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Navigating GrowthFebruary 2, 2009 By: Susan Young Home-Based Travel Agent
CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. have a solid past and a bright future.
Today, as more travel agents get up each morning and head for their home-based office to begin answering phones, e-mailing potential clients, proactively marketing and booking cruises, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.—two cruise-selling brands owned by Woburn, MA-based World Travel Holdings—are poised for high-energy growth.
The next annual conference for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. will be on Carnival Pride from Baltimore in September.
With a tough economy that has led to massive layoffs nationwide, many people—including stockbrokers, mortgage bankers, fast-food franchise owners and other entrepreneurs—are seeking new careers. They want to start home-based businesses they will enjoy. Thus, “we’re growing pretty rapidly and we believe the home-based business model in general is at the right place at the right time,” says Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
Of course, the two brands also serve some successful brick-and-mortar agencies. But the majority of CruiseOne’s 600 franchise owners and Cruises Inc.’s 500 professional hosted agents, are home-based. Founded in 1992, CruiseOne is the nation’s oldest cruise-only franchise, while its sister brand, Cruises Inc., is a host agency group with more than 27 years of experience. Travel Agent talked with Wall and Steven Hattem, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.’s vice president of marketing, about the brands.
Tim and Trish Martin of CruiseOne in Beaverton, OR; and Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
In the CruiseOne business model, franchise owners retain all their own clients and are independent companies, yet rely on CruiseOne for help in setting up their business; training and educational opportunities; business- and marketing-plan assistance; and back-office and technology support.
Owners utilize the web-based Cruise Control, CruiseOne’s proprietary $50 million reservations, CRM and financial system, giving access to live, real-time cruise-line inventory and pricing. A dedicated business development manager will help franchise owners grow their business, while a customer-support department will address group blocks, payments and other cruise-line issues. Most importantly, a robust portfolio of professionally developed and highly customized marketing programs and tools are at the agent’s fingertips, according to Hattem.
New this year, CruiseOne has debuted CruiseCreate Plus, the latest version of its web-publishing tool. Franchise owners and agents can select and choose different marketing programs; browse multiple flyers to customize and send to clients; arrange for immediate printing on their agency printer or order printing services from vendors; and more. Franchise owners upload their database to a secure third-party system that utilizes the information to create the collateral. “We don’t own or operate it, so we can’t touch anyone’s database,” notes Wall.
To secure a CruiseOne franchise, the agency owner pays a $9,800 upfront fee. For experienced agents with a book of business, the fee typically drops to $3,195, and if agents have an extremely large amount of business, the fee could be as low as $495.
Royalties that franchise owners pay to the organization are capped at a certain level and then they earn 100 percent commissions after that. “This is full business ownership. They bring their data, it’s completely secure, and when [and if] they ever leave, the database goes with them,” says Wall.
Tim and Trish Martin, former information technology professionals from Beaverton, OR, were seeking a home-based business to operate together. In 2001, they bought a CruiseOne franchise; Trish operated it at launch and Tim joined in 2003.
In 2008, the Martins were honored as CruiseOne’s Franchise of the Year. “Through CruiseOne, we can run our own business, yet be part of something much bigger—part of World Travel Holdings,” says Trish Martin. That affiliation, she says, elevates the access her small business has to big industry programs and high-level relations with suppliers.
In addition, “I talk a lot to small-business people, and one of the big struggles they have is how to keep their arms around the bookkeeping,” says Tim Martin, who adds that CruiseOne has done an excellent job of putting together good packages to handle technology, marketing and, most importantly, back-office processes that benefit his agency.
Because of rapid growth, CruiseOne is now hosting frequent training classes for new franchise owners; the next two are February 23 and March 30 in Fort Lauderdale.
Steven Hattem, of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., in Tokyo
Hosting for Success
Sister brand Cruises Inc. is a well-developed hosting model that attracts many existing travel professionals as well as those new to the travel business. “No one will sell cruise travel like those with a built-in book of business and existing industry relationships,” Wall stresses, and Cruises Inc. has deals to attract those experienced agents.
Wall also believes, however, that it’s vitally important to also attract new agents who are younger or from other walks of life. Thus, the Cruises Inc. recruitment site is being relaunched this year, with a goal of attracting many Generation X and Generation Y consumers.
Whether an agent is experienced or a newcomer, the enrollment fee to become a Cruises Inc. host agent is $495. Hosted agents receive many services, including professional marketing materials that are highly customizable; customer and back-office support; errors and omission insurance; the Cruise Control reservations, CRM and financial system; and more. Cruises Inc. also provides a lead-generation program.
Compared with CruiseOne, Cruises Inc. is “a shared partnership, where we split the commission on a different level than on the franchise side,” says Wall. This split is on a graduated scale based on annual sales, but agents have the potential to earn up to 75 percent of commission.
Hosted agents receive full training but are responsible for their own transportation. The next in-person training session for new Cruises Inc. agents is March 9 in Fort Lauderdale.
Sales-wise, every program drives business back to franchise owners or hosted agents. “We do not compete with our CruiseOne owners or Cruises Inc. agents like some of the competition does [with their agents],” emphasizes Wall. “We don’t book anything in our corporate offices.”
Hattem adds that an in-house design team creates all collateral from scratch. For example, both brands have their own websites, direct-mail programs and magazines. In terms of brand messaging, both brands emphasize stellar service, a best-price guarantee, satisfaction guarantee and being a part of World Travel Holdings, the world’s largest seller of cruises.
Keeping agents on the cutting edge of industry trends and creating robust training to help them grow their business is also crucial, says Hattem. Initial training for both new franchise owners and new host agents is conducted in an in-house training center in South Florida. Ongoing training includes seminars at sea; regional meetings for franchise owners; mini-conferences; and one annual conference for both brands on a cruise ship. The next annual conference will be on Carnival Pride from Baltimore in September.
At the Rapture Rehabilitation Center check presentation, from left: John Litten, Alaska Raptor Center board member; Debbie Reeder, Alaska Raptor Center; Kim Updegraff, CruiseOne; and Dwain Wall, CruiseOne/Cruises Inc.
Last fall’s conference was on Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury in Alaska. Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, says the company has a strong relationship with the two cruise-selling groups, particularly given the ownership by World Travel Holdings, which, she noted, ranks in the top 5 percent in sales volume on Celebrity’s accounts. The two cruise-selling brands also “get people onboard that buy balcony cabins, which is a really nice fit for the Celebrity brands,” she says.
Right now, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. operate solely within the U.S., but Wall says the groups are looking at expansion in both Canada and possibly another country.