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Amy Madson, of Madson & Associates, a Dream Vacations franchisee, wasn’t necessarily looking to become a travel advisor, although she had a feeling she’d probably be quite good at it after years of taking cruises and being ingrained in the planning process. It piqued her interest enough, though, that she spoke about it with her travel advisor at the time—some 20 years ago—and said, “You know, I’m thinking of trying this on a part-time [basis].” Her travel advisor’s response? “You’d be so good at it. I’d leave my clients with you right now because you know so much about the business.”

Amy Madson

Now, with 21 years selling cruise vacations under her belt—a good chunk of that part-time—her and her partner/husband, Michael, are looking at over $3 million in bookings for 2023. “That’s $1 million over last year and last year was $1 million over the previous year,” she tells Recommend.

Madson is quick to point out that from the moment her and her husband took their first cruise with a contemporary brand, they fell in love and that love for sailing the world spills over to the present day when she describes this mode of vacationing to her clients.

On her first cruise, she says, “we got to the ship, unpacked, had all these activities, all these food [options]. We could pick our excursions or just walk off. It was our first cruise—we had a great time and immediately came back and said, ‘This is a pretty cool way to vacation.’ So, we planned a second one on another itinerary.”

River Cruises Take Center Stage

Madson & Associates started their business selling ocean cruises on contemporary brands, but 14 years ago—when they were still working their full-time jobs—they heard about river cruising. “We didn’t know what kind of experience it would be, but we took a chance and paid for a 4-night river cruise on the Danube, did one night pre in Budapest, one night post in Vienna. We fell in love with the service, the small ship, the personalized attention,” she notes. Her and her husband came back from that experience asking themselves, “why aren’t people our age [in their 40s] taking this type of vacation?” Almost 15 years later, they’ve been on 24 river cruises with eight different cruise lines. “We know the ins and outs of all the products and because of that our business has grown,” she says.

She considers educating consumers on the brands and the various offerings of utmost importance because they might call you with a certain river cruise line in mind, but as an advisor, she says, you really have to qualify them. “They are all good products,” she says, “but we as advisors really need to focus on what our clients want out of their vacations.” In fact, she’s sold honeymooners on a river cruise, because, as she likes to emphasis, there’s a brand for every cruiser, and what fits one doesn’t necessarily fit the other. “50 is the new 30,” she says. “Age isn’t as important, it’s what the person wants.”

And although they are squarely focused on the growth of their agency, the passion has never subsided. Madson gets animated explaining to me how excited travelers get—her and her husband escort many groups on river cruises—when it’s their first time on a river cruise in Europe: “One of my big groups was a Christmas market on Viking. We had about 30 people and we had so much fun. People fell in love with the markets and the spirit of the holidays. It’s seeing people experience that, that’s what I love. With a river cruise group, when you see them noticing the service and feeling like they’re special, watching them as we cruise down the Wachau Valley or the Rhine Gorge and they’re looking around with open jaws and big eyes. To me, that makes it magical.”

A Taste for Luxury Cruises
And now the Madsons have gotten a taste for luxury cruises. And it makes sense, she says, because her clients are growing with her. After her first experience on board Silversea, Madson said, “this is me,” and she knows her clients, if they want that same service and want an ocean cruise, will follow her recommendations.

Most importantly, though, Madson says, “if you want to grow your business faster, try a little bit of everything, because you don’t know what your niche is going to be [at the beginning]. For example, we did everything until we found river. And then river was our passion.

“People will come out of the gate and be a luxury cruise seller, but they’ve never even been on an ocean cruise. You need to invest in yourself. You need to invest in your business. You have to build up that credibility. You have to build up that knowledge of the real product in order to be that expert,” she says.

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