As Cruise Planners-American Express rings in its 20th anniversary as a cruise agency franchise group, Travel Agent visited the group's corporate headquarters in Coral Springs, FL, and snapped these photos of the agency group’s staffers in action. Here are the faces of the agency group - professionals who serve 900-plus Cruise Planners franchise owners and their staffs around the U.S.
Cruise Planners just completed its annual convention at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, FL, and onboard the Royal Princess, sailing from Port Everglades, FL. Themed around “The Power of Partnerships” the conference welcomed nearly 500 travel advisors in a “sold out” event.
Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder
In addition, the trade show had 125-plus vendors participating, the largest such group for Cruise Planners. Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder, Cruise Planners, told conference attendees that the organization has reached “critical mass,” meaning that it can leverage its power and partnerships even more for agents.
Fee told conference goers that Cruise Planners has seen a 29 percent increase in cruise sales during the past three years, with sales up at every cruise destination since the same time last year. Land sales, a big push for many cruise selling agencies, were up 121 percent in three years.
During our corporate headquarters visit, the “Cruisitude” motivation for which Cruise Planners is well known, was definitely in play. An aptly named Cruisitude Lounge featured motivational sayings. The group's bright green colors and a cheery attitude of staffers were evident in hallways and public spaces.
And the bling and promotional fun was demonstrated by Vicky Garcia, co-owner and chief operating officer, who welcomed us to her office and showed us a shirt that agents will recognize from the recent conference.
Vicky Garcia, co-owner and chief operating officer
Fee and Garcia talked at length about technological enhancements being introduced. The goal, said Fee, is “to work smarter not harder” and to allow technology to free up agents to do what they do best – working with customers, networking, providing service and building relationships.
Fee also noted that technology development in the past five years has gone far beyond what anyone could have imagined. “We’re your partner to help you through that,” Fee wants her franchise agents to know. With that in mind, Cruise Planners has introduced or shortly will these new technological enhancements:
Online Reservations Booking and Management Tool: This tool has been upgraded and is now fully integrated with all major cruise lines’ information. So it makes the agent’s job easier and more “one stop shopping.” The agent, for example, would be able to enter spa, shore trip or dining information.
Updated Value Tracker: This tool automatically tracks bookings and lets agents know when there is an opportunity for a value-add such as upgrades, added amenities or savings to pass along to clients. That’s generated more than $1.2 million in added value for agents since it launched in May and the tool is now being upgraded.
“Agents simply can’t do it all by themselves,” said Fee, noting that the new Value Tracker reprices every night and identifies the value-add opportunities that agents simply wouldn’t have time to track.
Mobile Friendly Versions of Agent Web Sites: Starting in 2014, agents will have mobile-friendly versions of their Web sites so clients can book via their smartphone or tablet.
Smart Select Tool: This will allow agents to automatically identify clients within their database who best match a specific marketing campaign. That allows agents to make the best of their marketing dollars. Essentially, it lays intelligence over levels within the CRM system to augment third-party psychographic and demographic information.
That way, Cruise Planners agents are reaching the right customer at the right time, based on intelligence within the system that gleans their "propensity to buy." Garcia and Fee said might find the right client who is primed for a family reunion each August, or a loyal XYZ line customer, or someone who normally sails in June and takes a second cruise in December, and will match them up with the right offer.
For example, the system might identify 300 client names that are best for a specific offer. Agents, as always, can opt out, but if they don’t respond, the offer is sent to the list.
New “Live Theme” Video Backgrounds: Agents who so desire may add a “moving” theme of their choice that frames their website like a picture frame on each side. So they might pick a pristine beach with gentle waves, or perhaps the action of downtown London. “It provides a whole new concept for the website,” said Fee.
While technology is helpful to all agents, what should Cruise Planners and other agents be doing as 2013 comes to a close? From Fee’s perspective: “Don’t wait until Wave Season to begin selling. Keep marketing, keep selling.”