Marketing to Millennials, Baby Boomers and More at the Cruise Planners Convention

Cruise Planners' executive team kicked off the cruise franchise group's annual convention on Thursday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. From left to right are Brian Shultz, chief information officer; Vicky Garcia, co-owner and COO; Michelle Fee, co-owner, CEO and founder; and Tom Kruszewski, CFO and co-owner// Photo by Susan J. Young

Cruise Planners (CP) is definitely on a roll. Last year, CP’s Millionnaire Club – agencies earning more than $1 million revenue – grew by 12 percent. This year, that high achieving group is expected to grow by 32 percent. Overall those CP franchisees who grew their businesses this year did so by an average of 63 percent.

Based on overall sales mix, a larger percentage of the franchise group’s collective sales were commissionable in 2015 versus 2014. Year over year purchases, an indicator of future travel, are up 37 percent in 2015, when compared with the same period last year. And, when Cruise Planners agents offered exclusive partner promotions in the past year, sales for those supplier partners were up 52 percent. 

Certainly, the franchise group's "Cruisitude" mantra -- a positive, upbeat, empowering attitude for travel marketing, sales and service -- is helping push CP's 1,000 plus franchise agencies in the United States to higher revenue totals. Attitude counts. 


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ReGenErate is the theme of this year's Cruise Planners' annual convention. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Still, it's a lot more than that, CP executives told the 600 agents attending the opening session of this year's 2015 Cruise Planners convention at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in South Florida.

It's about tapping into generational strengths and knowing how to communicate and market to the different generations -- as the convention's "ReGenErate" theme showcased. It's also about upselling -- not just offering a lead in price, but a higher level of accommodation and travel, and also selling land and ancillery services, not just cruises.

Collectively, CP franchises' sales are split as as follows: 68 percent cruises, 22 percent land vacations, 4 percent travel insurance, 3 percent air transportation, and 2 percent hotels and other products. 

In addition, "I do believe that the future of travel is at the intersection of technology and marketing," stressed Michelle Fee, co-owner, CEO and co-founder, Cruise Planners. 

Generational Marketing Update

Today, CP clients are segmented as follows: 40 percent are Baby Boomers, 31 percent are Gen Xers, 16 percent are Millennials and 13 percent are Traditionalists

At the same time, CP agents serving them fall in these categories: 50 percent Baby Boomers, 38 percent Gen Xers, 7 percent Millennials and 5 percent Traditionalists.

And if considering only the CP Headquarters group employees: 52.5 percent are currently Gen Xers, 22.5 percent Baby Boomers; 22.5 percent Millennials and 2.5 percent Traditionalists.  

Fee said that in five years, the CP clients will evolve to these demographics: 38 percent of clients will be Baby Boomers, 35 percent Gen Xers, 23 percent Millennials and only 4 percent Traditionalists. 

When clients currently book accommodations, Fee said, Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to buy balcony accommodations, while Millennials often opt for inside staterooms. 

So How Are We Different?

humorous start to the CP opening session program covered the differences between the generations. Tom Kruszewski, Cruise Planners' co-owner and CFO, tackled the Traditionalist generation and showed what life was like "back in the day" for those now in their 70s and 80s. 

The Lawrence Welk Show was a staple of TV viewing for Traditionalists. // Photo by Susan J. Young

The audience chuckled as he showed the cruise experience of the era, featuring midnight buffets, grand entertainment such as shuffleboard, "dapper young lads" (age 60s and 70s gentlemen) and sailaways with streamers. 

The film that characterized this generation? Kruszewski cited "It's a Wonderful Life," and said that in many ways, it absolutely was. He also showed a slide of a family with kids in tow setting out on the family vacation in a station wagon to look for America.

And on TV? Well, one of the big hits of the era was the Lawrence Welk Show

Fee revealed tidbits about her generation -- Baby Boomers. She recalled the Ed Sullivan Show and Happy Days, along with Beatlemania, Motown, Woodstock, the Vietnam War and the U.S. moon landing. 

Culture-wise, Fee said Boomer kids played around the neighborhood without their parents knowing where they were. Kids also rode in cars with no seat belts and no air bags, and if parents really loved their kids, they'd crack the window down an inch before lighting a cigarette.

It was also an era when TV programming went off earlier at night and Fee recalled that the networks played the U.S. National Anthem before going off the air.

Today, Boomers -- those born between 1951 and 1969 -- represent 26 percent of the population, are comprised more of females than males, and "we are the most powerful consumers in the world," Fee stressed. 

Gen Xer Vicky Garcia, Cruise Planners' co-owner and COO, recalled her coming of age as a young professional as that "soothing sound" of an AOL email program connecting via modem through the land line, at a time when people said, "Get off the phone as I must use the Internet."

Gen Xers often dined on frozen dinners, such as this one in their childhood, according to CP's Vicky Garcia. 

She also put up a slide of the Gen Xer's modern menu choice -- a Swanson fried chicken dinner with potatoes, peas and an apple dessert; that received a rousing reaction from the audience, many of them Gen Xers.

Garcia also recalled PacMan, bean bags, riding bikes without helmets, drinking water from a hose and her waterproof Walkman. In the era, overprotective parents were less so on a cruise, saying to their kids: "fly, be free..." 

Gen Xers grew up in a communications era of faxes, memorandums, telephones, offices (for where one worked) and meetings, as well as the dawning of the computer era. That compares with today's Facebook, bobile, email and social media communications. 

Brian Shultz, CP's chief information officer, took up the Millennial cause, noting that he's one of 75.3 million Millennials and, humorously, "I have no idea what a Lawrence Welk is." He noted that Millennials were the first generation with a computer and video game console in every home.

Yet, 28 percent of this generation in one recent survey revealed that they use a travel agent, said Shultz. "So while we have the technical capabilities, we still like that human touch," Shultz emphasized. 

Know the Differences But Don't Pigeonhole Clients

While it's optimum for travel advisors to understand the experiences and cultural influences each generation has had, it's important to not pigeonhole clients, stressed Fee. "Just because they're a Traditionalist or Baby Boomer...they might still like very active cruises and tours." Qualifying the client remains extremely important.

Six hundred travel agents attended the annual Cruise Planners convention, which kicked off late last week at the Boca Raton Resort & Club and continues early this week on Norwegian Escape. // Photo by Susan J. Young

She also urged advisors to consider the extremely fast pace of change, showing a slide of Pope Benedict's papal inauguration in 2005 with the audience all facing him. From an almost identical shot and angle taken at Pope Francis' inauguration in 2013, the same type of crowd (including priests and nuns) is seen wildly snapping photos with their phones. The bright screens were visible as white flashes in the photo.

Michelle Fee, Tom Kruszewski and other CP executives spoke about generational marketing. // Photo by Susan J. Young

"We're all so connected," Fee told the agents, mentioning that it's critical to communicate to consumers in the way they wish to chat or respond. She pointed out that her dad, who is a Traditionalist, uses an iPad and is on Facebook.

Still the Traditional generation still likes physical marketing, such as Travel Planner magazine or the Full Sails program. In contrast, Gen Xers and Millennials tend to prefer prefer e-cards, consumer apps and the website.

So, "we're going to continue to build and speak to consumers at every level," Fee told the travel advisors. "You need the right tools in place to capture their attention and appeal to their interests." 

Stay tuned this week for several upcoming stories from the convention. One will cover the new tools and products unveiled for CP franchise owners. Another will focus on a cruise executive panel discussion.

Meanwhile today many of the Cruise Planners convention attendees head south from Boca Raton to PortMiami for the christening and a preview sailing on the new Norwegian Escape

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

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