Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise network in the travel industry, welcomed more than 500 travel franchise owners to its annual convention in Atlantic City, N.J. The sold-out event kicked off with Cruise Planners CEO and co-founder Michelle Fee introducing the "In It to Win It" theme, which is Cruise Planners’ commitment to its growing network of travel advisors.

“This year, we focused on how the Home Office Team can truly be an extension for each of our franchise owners since we are all committed to helping them grow their small businesses,” said Cruise Planners CEO and co-founder Michelle Fee. “We have invested internally in all aspects of the company so each of our travel advisors have the back-end support of a 65+ person team – focusing on marketing, technology, training and strategic development, which gives them a competitive advantage.” 

Cruise Planners’ sales continue to evolve and the company shared sales statistics pointing that the network has seen a boost in both land-based vacation sales and cruise sales.

  • The average Cruise Planners franchisee grew their business by 26 percent based on departures in 2014
  • The company has projected a 44 percent increase in bookings for 2015 based on front-loaded revenues
  • When Cruise Planners was running exclusive supplier offers and promotions, revenues increased by more than 163 percent, showing how being a franchise owner with Cruise Planners can positively impact the bottom lines for travel advisors

“We know our travel advisors are selling a more complete vacation experience and the tools and programs we’ve put in place with our preferred suppliers are working,” Fee said. “We have been building the technology and beefing up our in-house support so each CP travel advisor can efficiently work on growing their business and focus on selling. We do all the heavy lifting in the background in an effort to support each franchise.”

Another way the company plans to support franchisees is by focusing on its associates program. Based on the company’s performance, franchisees with associates had three times the revenue as those running their business solo. The new Cruise Planners associates program will allow associates to participate in the company’s award-winning marketing campaigns to help drive sales and as the franchise sales grow, more associates can be added.

The company has made 87 significant improvements with its in-house IT programs focusing on a range of technologies including making it easier for travel advisors to sell travel:

Mobile technology:  Cruise Planners Mobile 2.0 has launched complete with push notifications, sales promotions with strong calls to action, and photo albums so consumers can upload travel pictures to the web. Cruise Planners was the first in the industry to launch a mobile app a few years ago, and these upgrades make it even more effective for travel advisors.

Search engine optimization: Since focusing on SEO, the company has seen a 113 percent increase in website traffic since launching the initiative and has plans to continue to expand the program to help drive consumer web traffic to each advisor’s site.

 Smart Select™ Tool: Smart Select allows travel advisors to automatically identify clients within their database based on predetermined data for a specific marketing campaign that will maximize efficiency and make the best use of each advisor’s marketing dollars based on consumer purchase habits, demographics and more. Since launching Smart Select in June, Cruise Planners has seen the automatic program increase sales by double-digits.

Updated Web Sites: Cruise Planners manages thousands of pages of web content for each travel advisor, and the new sites will allow customers to search for both land and cruise vacations from one spot, will display each advisor’s contact information consistently, and feature the new “CP Brochure Rack” with digital versions of top industry brochures so clients can easily view them.

Customer Relationship Management Tool: The new “CP Hub” helps organize sales opportunities for prospective clients when a travel advisor first meets and quotes them, but the client may not be ready to book their first trip. The tool will help forecast sales, track and alert the advisor to follow up and manage the sales pipeline.

Direct Bookings with Orbitz: Cruise Planners has a direct relationship with Orbitz and now offers a direct booking engine with tons of online content for travel advisors and consumers. Since the bookings are made directly with Orbitz, Cruise Planners advisors are paid their commission faster, which is an added benefit.

Triggered Email Campaigns: When a client books a trip, they will receive a series of 8 emails designed as automatic touch points throughout the lifecycle of a booking. The idea is that clients receive personalized attention from their travel advisor – without the travel advisor having to lift a finger with branded emails using built-in logic based on the customer’s purchase, so the information and calls to action are customized for their next trip.

“All of our proprietary technology tools are designed to help Cruise Planners travel advisors work smarter, not harder,” said Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners. “We design our user interface with all generations in mind – from millennials to baby-boomers – and our websites, mobile app and online tools for consumers and advisors are always evolving.”

Since Cruise Planners creates all of its technology in house, the company has developed programs not only for the advisors, but also for the home office team. For example, the regional business development coaches are able to see a “Franchise Snapshot” and view sales statistics, training module status, login behavior and more for each franchisee to better assist with strategic one-on-one business coaching.

“We have invested a lot into our technology, and it is truly paying off,” Garcia said. “Our tools are like a good ‘Big Brother’ focused on helping each of our franchisees be a successful small business owner.”