Treating all clients’ trips as though they were her own, Sabine Harris, the owner of Cruise Planners in Tampa, FL, takes personalized service to a new level. “I never book something that I wouldn’t personally do or like,” she says. “And, of course, I tell my clients the truth so nothing goes ‘unmentioned’ about the arrangements, destination or cruise line.”
Sabine Harris (left) and friend Sandra Rheault.
What’s the most unusual thing Harris has ever done for a customer? She had a client who wanted to travel to Europe on a land trip, but he didn’t want to go with a tour group. “So I whipped up an itinerary as if I were personally standing next to him the entire time,” she says. “It had details like train numbers, track numbers, what the hotel would look like, what to order off of the menu and even useful phrases I came up with to help him along the way.”
In the Beginning
An agent since 1989, Harris worked for multiple agencies before becoming a Cruise Planners franchise owner in 2004. Working from the road, from home and from an office shared with other independent agents, she now spends about 50 percent of her time booking cruises, and the other 50 percent booking FIT or tours. Cruise Planners gives her the training, flexibility and credibility she needs to effectively sell. “The best part is that Cruise Planners is backed by American Express, so we have tons of little extras out there for our clients,” she says.
Business has picked up over the past year, she says. For the second year in a row, Harris has received the Cruise Planners’ Silver Anchor Award for franchises with at least $250,000 in revenue. “What I like most about my job is that I don’t wake up every day and stress about working on a vacation for someone,” Harris says. “And I love being able to share my personal experiences, as well as experiences from past clients.”
Earlier this month, she received a call from a client for whom she had booked a weeklong stay at Walt Disney World. As a courtesy, Harris had also booked tickets at Discovery Cove, so the customer was calling to give Harris her perceptions about the park. “Now I can recommend the park with confidence to other clients,” she says.
Whatever she books, Harris provides small touches that add value. Right now, she is booking a group of 14 guests on a land package for Rome; the group is attending a wedding at the Vatican. “I’m putting together the hotels, tours and private transfers, and along with that I’ve made them a dining reservation at 4Leoni, a one-of-a-kind restaurant in Florence that I absolutely love.”
Secret to Success
Satisfied long-term clients, along with their continuing referrals, form the basis of her business success. “Another secret to my success is training, and lots of it,” Harris explains. “It’s hard to sell a property or a destination if you know nothing about the destination.”
As a top agent, Harris is keenly aware of all marketplace trends. “More clients want to cruise because they have to unpack only once, plus, clients increasingly are attracted to cruising because the meals are included,” she says. “I have one client who is a very picky eater, but knows he can get great food on his cruise and not have to worry about finding any outside restaurants.” In addition, Harris says, “Clients are simply cruising more often, so after their initial cruise they always want to go back.”
Outside of work, Harris is married and has a big dog that she says is “spoiled rotten.” In her free time, she says, “I enjoy thrift store shopping because you never know what sort of treasures you will find.” That philosophy applies equally to her continued search for worldwide destinations, cruises or tour products that delight her clients and bring them back for more.
Owner of Cruise Planners in Tampa
Office Location: 1107 Swann Avenue, Tampa, FL
Phone: (813) 546-0751
Affiliation: Cruise Planners, CLIA
Annual Sales: $250k+