Launching its 2011 convention with the theme of “Full Speed Ahead,” Cruise Planners/American Express, claiming to be the largest home-based travel agent franchise network in the cruise industry, kicked off its annual event at the El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya, Mexico yesterday, October 23. The first day of presentations was underscored by a positive outlook for the 2012 cruise season with emphasis on success and innovation resulting from the company’s new technology and product upgrade announcements.

Cruise Planners/American Express CEO and Co-founder Michelle Fee led the opening session of the convention by vowing to make 2012 a year of growth by investing in all home-based agents through the development of tools and resources that will lead to success. Fee asked all agents to join her in a promise to make 2012 the year that makes a difference. According to Fee, 2011 proved to be an impressive and successful year for the company in sales and franchise development, which has created positive momentum as 2012 approaches.

“We are moving into a new year where technology continues to expand, and we want our agents to be aware that they can use the new tools we have created to increase their home-based business and be among the most savvy agents in the industry,” said Fee. “Our theme this year illustrates the importance of moving forward with an out of the box strategy that highlights the resources we have developed to keep our agents ahead of trends and at the forefront of a changing travel industry.”

Cruise Planners’ Senior Director of Information Technology Brian Shultz made the big announcements of the day, showcasing the company’s newest technical innovations developed to enhance agents’ information management and sales. The most talked-about advancements of the day were the consumer smart phone application and mobile booking and reservations tool with an added live booking function called eConnect. The company will also undergo a complete revamp of the corporate website, launching more online resources in 2012 than ever before.

“The tools we have introduced at convention this year will help our agents feel confident to tackle the upcoming cruise and travel season,” said Vicky Garcia, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Cruise Planners/American Express. “We recognize that consumers are changing the way they book and talk about travel, and the tools we are introducing will keep our agents ahead of the game. This year’s convention is all about pushing the boundaries not only for the home office team, but for the hundreds of agents who proudly embody the Cruise Planners/American Express brand. As we move into another year of selling travel, we want our agents to know that we are constantly thinking and developing new resources as well as creating new partnerships to help grow their business.”

The company also held its traditional panel discussion with a range of cruise line industry leaders from Celebrity Cruises to Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line to discuss upcoming travel trends, next generation ships and ports of call. For the first time, Cruise Planners hosted a second panel discussion exclusively for the river cruise lines to cover the fastest growing niche in travel.

Headquartered in Coral Springs, Florida, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Services Representative, has more than 700 franchise owners across the country that independently book cruises and associated travel.