This year’s Cruise Planners Convention took a cue from “Mission Impossible.” While the intro mirrored the movie, with Founder and CEO Michelle Fee rock-climbing à la Tom Cruise, the title takes a liberty to drive home the point to travel advisors that nothing is impossible. “Mission Possible” was the theme of the two-day event, held at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida.
Fee told the audience of more than 715 travel agents of her humble start, and how that eventually grew into the largest home-based travel franchise company. “We want to show agents, we didn’t start out as a CEO and COO on stage. You put in the hard work and the effort, you make it happen,” said Fee, speaking of herself and Vicky Garcia.
She envisions that success for each of the franchisees and their businesses, and with help of the home office team developing new marketing and technology initiatives, advisors can focus on driving those sales.
Cruise Planners is also investing more in already established programs, such as the innovative Smart Select, which uses smart data about travel advisors’ clients, looking at their psychographic and demographic data, not just what they purchase, to make sure the right piece of marketing goes to the right person at the right time.
“We really honed in on [highly targeted marketing] over the last few years and we do believe this is a big reason why agents are building their businesses,” Fee said. “It allows us to send that marketing that speaks directly to them. And we feel like that is so important today, when they’re opening their mailbox or email, something that entices them is in there.”
The Cruise Planners executive team at this year's convention.
Fee said the company already has great growth on the books for 2020, and overall sales are currently trending at a 25% increase next year, on top of this year’s 19% jump. “We’ve doubled our growth from 2015 to today, so we’re pretty proud of that.”
Fee said the success can also be attributed to the implementation of a coaching team, “someone that was going to be able to call [advisors] and see how they’re doing in their business, and say, ‘Okay, we know you’ve been doing this really well, but here are some tips on this new technology that you’re not utilizing. If you learn this tool, it’s going to save you an hour a day.’”
Garcia said short promotional videos that advisors can post on their Facebook or share with clients via email have also proved popular, noting that “video is a hot seller of travel.” The videos are professionally produced, but they look like they are coming directly from the local agent.
What’s coming in 2020
While existing programs are being upgraded, Cruise Planners unveiled some new programs that advisors can look forward to in the new year.
Drawing a big round of applause and cheers was the announcement of a rewards program launching in the first quarter of 2020. It will help drive customer loyalty, Fee told the crowd, citing that just 5% in customer retention can generate 25% in your bottom line. Points will be given on every single type of travel, on a 10-to-1 basis. So, if a client is spending $5,000, they will be rewarded with 500 points. Those points can then be used to redeem items ranging from luggage to homeware to purses, across brands like Tumi, Kate Spade, and Kitchen Aid.
Next year will also see the addition of a Live Planner. For clients who like to take part in the overall planning process, this tool will allow advisors and their customers to collaborate in real time on trip details.
Marketing plans will be another big launch for Cruise Planners next year. Franchisees will be able to create one customizable marketing plan and see the year at a glance, logging direct mailers, funded postcards, and trade show expenses. They can also be used to create co-op proposals for suppliers.
Already live are franchise snapshots, providing easy-to-read performance indicators; the Top 20 Report, allowing advisors to target their top-producing clients based on both frequency and volume; a buckets feature added to MyTrips; and a new group overview and email system, with group proposals available for both land and cruise; among more.
Its these pioneering tools that pay off for franchisee owners. By working with a direct-to-consumer franchise company, “the benefit of that is we get to go to market for you and we will drive your business as much as you want or as little as you want,” Fee said. “So, everything you saw that launched today, it is up to you if you want to take advantage of it. We allow our agents to have the flexibility.”
Fee added: “Agents that are trying to go in alone, it’s hard for them to compete. And we’re making them larger than life.”