As the 2023 Dream Vacations and CruiseOne National Conference—themed "Focus"—kicked off earlier this week aboard Carnival Celebration, 600 franchise agency owners and their associates learned about top 2023 achievements, trends and new initiatives for 2024 and beyond. In one executive discussion, Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager, moderated a marketing and information technology (“MarTech”) talk by Alicia Linden, vice president of marketing, and Sandi Szalay, vice president of information technology. Here are reveals from the conference session and interviews that Travel Agent conducted with Linden and Szalay.

Group Application Update

At last year’s conference, the organization had announced plans for a new group application. That "reveal" was cheered vigorously by travel advisors in the audience. Bottom line? So far, that group application—now in full use by the advisor network—has been highly effective. “We’ve seen in the results that they’re booking groups more than ever,” Linden says, while Szalay reports that group sales increased 30 percent this past year.

That’s partly because some franchise owners or associates who hadn’t sold groups before were “just daunted by the whole thing—even just learning how to manage a group,” says Szalay, But now, they use the new group application, which she describes as “almost like a wizard."

While it’s not connected directly to the cruise lines, that application is “really robust and intuitive in supporting the management of a group,” she explains. “So, it consolidates everything. They have a view of all their financials. It queues up the payments that need to be made. It invoices everybody in the group. So, it’s tailored to really supporting a large number of cabins with a lot of personalization.”

She also notes that some cruise lines—particularly the big ones—have group APIs or automatic programming interfaces. So, the new group application's architecture offers the future potential to incorporate those cruise line APIs over time. Separately, upgrades are also planned for Cruise Control, the network’s proprietary customer relationship manager (CRM), shopping and booking platform (the group application is a module of that).  

For instance, in 2024, advisors can expect to see an enhanced registration payment option and a new cancel invoice email that will offer a more personal touch and feel to help build and maintain the relationship with the customer. In addition, the technology group plans to set up cloning/copying of a manual land-and-cruise FIT booking so that it populates in the system for different clients traveling together. So, the advisor won’t have to start from scratch in adding all elements of the trip separately over and over again—hotel, transfers, excursions and so on. 

New Customizable Websites

Linden and Szalay also announced the next major “MarTech” (marketing/technology) project in 2024. Franchise owners and their advisors will receive customizable and optimized websites with a “new, modern look and feel,” according to Linden. She also says the new websites “will provide a frictionless experience for web readers and with no clutter.”

According to Szalay, these website updates are not focused on the shopping and booking path as the MarTech teams believe that’s already top-of-line. Instead, franchise owners and associates will be benefit from a greater ability to differentiate themselves from other travel sellers via what’s on their home page and within the agency’s custom content. “It’s a way to really pronounce their niche,” she explains. Agencies will control the focus, personalization and customization with suppliers they wish to feature, depending on how they operate their business.

So, for example, a Dream Vacations franchise owner could choose to focus strongly on luxury travel, cruises or land travel. And, in turn, their own associates working for that same agency will also benefit from their own customized page. That will allow the associate to drill down further into their own niche -- perhaps a specialty of luxury cruises, group cruise-and-land FITS or all-inclusives. 

In addition, Szalay said the IT department is already working on providing franchise owners with insights and analytics for those websites. Also being introduced in 2024 will be upgrades to what Dream Vacations already offers to advisors within Constant Contact. Enhancements will include the ability for auto mailing campaigns; greater segmentation and customizable list creation options; and to send text messages.

On the horizon too is that Dream Vacations hopes to integrate certain elements of artifical intelligence (AI) into its technology to help advisors save time. But “we have a little bit of a sit-back-and-watch approach,” Szalay acknowledges. “Yes, there’s value, absolutely, but we don’t want to lose what we do best. That’s our personalization." But she does believe AI offers a great shortcut to certain types of communications such as ideas for social media.

Marketing Trends Since Pandemic

Travel Agent asked Linden about what marketing trends for franchise owners have become more prominent since the pandemic. “There’s definitely a balance of traditional marketing and new marketing,” she emphasizes.

As for new marketing, “this is a relationship-based business and what better way to build relationships than social media," she says. “Social media has exploded, and our agents are having more success than ever with social media. They’re finding new customers. They’re increasing their bookings. They are finding a lot of success.”

And that’s above and beyond the twice-weekly automatic social media program provided by Dream Vacations. That automatic program is more “vacation inspiration,” she says, while advisors are doing more personalized posts with photos and videos. So, advisors might say: “Here’s my tip of the week, because I’m your advisor and I know what’s trending" or "I’m on Carnival Celebration right now and let me show you my experience.” That’s what’s building the relationship and trust, says Linden. 

Marketing training also plays a role in that, she says, citing a workshop this week for those advisors attending the national conference on Carnival Celebration. The advisors are learning how to create videos and reels for social media. In just a matter of seconds, Linden explains, advisors can create a video and post it to their Instagram account, for example.

Historically, travel advisors had always participated in community events and travel shows in their local market. That stopped during the pandemic, but “it’s picked up,” says Linden. “Now we’re seeing an increase in popularity” of that traditional marketing approach, she adds. Also, Dream Vacations has a new company store offering a wide range of banners, trade show tents and other resources that advisor can use for local events and shows.

Marketing for 2024

Looking ahead for Dream Vacations marketing, Linden promises the franchise agencies many regional TV placements throughout the country, national commercials on streaming services, and more regional digital billboard opportunities. That follows on the heels of 2023’s unique boat billboards along the Florida coastline; national HULU commercials; and an eight-floor-high Times Square billboard in New York City.

Coincidentally, that recent Times Square ad resulted in 18 million consumer impressions, new lead generation for franchises and drove a 10 percent increase in website traffic during the campaign period. Calling that Times Square billboard, “a huge success,” Linden says that franchise owners and associates can expect to see more of that type of marketing effort.

In 2024, "we’re going to go back to New York and we’re going to do that billboard again,’ says Linden. “We’re also going to go to other cities throughout the U.S.” Specifically, she mentions such destinations as Washington, D.C., California, Texas, Florida and Nashville, TN.

“And when we go to these markets, we don’t want it to just be one element,” Linden stresses. “We want to have market saturation for our brand.” So, that might include a local billboard, a trade show, local media for TV interviews and much more.

For more information, visit

Related Stories


2023 Dream Vacations and CruiseOne Land Summit Concludes

Affluent Traveler Has New Technology and Training for Members

Nexion Travel Group Brings Back Popular Commission Plan

Direct Travel to Host First Leisure Travel Conference Next Month