Looking back on the past 25 years, Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of Cruise Planners, talked about just how far the brand has come.
The company that she started back in 1994, with Marvin Davis and Lynn Korn, was an early adopter of the home-based travel agency model, a foresight and vision that has paid off in spades.
“We saw that the industry was changing, and we knew if we didn’t change along with it, we were going to become dinosaurs – and become extinct,” Fee said at the Cruise Planners Convention last week, at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida.
More than two decades later, the company that began with a $1,995 check, capped off its strongest sales year to date. Overall departures for the entire Cruise Planners franchise organization are up 20 percent this year over last; and for 2019, they're trending at 28 percent growth.
The company’s Millionaires Club has increased to include over 100 advisors, nearly 17 times the amount of when the program launched in 2008.
To stay ahead of the game, Cruise Planners’ executives said, the home office is always innovating, developing cutting-edge marketing and technology platforms for its agents. Fee and Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner, laid out a host of new developments and enhancements for 2019. “It’s never enough for CP. We’re always progressing and moving forward,” Garcia said.
Highly targeted marketing
Garcia announced the company’s first Millennials-targeted marketing campaign, which will launch next year. CP Insights, which debuted last year and collects client data to foretell their propensity for spending based on purchasing patterns, will help match and market the right products to the right clients.
Triggered emails, one of the group’s most popular marketing tools, Fee said, will get refreshed. The automatic emails help agents stay connected with clients throughout the booking process, so they’re always top-of-mind. Cruise Planners has seen a spike in pre- and post-bookings, travel insurance and shore excursions sales. New elements include adding post-voyage trigger emails; a last chance email for “cancel anytime” travel insurance; and a special “Thank You for Booking” email.
Hot Lists are also part of the brand’s marketing offerings. Ecards are automatically sent out to clients celebrating milestones and who have not made a booking in the past year.
In addition, a variety of promotional videos will be available at no cost to agents, for use on their social media platforms. The video assets will focus on various travel segments, such as family travel or land, and all will include a strong call to action.
The CP Marketing Hub will also relaunch with more tools and features. It will now allow agents to track marketing that has gone out to clients; track the success rate of that marketing; and set goals, such as revenue growth or email opt-ins.
Technology at the forefront
The 600 agents in the audience erupted in applause when a new interactive supplier partner database was announced. The new Vacation Wizard will allow agents to easily find the right suppliers for their clients based on certain criteria. The tool narrows down the results based on preferred vendor, travel type, or style. They can even compare commission levels, provide special offers, and link to the agent portal.
Attendees were also excited about a new CP Mobile app for Cruise Planners’ customers, which is slated to be released in early 2019. Clients will be able to make payments; fill out credit card authorization forms; purchase travel insurance; and access destination guides. For clients who do not have an active trip, the app will have a robust search and booking engine. It will also host a new favorites feature, allowing clients to create lists of possible trips they are interested in. Each time a list is generated, agents will be notified so they can be proactive in helping their clients plan that vacation.
Agents will also get a new app to help them “run their businesses from the palm of their hands.” CP Maxx Mobile will be connected to the web, so all data is synced, and it even works offline.
Furthermore, the company announced that its consumer-facing websites will be redesigned and relaunched in 2019. The new mobile-first design will have a fresh, modern look and better showcase videos. Agents can have up to three different types of sites: contemporary (which covers all travel), land (which will be more destination-focused), and luxury.
Specialization is key
Cruise Planners reported that after focusing on offering luxury travel trainings as of two years ago, it has seen 19 percent sales growth in the segment for 2018. There has also been growth in river cruise sales, with 55 percent growth this year.
“We know that when we focus our training, like we did with luxury and river, we see tremendous growth, so we’re doing it again,” Garcia said, just prior to announcing a complete certification series offering a deeper dive into all-inclusive, luxury, travel insurance, escorted tours, group, and river. After completing these extensive programs, agents earn certifications.
In more education-related news, Scott Kempf, who joined Cruise Planners last year, will host “Cruisitude Academy: Sales Skills,” a series of three- to five-minute videos providing tips on how to increase sales.
Cruise Planners announced that, next year, it will again host its travel agent boot camps, focusing on group and technology. The trainings will take place in Las Vegas, Dallas, Atlantic City, and Orlando.
Next summer, the company will also combine its Luxury Symposium and Luxury Forum, which will be hosted at an all-inclusive resort that will be announced at a later time.
All in all, Cruise Planners left agents with this message: “Our home office team is all here for one purpose, and that is to help you make your clients happy.”