Cruise Planners Introduces New Tools for Franchise Owners

Cruise Planners franchise owners and agents learned about the many cool tools CP Headquarters is introducing to help them sell more travel. // Photo by Susan J. Young

New tools and resources introduced in 2015 -- 73 major improvements in all -- have propelled the 1,000+ Cruise Planners franchise agencies in the United States to new sales heights. 

Contributing to higher 2015 sales are exclusive offers from suppliers, sales of more land-based vacation products, ancillary sales including travel insurance and offerings, as well as extensive agent training provided by the CP headquarters group, social media postings and the latest mobile, Web and reservations technology. 

The Intersection of Technology and Marketing 

The CP headquarters group introduced 73 major improvements -- technology or marketing tools and resources -- for agencies in 2015. CP has a headquarters team of 85 or so employees, including 20 targeted at technology.


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"You all know that we've invested very heavily in technology over the past few years and in doing so, we know that you guys have better customer retention," Michelle Fee, co-owner, CEO and co-founder of Coral Springs, FL-based Cruise Planners, told the agent audience. "Cruise lines tell us all the time that the average per day spend of a Cruise Planners client is higher than most others in the industry."

"Our motto is that if we don't have it, we build it," she stressed, noting that "the future of travel is at the intersection of technology and marketing."

Helping propel CP agencies to higher sales this year were recently added tools and resources, including MyTrips upgrades, address verification, CP Hub upgrades, SmartSelect, CP Social, CP Mobile, a Premium Associate Program, eConnect Car Rental Insurance, tour component upgrades, enhancements to eConnect for hotels, technical updates in eRez, an e-mail builder and an attachment library, among other enhancements. 

Vicky Garcia, co-owner and COO, said the CP headquarters organization is creating tools that reach the customers by every possible means, as well as creating "grassroots tools for you because we know that the power of you and your business is you." Those might include e-mail builders, flyers, local press releases and so on. 

New for agencies this coming year? If they plan to order certain quantities of the group's Travel Planner print consumer magazine (formerly Cruise Planner magazine) they can also receive a virtual version of the magazine. In turn, they can send that out to clients via FB or email by the individual agent.  

Sendibles is one new Cruise Planners partner for social media. // Photo by Susan J. Young

More than 75,000 eMail Cards using eBuilder were sent this year; of those CP agents experiencing sales growth this year, 97 percent used this tool. Of the agencies who experienced no sales growth, 79 percent did not use this tool. 

A new social media partner within the CP Social program is Sendible, which moving forward will assist with more social media platforms, greater engagement and analytics to help agents measure results.  

SmartSelect is a relatively new tool, launched in mid-2014. It identifies clients from the individual franchise owner's database that match criteria for an upcoming marketing campaign. That might include the specific type of travel taken, length of travel, average age or average spend, among other factors. 

Sales for agencies using this SmartSelect tool were up phenomenally in the past year -- 54 percent in April, 41 percent in December and so on.

Partners take notice of those opportunities to move the needle in the right direction, CP's executives stressed. As a result, the franchise group and its franchisees get CP exclusive deals and promotions. When evaluating 25 exclusive promotions that CP offered clients from January through September of this year with major cruise lines, research revealed that these exclusive promotions increased sales with these travel partners by 52 percent. 

Cruise Watcher -- in which agents provide certain parameters on destination and budget for individual clients -- is another tool that's proven popular; the organization recognized CP franchise owners Debra Norton, Mike Lombardo and Joyce Hoisier for optimum use of that tool, which takes those parameters and notifies the agents when an itinerary or price point comes along that matches the client's preferences.  

In terms of travel deals, more than 14 million travel deals were sent out this year. CP Headquarters gave a shout-out to CP franchise owners Julie Irovando, Michael Consoli and Sherry Leybovich for their expert use of these deals to generate revenue. 

Agents listen intently to CP executives at the 2015 convention opening session. // Photo by S. J. Young

In 2015, more than 2,926 customized virtual brochure racks were created by CP agencies using CP headquarters-generated technology; agents can select the brochures they wish and personalize to their specifications. That resulted in nearly 88,000 hits. Of those, 4,800 of the racks were shared on e-mail, another 1,800 on social media.  

More than 74,000 client connections were made this year using e-Connect, CP's internal electronic booking engine; of the CP franchise agencies with sales growth, 90 percent of them used e-Connect.

Garcia told the crowd that 25 new partners were added this past year to assist agents. She also announced that ARC Marketplace, a vendor offering more than 20,000 unique activities, tours, attractions and experiences, is the latest. So agents can package these types of features into a cruise or land vacation. "Think of it as a great way to augment pre- and post-cruise packages," Garcia stressed.

Through ARC Marketplace, agents can arrange  for tickets to shows, off-the-beaten-path experiences and private tours, which can be then packaged into the cruise or land vacation. These inclusions are price guaranteed, offered by vetted suppliers and are commissionable at 10 percent to CP agents. For example, agents might sell a Roman gladiator experience in Rome or a ghost tour in another city. 

High-Tech and High-Touch

While keeping on top of the latest technology is super important for agents, it's also important to have a high touch relationship with customers, according to Fee: "With our high tech and your high touch, we can only bring an exceptional experience to customers."  

On the training side, this year the CP headquarters group offered 600-plus modules in its training program. Agents took 52,000 courses in total. Four to five webinars were offered weekly, attracting 9,500 webinar attendees. 

New for 2016 on the training front? Garcia said there will be Boot Camps with a new curriculum. Improvements will include hands-on technical training, one-on-one meetings with suppliers, a presentation skills seminar, sales training and an optional pre-Boot Camp day for additional learning opportunities.

The upcoming CP Boot Camps are slated for March 23-25 in Las Vegas; May 2-4 in Atlantic City, NJ; and May 10-12 in Fort Lauderdale. One-day regional training sessions are also scheduled for January 7 in New York (to coincide with the New York Times Travel Show) and in Boston on a date yet to be announced. 

The Newest Tools - Just Announced

What's new, launching this fall, winter and beyond? Clearly, based on clapping and cheering from CP agents in the convention audience, these are among the most welcome new tools, resources and technology upgrades. A new version of the corporate organization's website will put the emphasis back on the people who matter most -- the individual travel advisors. For the first time, it will be completely different than the sites individual agents have. CP corporate will feature agents throughout the travel search engine on the site and will also include geo-location -- finding clients close to the individual agents and putting them in touch.

Certified Destination Wedding Designer: Cruise Planners will introduce a Certified Destination Wedding Designer program in partnership with Imagine Weddings and Events; it will feature 12 modules of training, a private Facebook group page, a preferred travel agent listing, wedding day experience, one-on-one consultation, a certification logo and more. 

A new Certified Destination Wedding Designer program was unveiled. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Trade Show Kit: Hightly anticipated, the CP franchise organization will provide a new trade show kit for owners. It will include a Cruise Planners banner, one table skirt and 100 CP balloons. Most importantly, the kit will also include such customizable elements as 300 CP pens and 500 note pads imprinted with the individual agency's information.  

eRez Mobile and CP Mobile: The new eRez mobile app, an electronic reservations app for CP agents, offers the full capabilities of CP's web-based software and is optimized for smartphones and tables. "This will really assist us in being more efficient when away from the office," emphasized Consoli, a Cruise Planners franchise owner in Roswell, GA

And for clients, "CP Mobile 2.0 will help us keep our clients engaged with their future trips and special offers," he stressed. "We will be able to send clients (who opt in) push notifications with special offers or unique travel opportunities." Clients can also use this tool to view their trip, add insurance, check the weather on their itinerary or purchase shore excursions. 

Online Chat: CP Headquarters has developed online chat capabilities allowing CP agents to instantly engage a guest directly on the agency's individual website and to even ascertain from what part of the country the potential client hails from. Agents also have the opportunity for initiating outbound chats. If the agency isn't available when the client hits the Chat Now button, the client will be directed to a contact form on the agency's individual website. 

This feature will be free. Consoli says this ensures his agency won't miss a sales opportunity and will allow clients who prefer to communicate through the Internet rather than by phone to talk with his agency. 

Book Onboard Email to Clients: CP's technology already allows automatically triggered emails to contact clients during the time between bookings and sailing, as well as upon the client's return. New for the coming year, one email addition will be "Book Onboard." It will be sent to the client on the second day of their sailing, reminding and encouraging them to visit the cruise line's onboard booking desk to sign up for their next cruise. Then the CP agent will receive the commission and handle the booking.

Upselling and Partnering for Business Success

Fee urged the franchise owners to consider taking on a Premium Associate agent or even a co-owner in the new year. Of those who have already done, 88 percent are now in the Millionnaire’s Club (one million dollars plus in annual sales).

In addition, 80 percent are CP Mega Stars with more than $600,000 in revenue; and 69 percent are the franchise group's Rock Stars with more than $300,000 in sales.

Vicky Garcia and Brian Shultz of Cruise Planners spoke to agents about marketing and technology. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Throughout the convention, travel advisor attendees also participated in training sessions, product workshops, executive discussions and networking opportunities. Calling 2015 the "best convention yet," Consoli says all the new tools will help him increase productivity and sales in 2016. 

On Saturday, major cruise executives addressed the agent group to showcase new programs, features and ships that can help agents earn more cruise revenue in the new year. Look for another story here later this week with their perspectives.   

Earlier this week, some of the Cruise Planners convention attendees are improving their own ship knowledge with a first-hand look at the new Norwegian Escape. They attended the ship's christening and took a short preview cruise.

The convention concludes today as the agents disembark the ship and head home, "regenerated" for heightened sales and new business opportunities in 2016.

Travel Agent will also be onboard the Norwegian Escape. Stay tuned to for a slide show of the new ship's cool spaces and hot places. 

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