Cruise Planners Automates the “Personal” Touch

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Vicky Garcia shows off the Atlantic City-inspired Monopoly game.
Vicky Garcia shows off the Atlantic City-inspired Monopoly game.

Drawing on its Atlantic City locale, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, rolled out a number of major marketing and technology initiatives at its In It to Win It-themed annual convention, held in mid-November at the Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa. Among the most ground-breaking developments were a sophisticated customer relationship management system and tools that provided automatic, personalized messaging for marketing and to help agents maintain close contact with clients from their booking through their return.

Cruise Planners’ 500-plus travel franchise owners in attendance learned that the average franchisee’s business grew by 26 percent based on 2014 departures. It is projected to increase 44 percent in 2015 based on front-loaded revenues. CEO Michele Fee commended its more than 1,000-plus franchise owners for “engaging customers and not being order takers. You’re offering more products, pre-and post- tours, trip insurance…the level of service and product offerings is driving your growth.” In particular, exclusive supplier offers and promotions moved the needle. Revenues on these items increased by more than 163 percent.

The company’s goal, said Fee, is “total domination of the home-based travel industry,” so it was fitting that a Cruise Planner version of the Atlantic City-inspired Monopoly game provided a framework for the presentation. “To remain dominant, the company has to continue to evolve,” she emphasized. The company has made 87 important technology enhancements in 2014.

“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.

Among the top innovations are:

  • Tracking sales outreach, follow up and forecasting. The introduction of CP Hub, a sales opportunity tracking and forecasting tool, elicited cheers of “thank you!” from travel agents. The automated system can organize sales opportunities for prospective clients, tracking each contact and alerting the travel advisor when to follow up. It also helps forecast sales and manage the sales pipeline.
  • Maintaining contact from booking to return. A new triggered email campaign system lets CP advisors provide personalized attention to clients throughout the lifecycle without lifting a finger. The system sends up to nine personalized e-mails, starting with a “thank you” for the booking. Later, contacts include suggestions to book pre- and post-tours, a reminder and link for final payment, a suggestion to book their next cruise while on board, and a welcome home note and survey.
  • Marketing campaigns made easy. The Smart Select Tool automatically creates marketing campaigns. The tool has already increased sales by double digits since its launch in June by automatically matching each agent’s clients with actionable marketing based on past purchases and other factors. Plus, agents can still edit lists and segments prior to each mailing if they choose.
  • Connecting with clients on Mobile 2.0. Cruise Planners was among the first in the industry to launch a mobile app several years ago. Version 2.0 adds the ability for CP advisors to push notifications and deals to clients, while clients gain the ability to organize their photos in albums by trip, right on their smart phones, and share them on their social media outlets, further cementing their ties with their travel advisor.
  • Enhanced websites and SEO. A new Search Engine Optimization (SEO) initiative, which began in July, has increased web traffic by 113 percent, and will continue to work to drive web traffic to the consumer-facing websites provided for each franchisee. Improvements have also been made to the websites, including the ability for customers to search and book land and cruise vacations from every page, as well as to order digital brochures from a new CP Brochure Rack. In addition, franchisees with independent contractors working under their aegis can now provide them with access to marketing campaigns and other tools.
  • Orbitz-powered hotel bookings. Another announcement met with cheers was integration of an Orbitz-powered hotel booking engine with rich online content into the eConnect booking system, making it easier to research and book hotels, and expediting commissions.
Tom Kruszewiski, CFO and co-owner; Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner; Michelle Fee, CEO & co-founder; Brian Shultz, executive v.p. of technology and operations.
Tom Kruszewiski, CFO and co-owner; Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner; Michelle Fee, CEO & co-founder; Brian Shultz, executive v.p. of technology and operations.

Linda Greene, a CP franchise owner, was excited about the new tools. She has already started using CP Hub. “I deal with so many new prospects that it can be hard to keep track of everything. This is an online way to chart what is happening, prioritize and be reminded when to follow up.”

Greene said she also appreciates the automation of triggered emails throughout the cycle of each booking. “The details involved with each booking are very time-consuming and as a single practitioner, it is hard to do all that and still have time to build your client base.”

These tools are great time savers, agreed Michael Consoli, another CP franchisee. “Those nine touch points are huge. The e-mails look personal—not at all like they’re automated—and clients appreciate that we are taking the time to send them.”

Consoli also praised the electronic brochure rack because it allows him to send links for clients without sending them to the cruise lines. “This takes the opportunity to book direct—even if by accident—out of the equation. “Our technology is constantly working to make us more efficient and effective,” he said.

Check out our Q&A with COO and co-owner, Vicky Garcia, about what makes a successful agent here.