Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners—an American Express Travel Representative and the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise network—sat down with our contributing writing Geri Bain, during the recent annual convention in Atlantic City.
Geri Bain (GB): What makes a successful travel advisor?
Vicky Garcia (VG): The biggest challenge for travel advisors is the need for better marketing and keeping up with technology. It’s important to continually communicate with your customers. That way, when they’re ready to buy, you’re the first one they will think of. They may not buy because of a particular offer you just sent, but it makes you top of mind.
We provide a lot of support and tools to make it happen with a minimum of effort on the travel advisor’s part, and our most successful agents are the ones who are using our tools and best practices. If a client is engaged with you, they won’t leave you for a $10 savings. If they’ve already downloaded your app, they are going to say, “This is too hard to unravel and does that guy over there give me all of this?”
We’ve always provided automated touch points, but now the content we provide is more dynamic and automated. You can customize our touch points, but even if you don’t do anything, your client will be hearing from you.
Plus, the new CP Hub is a great prospecting tool. Unlike off-the-shelf sales contact systems, we created this to be specific to an agent’s job. People were scribbling reminders on note pads and post-it notes. Now everything is online and automated. You can build sales opportunities, add notes about conversations, and set dates for reminders.
GB: Someone said you offer a business in a box. What does that mean?
VG: A franchise basically is a business in a box. About 85 percent of our owners start out as newbies to the industry so we do best practices. We know, for example, that the top producers all leverage the Cruise Planner name; they wear their Cruise Planner green and their Cruise Planner bling. When we have a magazine about to drop, they opt in. They have what we call “cruisitude.” It’s a culture of passion and positive attitude.
We offer a lot of coaching and we track everything. For example, agents can go into a snapshot to see how they are trending compared to their graduating class (from CP training) and what they’re doing compared to what the big guys are doing.
When we launch a promotion, it is a multi-media campaign. We become our franchisee’s marketing machine, posting on their website and Facebook, sending direct mail pieces and e-mails to their clients, usually underwritten by coop dollars. We are communicating to the end customer through them—personalized by them. It makes them larger than life!
GB: Your mobile app is pretty cool, but who uses it?
VG: Mobile apps are definitely trending, especially among millennials and kids; and we absolutely want to make sure we’re in that space. We believe if you can hook travelers when they are young, they will be customers for life. We introduced our app two years ago, but our new version is even more engaging; especially the ability to take pictures and tie them together in a trip album, which can be promoted on social media.
GB: What other high-potential target markets are you gearing up to serve?
VG: We’ve been seeing a lot of potential in the LGBT market. Agents are seeing it as well; our LGBT session at the convention was packed. We brought in leading LGBT tour operators to discuss how to reach out to the market and what they look for. This is one of the markets we provide specific marketing for. Travel advisors definitely need to be sensitive to which destinations are and are not gay friendly, although on a cruise, you are more insulated.
Accessible travel also has great potential and we’ve partnered with a third party for training, and have relationships with specialized suppliers. We’re encouraging our agents to ask if anyone in a group has special needs and they’re finding that sometimes clients will say, “My aunt isn’t going to join us because she is in a wheelchair,” and we can help suggest ways to make it possible.
GB: What other niches do you suggest agents consider?
VG: We think travel advisors should follow their passions in selecting a niche, and then use that as a basis for pulling together groups. People with the same passion have a natural kinship. It might be craft beer or golf or even needlepoint.
Check out our story on the new marketing tools and technology the franchise network rolled out at the annual convention in Atlantic City here.