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“Our franchisees’ drive for success inspires all of us to always think big, think beyond and never accept the status quo,” said Michelle Fee, founder and CEO of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, as she kicked off the organization’s annual convention, which was held in Hollywood, Fla., this past November.
To celebrate the company’s 25th year in operation, the travel agency gathering was themed “The Greatest Show,” a play off “The Greatest Showman,” the 2017 hit musical feature film inspired by the story of creative visionary P.T. Barnum. The event recapped the company’s successes, gleaned insight from its members and looked to a bright future in the industry.
Reflecting one of the film’s soaring musical numbers, Cruise Planners proclaimed a mantra of “Never Enough.” And the business’ growth spoke volumes: The company saw a total sales growth of 20 percent for 2018 over 2017. Additionally, it saw a 19 percent increase in luxury travel sales, a 21 percent increase in land travel sales and a 55 percent increase in river cruise sales.
In order to maintain its momentum, Cruise Planners is launching new features for its members. Additional automation tools are on the way in the form of Triggered Emails, a targeted proactive delivery system, and Hot Lists, which highlights sales opportunities and can generate e-cards for clients. The former will facilitate agents in contacting customers with post-cruise offers, while the latter will automatically identify clients with milestone birthdays and anniversaries, as well as those who haven’t placed a booking in the last year or have an open onboard future cruise deposit.What’s more, Cruise Planners Marketing Hub is being enhanced to better leverage consumer trends to measure objectives and ultimately boost sales. Travel Styles, which provides insights via a client questionnaire, will further help underline customer wishes so that agents can target demographics such as foodies, millennials, adventure travelers and solo travelers. Franchisees will also be able to customize new websites specific to land or luxury specialties.Dedicated apps for Cruise Planners advisors and their clients are also improving. CP Mobile is for consumer-facing planning, while CP Maxx is agent-focused and relaunching in early 2019 to ease usability.“It has been 25 years of continued commitment,” Fee said. “And, frankly, that’s our secret sauce.”During the conference, sales representatives from many cruise companies gave presentations, including Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International; Eva Jenner, vice president of sales for Holland America Line and Seabourn Cruise Line; and Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection. But perhaps the single most interesting opportunity was hearing from Cruise Planners agents.One panel featured Cruise Planners advisors who have exhibited astounding growth, including San Diego-based Adam Martindale, a luxury food and wine group specialist. His claim to fame is a 218 percent year-over-year increase, with $1.8 million in sales during 2018 thanks to a high volume of luxury market bookings.
When asked what has contributed to his success, Martindale cited being proactive on LinkedIn and Facebook. The former is great for networking with colleagues and getting the word out about what he does, he said, while the latter helps him find potential clients interested in group travel. By seeking out different Facebook pages, such as Vegan Crusade, he noted, he has been able to convert leads related to his specialty into actual customers. He also reported that he has connected with the LGBTQ community on Facebook, including with members of the Meet Me On Board page.“Now, I’m their sole travel partner,” he said. One other way Martindale differentiates himself is by curating exclusive excursions for his cruise groups.“For example, we did a sailing with Oceania Cruises with a wine group from Barcelona, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal,” he said. “I had worked with the cruise line on this one and booked a customized tour, just for us, that nobody else on the ship could get, to the oldest winery in Morocco.”When his clients returned to the ship talking about their excursion, everybody else onboard was wondering how they managed to go on such a distinct tour. The answer was Martindale, who provides such an offering for all his groups. He also frequently works with shore excursion company ShoreTrips to develop the private experiences, such as a sailboat trip in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “It’s making those unique experiences for the people in the group, which is very memorable, and they talk about it a lot afterward,” he said. “So, it makes a difference.” The DetailsCruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representativewww.cruiseplanners.com