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Seven years ago, when former music teacher Adriana Matos of Orlando, Florida was first researching franchise opportunities, she had no idea that the culture at Cruise Planners® would ultimately mirror so many of her own personal values. Now a mother of two young children, her decision to join Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, has allowed her to juggle family, her son’s autism diagnosis, and her mission to support organizations such as the Autism Society of Broward County and Quest Village – a safe, comfortable residential community providing adults with developmental disabilities access to opportunities that support an independent lifestyle. At the same time, she and her husband, Jorge, manage a thriving travel business that allows them to travel with family and help other families enjoy cruises and all-inclusive vacations.
“What I liked about Cruise Planners was that they were not pushing me to purchase; everyone seemed genuine and seemed to love working for the company,” Matos said,
When Matos decided to take the plunge into the travel business, her first child was only five months old. At her initial Cruise Planners training, she was given a private room to pump and the staff at headquarters, affectionately called Home Office Team, made sure she felt comfortable.
“The staff at the Home Office was so attentive and knew right away what I needed, so I knew right then and there that I had made the right decision,” she said.
Although Matos had experience working in airline ticket sales, she was new to group travel sales. She credits Cruise Planners with giving her the tools to learn and manage her business from A to Z, and allowing her to work flexible hours at a time when her son needed her most.
“Because I had flexibility from day to day, I was able to get the testing my son needed and go to all of his doctor’s appointments,” she said. “Had I been working a 9-to-5 job, it would have been slightly harder.”
Matos credits Cruise Planners for the success of her franchise and for giving her the time she needs to enjoy her family—and help other families explore the world.
Matos is particularly proud of her ability to plan vacations for families who have children with autism diagnoses. When you have a child with autism, she said, your biggest worry as a parent or grandparent is that your child might run off. Upon traveling with Cruise Planners, Matos discovered that cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have “Autism Friendly Cruise Line Standard & Certification Programs,” which include kids’ clubs with staff trained to help children with special needs thrive. Her own son liked his experience so much that he kept asking to go back to the kids’ club on a recent vacation.
“They understood what he needed and how to calm him down if he was not okay,” she said. “They also understood if they couldn’t calm him down, they could call me. What most of the families with (autistic) children want most is for our children to be integrated, not to be left in a little corner.”
Adriana Matos posing with her son (standing by the letter “B”) and daughter in Labadee, Haiti.
While travel is a huge perk to owning a Cruise Planners franchise, the mission-driven values of the Home Office make Matos feel even better about being a part of the organization. Cruise Planners encourages its franchisees to support causes they care about in addition to charities chosen by the corporate office under its umbrella, CP Cares.
The company prides itself on exuding something it calls “Cruisitude®.” “To us, it [Cruisitude] represents providing our customers with unforgettable, stress-free and affordable vacations that exceed their every expectation,” explained Michelle Fee, CEO and founder, Cruise Planners. “For our franchise owners, it means being their own boss and having a rewarding and fulfilling business that is built on enriching peoples’ lives and making their dreams a reality.”
“This attitude drives the can-do mission of the company,” Matos said.
She personally describes Cruisitide as “the itch to have a positive disposition to do something amazing in travel.” Like getting “bitten by the travel bug,” Cruisitude is a little bite that encourages you to go beyond yourself to explore different places, she said.
“Mission-driven organizations are always going to make a positive impact. They will attract people who are also trying to make a positive impact in the world and will ultimately attract better team members,” Matos said. “This is what happens with Cruise Planners because they are mission-driven…they attract people willing to make a positive change in the world.”
Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner of Cruise Planners, said the word “Cruisitude” started out as a social media campaign and now embodies the mission-driven culture that Cruise Planners created more than 10 years ago. Garcia, who has a background in cruise sales, joined the company 15 years ago and rose through the ranks to serve as a co-owner with founder Michelle Fee six years ago. Initially, Cruise Planners asked franchisees and clients to post what “Cruisitude” meant to them on social media and then embraced the input it received to describe it as the “freedom of being” while on vacation.
The spirit of Cruisitude guides Home Office Team and franchisees on how to treat their clients and one another, and it also describes the special energy and enthusiasm Cruise Planners team members have for travel and their desire to give back to others.
“Whenever you see a video of our gatherings, you definitely see Cruisitude in the room. There’s an energy — you just can’t put your finger on it,” Garcia said.
To bring to life to how Cruisitude guides the team, Garcia talks about a situation in which a franchisee had to fly home suddenly during a corporate conference, and two franchisees volunteered to fly back with her, missing some of the conference, to ensure she made it home safely. She also recalls another event in which a franchisee had been diagnosed with cancer and needed to dedicate her time to treatment. Without being asked, a small group of franchisees took on her clients so she could get the medical attention she needed.
“They didn’t ask for compensation. They just jumped in to help her,” Garcia said. “She ended up passing away and they still helped her clients get through until her husband sold her franchise.”
Cruise Planners’ charitable arm, CP Cares, is a non-profit organization that gives to local, national, and international charities. To date, it has raised $2 million since its inception in 2012.
CP Cares first began when Garcia was nominated to run for “Man & Woman of the Year” on behalf of the Fort Lauderdale chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Man & Woman of the Year candidates across the country compete in honor of a local boy and girl who are blood cancer survivors, to raise the most funds for blood cancer research. Every dollar counts as one vote, and the titles are awarded to the man and woman with the most votes at the end of the campaign. The top local fundraisers in the country win the national titles. Garcia won the honor in 2012 through raising $115,000 in breakfast and lunch fundraisers, a cocktail event, and through donations from friends and suppliers.
Again, Garcia thought it would be a great social media campaign. But as she gained votes and worked hard for more than 10 weeks to raise money, she grew fond of the organization and all that it does for those with cancer diagnoses. She now sits on the Board of Trustees of the Southern Florida Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
We had a franchisee in New Jersey and needed to get her some help, and the LLS executive director in Florida immediately called the chapter over there and helped her figure out if she was eligible for a chemo drug,” Garcia said. “LLS doesn’t have the money to spend on big national campaigns – it’s mostly grassroots because everything they are doing is giving back to find a cure for cancer. But they are also supporting patents and their families, sometimes paying their bill so they don’t lose their homes or giving them gas cards to get back and forth to chemo treatments.
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The strong relationship between Cruise Planners and LLS continues. In 2014, Fee kept the Cruise Planners title going strong by raising a record breaking $292,000, and in 2016, Cruise Planners celebrated the legacy of late team member Beverly Brean by campaigning in her memory. The organization continues to sponsor other nominees through fundraising initiatives.
CP Cares does not only raise money for LLS. It donates the money from items purchased through its CP store to various charities. These items include CP logoed T-shirts and other “swag,” often purchased as gifts for customers by franchisees. Franchisees get involved by participating in the annual CP Cares Charity Contest where they can nominate an organization they support for a cash prize donation. In addition, CP Cares has sponsored drives for Shoes for Africa, back-to-school backpacks for students at a local SOS Children’s Village and many others.
“I learned years ago that I want to do business with companies who do great things and care about more than just gobbling up money,” Garcia said.
The Home Office Team during a beach cleanup in South Florida.
Already recognized for its signature green logo in a sea of travel companies that sport blue logos, Cruise Planners embraces green initiatives as part of its corporate culture. From the design of its new Home Office (which includes eco-friendly filling stations and no disposable plastic) to the beach cleanups its team members participate with environmental organizations, Cruise Planners recognizes that travelers care deeply about the impact of pollution around the world.
Using social media for good once again, Cruise Planners began the #CPGreenChallenge initiative this year, which aims to encourage franchisees, friends, and family to post pictures of their own efforts to clean up—on the beach, at the park, or while on vacation. Earlier this year, Cruise Planners corporate team members and their families joined together for a beach cleanup with VolunteerCleanup.org, along with local Cruise Planners franchisees. After the two-hour cleanup, they collected 150 pounds of trash consisting of Styrofoam, rubber pieces and non-biodegradable materials.
The CP team separated it into two piles, one “gross” stuff and the other with trash that might be recycled to create something beautiful.
“We are actually having an artist make an installation here for the office out of our recycled trash into a CP Cares logo,” Garcia said.
The corporate office’s commitment inspires franchisees, Matos said, adding that her own family believes very much in recycling, composting and using as few chemicals as necessary on their own lawn and plants. They carry their commitment to supporting a green environment with them when they travel, too.
“It’s rewarding because you know you are contributing and at the same time it’s rewarding for other people because they see a clean place. When we go to the beach or other places, I think it starts with us anyway,” she said.
Cruise Planners Travel Advisors and Executive Team come together at the American Express Travel Forum in South Africa!
Garcia sees both the CP Cares and CP green initiatives as efforts that continue to build the CP family and keep Cruisitude shifted into high gear. And while team members aren’t family, the camaraderie they’ve developed through working as Cruise Planners franchisees has bonded them in a unique way.
“We like to have fun and play a lot, but there’s also the caring piece of it,” she said. “I see them (franchisees) go to each other’s weddings and kids’ weddings just from the fact that they attended training together.”
There are articles that say that companies need to be mindful of referring to their employees as family, because it implies that you expect employees to work extra hours and do work beyond their job description, Garcia said, but at Cruise Planners, family means something entirely different.
“We do use the term ‘CP family’ a lot…that family atmosphere is …we will bring food in and eat together, or close at 4 p.m. to celebrate something here at the office, or work on a CP Cares initiative,” she said.
Cruise Planners Home Office does not sell travel, but instead develops tools and lends expertise to franchisees so that they can best serve their clients. From regional Facebook groups to informal gatherings, the company works hard to support its “family.”
Matos credits Cruise Planners for the success of her own family business and for giving her the time she needs to enjoy her family—and help other families explore the world. At the same time, she feels good about supporting a company that raises money for charity and allows her to raise money to help other children with special needs.
“There’s so much negativity in the world and everywhere you’re looking for a place that makes a difference. I think Cruise Planners is doing a really great job at that,” she said.
Michelle Fee at Machu Picchu with Cruise Planners top-producing travel advisors and travel partners as part of the Elite Summit trip.
Cruise Planners® was founded in 1994 by Michelle Fee, along with two travel industry veterans in Coral Springs, Florida. Named one of the top 200 franchise opportunities for 2019 by Franchise Business Review and the No. 1 travel franchise to own by Entrepreneur magazine, Cruise Planners is a home-based travel business offering cruises, guided land tours and all-inclusive resort vacations to customers throughout the United States. Its nation-wide network of more than 2,500 home-based travel agents, who enjoy open territories and can sell travel to anyone in United States.
Becoming a Cruise Planners business owner is attainable for most people, and since it is one of the lowest cost franchises you can own, you only need as little as $10,995 in cash to get started. You don’t need to be a world traveler, either; you just need to share a passion for travel and a desire to bring excellent customer service to clients planning land and sea vacations. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and are ready to begin an encore career that will let you see the world, Cruise Planners could be right for you.
For more information about franchising with Cruise Planners you may call (888) 582-2150 or visit cruiseplannersfranchise.com.