Dynamic Duos: Mother’s Day Is Every Day for Some Cruise Sellers

Among the family duos selling cruises are Terry McKinney (right), a Cruise Planners franchise owner, Magnolia, TX and her daughter, Andrea Mickan, who is an independent contractor selling travel at that agency. (Courtesy of Cruise Planners)

You may have sent the card and the flowers, but it’s not too late to make this the best Mother’s Day ever. Here’s a look at several mother-daughter duos working together to sell cruises. 

In July 2011, Terry McKinney opened a Cruise Planners franchise agency in Magnolia, TX, and immediately set out to spread the word locally about her business. She needed help in working trade shows, so she asked a person she knew well and trusted, her daughter Andrea Mickan, to help. It was the start of a beautiful business relationship.  

"I saw that she was a natural fit for the romance travel industry,” says McKinney, who lobbied for several years to bring her daughter into the agency to sell cruises and land vacations. Persistence finally paid off, as Mickan joined the business as a full-time independent contractor in 2015.

Today, this mother-daughter duo – neither of which had any professional sales experiences prior to joining Cruise Planners and taking the franchise's training programs – annually posts more than a million dollars in sales.

The Dynamic Duo

With Mother’s Day celebrated this month, Travel Agent asked the duo what vacation options they'd suggest as a gift for moms, either for the holiday this month, or as a gift to pamper mom for next year's Mother's Day.

Their suggestions include an ocean cruise onboard the Celebrity Reflection staying in a Spa Suite; a trip to El Dorado Seaside Suites (one of the swim-out, infinity pool suites) in Riviera Maya with a beach cabana and butler service; or perhaps a Danube River cruise onboard AmaWaterways' AmaSerena, with the included shore excursions and local wines.  

While it's clear this mom-daughter love each other and celebrate each other's achievements, Travel Agent asked them, what makes a professional partnership work when it’s a family affair? What are the pros and cons? 

“As far as responsibilities, we each maintain our own independent book of business,” McKinney says. “We work our own leads, maintain our own client base, have independent offices and set our own operating hours.” 

That said, both women also work with groups, have clients of all ages and share common interests of river cruises and romance travel, including engagements, vow renewals, destination weddings and honeymoons. So “we work as a team when securing group travel business and share responsibilities from first meeting to completion of travel,” says McKinney. 

The duo love the romance travel industry, noting they feel great joy and pride when their clients get married – going from college sweethearts to parents, and then the travel agents are called “aunties” by clients when they start having kids. “What a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve made a difference in someone’s lives,” says McKinney. 

Pros of a mom and daughter working together in selling travel? When one of the ladies is traveling outside the U.S., it’s easy for the other to work the entire business as a back-up. “We trust each other,” McKinney stresses.

However, McKinney acknowledged that “we’re both Type A and want things done our own way.” As she's relating that to Travel Agent, Mickan speaks up and stresses that she really doesn’t think she’s Type A, and both women break into laughter with that pronouncement.

Another “pro” for family members working together in an agency? They have fun no matter what. One “con” is that sometimes it can be difficult to stop working when it's family time.

Also, now that they've become so successful with robust bookings, it can be difficult for both to travel together. That said, “I am so proud to have my daughter working by my side in my company,” says McKinney. 

Generally, the top tip for keeping things running smoothly in a mom-daughter agency situation. “Respect each other, have good communications, have faith in each other’s ability, and don’t work 24-7,” says McKinney, noting that the latter is something her daughter has taught her. 

More Family Connections

Bev Frazier and her daughter Molly Mandal are franchise owners and vacation specialists, Dream Vacations – Frazier & Associates in Clovis, CA. They work together on a lot of things, but Frazier deals with the groups and Mandal handles all land bookings. 

One unusual project? “We are actually working with another mother-daughter franchise team to create a mother-daughter group cruise,” says Frazier. “This will be something we can share as three generations -- me, Molly and her daughter Sadie.”

Photo Courtesy of Mary Ann Strasheim
In 1998, Mary Ann Strasheim, owner, Custom Cruises & Travel, an Ensemble agency in Omaha, NE, started her home-based travel agency in a space above the garage in her home. But in 2010, when she and her husband decided to downsize from a five-bedroom home to a condominium, she needed to find new space for the agency.  

Simultaneously, her daughter Elise Aust was looking for a new job. It was perfect timing. The travel agency moved out of the garage and into a local shopping village, and Aust became the agency’s manager.

“It has worked out beautifully and we have recently moved into a larger bay and added more agents,” says Strasheim. 

What does she cite as most important to remember about working with a family member as a co-worker? “The love of travel, knowing your priorities and attention to detail are the most important attributes needed whether they [staff] are family or not,” Strasheim stresses.

Comprising another mom-daughter team of travel sellers are Janel Fidalgo, owner of Janel Fidalgo Agency LLC, Ware, MA, an independent agency in the Avoya Network, and daughter Katrina Fidalgo who works alongside her at the agency.   

“Katrina works for my agency part-time and is available to help when she can,” says Janel Fidalgo, who says they work well as a team. “Katrina helps me get things done quicker,” says Fidalgo. “Two hands on the computer and two people on the phone are better and quicker than one.” 

She notes that on trips, she’ll take client calls using her Bluetooth, while Katrina works the iPad so they can help clients while they’re on the road. 

Here’s a different twist on family members working together. Linda Gruver of Sun Lakes, AZ, just outside Phoenix, and Annie Stimmel of Seattle, WA, both are owners of a CruiseOne franchise. They’re also a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who work with the same clients, but from different locations.

“We split our responsibilities based on what is happening with any traveling we are doing, or groups we are escorting,” says Gruver. Each meets with the cruise line’s business development managers in their local area so they've established good relationships in both regions. They also meet with clients face-to-face in their respective areas. 

Stimmel answers the agency’s phone calls most of the time; works within the computer system and booking engine to handle reservations and keep them updated; and does social media marketing. Gruver, in turn, handles mailing brochures and packets to clients and works to build the agency’s group business including the agency’s annual Great Girls Getaway.  

“We are lucky to have such a wonderful relationship,” says Gruver. “We not only really enjoy working together, but are also great friends.  We work well together in splitting responsibilities and also taking the reins from each other when needed, as every day can be different in what needs to be done.”

They communicate daily, whether they’re on the phone talking about their next group idea, emailing back and forth to keep each other updated with current reservations or even just texting quick notes. “After 10 years of being partners, we have fallen into a fantastic system that works well for us,” Gruver emphasizes. 

She says they do many things as a team, and that makes selling more fun, plus the clients like seeing the relationship they have: “It has helped build trust with new perspective clients as well.” 

Naomi Hughes and her daughter, Casandra Hughes, from Aurora, IL, are franchise owners and vacation specialists for Dream Vacations. Mom handles the customer interaction while her daughter handles the administrative and marketing portion of the business, plus social media. 

Both try not to infringe on each other’s duties. “We both love to be right so we will research until one of us finds an answer,” quips Naomi Hughes. They travel often together on business, but “all we need is is our computer, Internet connection and a phone and we can take our business anywhere."  

The mother-daughter team have participated in the Northern Illinois University Diversity Fair, Women Expo, and have been featured in the local newspaper.

So as the annual Mother's Day celebration gets under way this weekend, it extends far beyond just a personal relationship for many mothers, daughters or daughters-in law. For those who are also dynamic duos of cruise and travel selling, it's a daily working relationship. 

Most of all, though, they love the feeling of working together on something they're both passionate about -- the world of travel and making vacation dreams come true for clients.