A cruise specialist who works for the St. Louis-based agency The Cruise Planner from her home in Millersville, MD, Jeannie Lipphard became hooked on cruising as soon as she went on her first cruise in December 1998. "I absolutely loved it," she says. "The atmosphere, service, food, activities, parties, dancing...We just had some really, really good times, and that's what cruising is all about—having a good time."
Lipphard had met an established cruise agent before starting down the path of becoming one herself. Online, she found Diane Mason, the owner of The Cruise Planner. "I cruised several more times with her in 1999 and 2000," Lipphard says, and she began sending her friends and family to Mason. "One day, she said to me, 'Gee, have you ever thought about selling cruises? You're sending me so much referral business, I can't keep up. Have you thought about getting into the business?' We talked about it for a few months and I thought, 'Why not try it?' I got into the business in September of 2001, and the rest is history."
With Mason serving as her mentor, Lipphard immersed herself in the industry to learn the many ins and outs. Now, she is a CLIA-accredited Elite Scholar Cruise Counselor with clients in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, the U.K. and Spain, as well as the United States.
Lipphard stresses the need for a strong support network, especially when you're first starting out. Mason, who had been in the business for 15 years, was invaluable to her. "She was there to answer questions and steer me in the right direction," she says.
Lipphard also recommends joining a host agency, and has been happy with her current affiliation. "We moved over to Joystar from another host agency in January of '06, and it has been an incredibly good move," she says. She recently had an issue where a cruise line quoted her an incorrect price for a client, and then tried to raise the price. When Lipphard couldn't get a response back from the person she had been working with, she took it to Joystar. "Then it was all taken care of," she says. She also gave high marks to Joystar's contacts, training seminars, and other educational opportunities.
To be successful as an agent, Lipphard says, "You've gotta have the gift of gab. I can turn any conversation with any stranger into a cruise conversation," she says. "The business is not just going to fall in your lap...It takes time." When you book a trip for a client, it's important to keep them coming back. "You've got to take care of the details; if there's an issue or problem, you have to take care of it quickly." All of Lipphard's clients get a welcome-home letter in the mail on the day they get home from a cruise. "If you provide good service, you're going to keep your clients, and you'll start getting referrals."
Lipphard says that she works with all the cruise lines and books destinations worldwide, including the Mexican Riviera, Australia, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. She cruises anywhere from three to six times per year.
The bottom line? "Education is extremely important," Lipphard advises. "You have to experience what you sell...You have to love what you sell." —Dan Butcher