The fad of a consumer going onto the Internet and booking anything but a simple transaction is over, Tolkin emphasized, noting that fees, surcharges and other travel restrictions have created an online travel sales environment that’s extremely confusing for consumers.
“Travel is one of the most complicated purchases,” he said. “There is ever increasing evidence that now more than ever, we as travel agents have a fantastic opportunity to once again prove how much value we bring to consumers on a very important purchase – their vacation.”
That said, Tolkin said travel agents must create a memorable, personalized and hassle-free experience for clients. Agents must also be effective consultants and efficient planners. “Sell your outstanding customer service,” he told the audience. He also said agents must do more to sell themselves and their value, not just the product.
“World Travel Holdings is having a fantastic year,” he said, noting his optimism for the future. Travel is a part of every individual’s DNA, so it’s not a luxury but an entitlement, he said.
Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are now arriving at retirement – with lots of discretionary time and income – and Tolkin believes this offers tremendous sales opportunities: “People age 65 and older are [for the first time ever] about to outnumber children under 5.”
He also stressed that boomers are healthier than predecessor generations of the same age. “The Marlboro man is dead,” he said. “Sixty is the new 50 and 70 is the new 60.”
He brought up former MLB player Tug McGraw’s motto of “You Gotta Believe.” Tolkin stressed: “You need to be Tug McGraw, you need to believe in your business, you need to engage your customers and engage with us at headquarters…and the foundation for all of this is you need to believe in you.”
“Project that passion, that energy, and love what you do and the money will follow,” he said. “I promise you. Have confidence in yourself and visualize success. You gotta believe.”
And while he and brother Jeff are vibrantly active in the business, Brad Tolkin addressed the matter of the next generation of leadership. He said some members of the family’s younger generation have opted for careers outside travel.
However, he then introduced his nephew Joshua and son Sean, both of whom joined him on the conference stage. They have joined the business, and over a two-year period, they will participate and work in every department of the business in a “rotation” program. The first area of exposure is in the field of home-based sales.
Tolkin said he’s learned over the years, it’s critical to hire great people and pay them well, because they will make you look better and earn you more money. With that in mind, he brought the entire CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. team to the stage for recognition from the audience.
He implored the audience to keep an ongoing dialogue with the corporate team, to talk about successes and also things that could be done better: “As the owner of this organization, I tell my people ‘I want you taking risks. If you’re not taking risks we’re not going to grow the organization and we’re not going to make our partners in the audience here and at home more profitable.”