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When it comes to marketing and technology, the executives at Dream Vacations and CruiseOne work in tandem to make sure the network of travel advisors, the franchisees, have access to the very best tools.

It makes perfect sense, Sandi Szalay, v.p. of IT for Dream Vacations / CruiseOne, tells Recommend. “Everything we’ve been doing in the last year, we’ve been doing together. If marketing has a concept or an idea, there’s got to be a way to implement it. So, we’ve been focused on partnering the two departments to make a bigger effect. It’s a collaboration effort.”

So, what kind of impact did this happy marriage of marketing and technology, or “MarTech,” have on the network in 2023 and into the new year? If the applause from the audience during the presentation that Szalay and Alicia Linden, v.p. of marketing, gave during the recent Dream Vacations and CruiseOne 2023 National Conference on board Carnival Celebration is any indication, the marriage has been quite successful.

2023 saw marketing initiatives come back full-throttle culminating, this past summer, in an 8-story Times Square billboard that provided 18 million impressions and drove a 10 percent increase in website traffic during the campaign timeframe. Meanwhile, one of the tech department’s biggest successes of the year was its groups application initiative with group sales up more than double every year prior going back to 2017.

Marketing & Tech Initiatives for 2024

2024 is set to wow the network even more with Linden telling Recommend that “we’re going to go back and do that same Times Square billboard, but now we’re going to add a trade show where we can invite consumers to learn about booking vacations and have our travel advisors there face-to-face. We’re also going to be on local TV. We’re going to have TV segments where [one of our executives is] being interviewed, talking about the value of a travel advisor, talking about booking vacations, and then we really saturate that market with the Dream Vacations brand.”

Next year, the tech department is going to focus on upgrades to Cruise Control, the network’s proprietary CRM, shopping and booking platform and groups application, of which the successful group application is a module.

“The new group application that we launched in February was a real game changer for us,” says Szalay. “We used our agent network as a resource to help guide us. And we delivered on something that they could jump into with little to no training. We have more people using groups than ever before.” Highlights of the updated Cruise Control CRM include a new cancelation invoice email and cloning of manual FIT bookings. For the latter, it’s essentially a copy/paste functionality for each person in the group so advisors don’t have to start from the ground up with every client within the same group.

For 2024, Lindsen and Szalay announced the next major MarTech project will be working on customizable and optimized websites for Dream Vacations and CruiseOne travel advisors.

Notes Szalay, “[Advisors in our network] already have custom capabilities, but they want more; they want to be able to differentiate themselves. They want to say, ‘Hey, I focus on luxury. I focus on land or it’s the contemporary cruises that I’m focusing on.’ We want to give them more abilities to be who they want to be and what they want to sell.” Adds Linden, “Technology is always evolving, marketing is always evolving, and it’s time for a refresh. We have a network of niches. Every franchise owner is independently owned and operated, and they decide how they want to go to market. What products they want to focus on. So, these websites are going to be truly customizable. We always say, as a home-based business owner, the website is your digital storefront.

“With the redesign and the enhancements and the new technology in place with this CMS tool, they are going to be customizable. Which suppliers do I want to feature on my home page? Which custom banners do I want to load to my home page? One of the things that franchise owners are really excited about is that their associates can have their own website. So, the franchise owner might specialize in cruise, but they have an associate that specializes in land and the websites can look completely different.”

Most importantly on the tech side, adds Szalay, “we want to make sure it’s a frictionless experience for advisors.” A big perk is that advisors will have access to analytics and insights. She notes that it’s something the network really wants. “They want the analytics that they can put on the site to see how effective their spend is on Facebook or wherever else. I think it’s going to be a game changer for them.”

And when it comes to AI, both Szalay and Linden say it’s definitely something advisors need to embrace because it’s going to save them a lot of time and help them focus on what they’re experts on, selling vacations. Szalay says, “We want to make sure there’s value behind [the implementation of AI]. We’re educating ourselves right now and we’re considering where within the application it makes the most sense. But I see AI in our future for sure. AI has been in our lives, people just don’t realize it. It’s when ChatGPT came out, everybody was like, ‘Oh my god, what is this thing?’” Linden notes, too, that advisors can use it to make their lives more seamless: “It’s a huge timesaver as it can create content for advisors for their landing pages, for social media.

“[Advisors] are busier than ever. It’s all we’re hearing. So, when we strategize as a leadership team, we’re always asking, ‘What can we launch? What can we do to help them save time?’ Because everyone is strapped for time right now.” She wraps up by adding: “[Not having enough time] is a good problem to have.”

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