Last year, Cruise Planners had the strongest sales year in its history. "You all have taken it to the 'max,'" Michelle Fee, the organization’s co-founder and CEO, emphatically told agents attending the opening session of the Cruise Planners mid-year conference at the Broward County Convention Center at Port Everglades, FL, on Sunday.
For 2017, Fee stressed that while the American travel and leisure segment as a whole posted 6 percent growth, a pretty respectable number, Cruise Planners agencies' sales collectively grew by 20 percent. "We're out performing again," she said.
The entire conference is themed around "Take it to the Maxx," and it appears the CP agents are doing that. For client travel purchases made during 2018's first four months (Q1 and thus far in Q2), the organization is seeing double digit growth.
In fact, CP agents are collectively up 34 percent in purchases made by clients during the first four months of 2018, versus the same time last year.
The biggest increases regionally, based on cruise, are an eight percent increase in Caribbean purchases, thus far this year, as well as a 17 percent increase for Alaska and a whopping 37 percent increase in Europe.
But knocking it out of the park is river cruising, with purchases up 65 percent for 2018's first four months, versus the same period a year ago.
Noting that she was astounded by that, Fee said: “Let’s cross our fingers and hope it all sticks." As for luxury, CP agencies also are trending up 22 percent for the first four months of this year.
By the end of this year, "we should trend up by 18 percent [for all of 2018] if everything stays on the books," Fee said.
A Record Year
One big factor in the positive performance was last year's replacement of CP's eRez with CP Maxx, a new, proprietary booking and customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
Fee called 2017 "fabulous" for sales, said Cuba was the trendiest destination of the year, and that the 2017 hurricane season was a challenge. But, “the cruise lines reacted swiftly and the travel industry community rallied,” she said.
She also cited favorable factors impacting higher sales, such as low airfares to Europe, the strengthening of the U.S. dollar, the stock market being at an all time high and a low unemployment rate.
“And Americans...they were opening up their wallets and they were spending money," Fee emphasized. "It was the strongest year in the history of Cruise Planners." But she told the agents: "There was one factor that made this all possible – and that's all of you. And without all of you, we would be nothing, so we want to thank you for that."
2018 Growth to Date
In terms of this year's growth trend, Fee said the cruise industry as a whole had an extremely good start to this past Wave Season, cruise lines outpaced their estimated earnings in the first quarter, and cruise line stocks are holding strong.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is also reporting that 2018 is expected to be a great year, she said, and that's just in the cruise segment. Fee said this is the biggest year ever for new ships, citing 16 new ships being delivered this year with more than 34,000 berths expected to hit the market by year's end.
“This is a vote of confidence” in the agency community by cruise lines, Fee said, thanking the cruise line partners in the room: "It gives us a lot of inventory to sell," she said. By 2022, 90 new ships will hit the market.
2018 Looks Hot
For the first four months of 2018, CP's land sales are also soaring -- up 15 percent in land purchases in the first four months of the year, despite having a big year in 2017.
In addition, for the first time in CP history, three agents this year have already posted more than one million dollars in purchases (based on departures) during one 2018 calendar month. The top sellers are Nancy Bogert of Williamsport, PA, who hit that for one month; Julie Irovando of Valrico, FL, posting that achievement for two months; and Michael Consoli of Roswell, GA, who out of four months in 2018 had three of them with more than one million dollars in sales.
“I don’t even think these people sleep,” said Fee. "That is just incredible." But while mid-year results are impressive, Fee also said, “we know success is not always easy to achieve.” But she added that CP's agents have redefined how to take it to the next level.
Race Track Motivation
Tapping into the race track theming, Fee told the agents that the CP home office group is “your pit crew to success,” helping tune up technology, sales and marketing skills. The CP executives wore green and used racing visuals throughout the program to make their points.
To robust cheering and clapping, Vicky Garcia, co-owner and chief operating officer, Cruise Planners, took the stage holding up the CP branded green color standard, but in a new way. She was dressed in a a green and black race car suit.
Akin to the travel industry’s version of Danica Patrick, Garcia (shown in racing suit attire in the photo above) said she was backstage checking up on the home office crew, who were “revved up” for the conference.
With a hefty dose of motivational enthusiasm and a bit of humor too, Garcia -- using racetrack jargon -- quipped in fun: “We believe in getting our pit crew ready ... We've tightened all of our bolts, we've changed all of our spark plugs" ... "We've even got a lube job and polished the headlights.”
“What’s she’s saying is we’re super excited to be your cruise crew captains -- to help you guys cross the finish line in first place," stressed Fee. "I think they've got it," she said to Garcia, as the crowd chuckled.
Garcia then turned a bit more serious, noting that the CP Home Office is trying to help its agents cross the finish line and not in second place or third place, but in first place. "Every one of you is driving this amazing green machine," said Garcia.
Agency franchise owners are also navigating the twists and turns of owning their own travel business, and Garcia said she wanted the agents to know "we're here to help you all the way."
Fee said the CP business development team is "your steering wheel," ready to help guide agents lap after lap and help keep them on track.
In 2017, Cruise Planners’ top agency sales levels within the agent organization -- Rock Stars, Mega Stars and Millionnaires Club -- also had growth of 18 percent overall. The CP group's Rock Stars increased sales by 26 percent, Mega Stars increased sales by 16 percent and Millionaires Club grew their businesses by 15 percent.
But, executives said that in just the first four months of 2018, agents in those top selling level groups have already exceeded their entire last year's business:
“CP is pretty much on fire,” added Garcia, as a live band broke into singing that sentiment. Last year, 22 percent more agents were added to the elite Millionnaires Club.
And in 2018's first four months, CP has already doubled the amount of agents who have already hit the Millionnaires Club level for 2019. "And that's only in the first four months of the year, and we still have a bunch of months left," stressed Garcia.
Fee then praised the productivity of the CP accounting team as "the fuel" that's "keeping the tank and your bank account full."
Training and Events
The duo also talked about the recent executive addition of Scott Koepf as the new vice president of strategic development at the CP Home Office. Koepf, who is an industry veteran and agent advocate, now leads the CP training and events team.
Fee called that team the “windshield of the race car, giving you a clear view of the road ahead.”
Agents watched a video from Koepf about his CP mission. He'll soon launch new franchise training to help agents market and sell better. In addition, later this year, he'll host new "Sales Skills by Scott,” weekly short videos with tips and insider knowledge. Also coming is a new CP Specialist Certification program with a variety of learning opportunities.
Throughout the past year, Cruise Planners introduced eight travel and adventure shows this year, with more than 60 CP travel agent participants, which the organization says brought millions of dollars in purchases, many from new customers.
In addition, CP also hosted two sales boot camps in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and a Land Symposium, which gets under way September 5-9 at the Hyatt Ziva in Los Cabos, Mexico.
A CP luxury and river cruise forum, planned for July 16-18, sold out in 48 hours, and has a waiting list. Given agent demand, Koepf’s mission, said Garcia, is to "supersize that program for next year." Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for another story later this week focused on the new technology, sales and marketing and incentive tools being added by Cruise Planners to help agents "Take it to the Maxx" in their franchise agency's sales.