Michelle Fee of Cruise Planners
Michelle Fee, co‑founder and CEO of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, shared with Franchise Business Review what led her to launch the brand and what has made it such a well-recognized brand in the travel industry.
Listen to the full interview here or download the mp3 version.
Did you know? Michelle Fee is one of Franchise Business Review's Top Franchise Leaders of 2017!
Learn more about the Cruise Planners franchise opportunity at www.cruiseplannersfranchise.com or call 888-582-2150.
How did Cruise Planners get started?
23 years ago travel was changing. The airlines were taking away commission on agents driving air tickets. All of us in the travel industry had to reinvent ourselves. If we didn't, we were going to be dinosaurs. Three of us got together and came up with Cruise Planners.
What is Cruise Planners?
We’re the nation's largest home-based travel agent franchise network. We began as a cruise only business, but shortly thereafter realized that if you booked the Jones on a cruise vacation this year, that next year they might want to take a trip to Europe and not want to go via a cruise. We didn’t want them going down the street to another travel company and never coming back. As a result of being affiliated with American Express, we also get access to really great hotel rates.
What is the travel marketplace like?
Everybody travels. I'm in the travel industry and on a lot of travel boards. I keep hearing that 2017 is a great year for travel. The even better part is that 2018 is already starting to sell. A good indicator of the strength of the industry is that cruise line and airline stock prices are through the roof. A lot of the cruise lines have orders for new ships through 2025, so clearly believe that the industry is going to grow.
How challenging is it to sell Cruise Planners offerings?
It's not really hard to sell travel. People love it! You're selling something fun. People love to spend money on travel.
How does Cruise Planners corporate support its franchisees?
We have over a hundred employees at our home office. Every single person is there to help our franchisees grow their business. We have technology, marketing, and training departments that provide them with support.
What kind of support do new franchisees get?
85 percent of the people who become a Cruise Planners franchisee have never been in the travel industry. They begin learning about the industry during a six‑day training course. They learn how to market their business, about all the tools we've developed for them, about the products they can offer, how to book trips and much more. They are also assigned a coach who helps them develop their business. In addition, we outline what they should be doing each week and help them stay on track regarding their tasks.
What kinds of backgrounds do your franchisees typically have?
We have agents that joined Cruise Planners for a variety of different reasons. Some want a completely new career, some want a flexible career they can do around their family, and some retired individuals want an encore career. Our top four agents consist of somebody who had a technology background, somebody who was a bookkeeper for her husband's company, somebody who was a travel agent, and somebody who was a car salesman. If you have passion for travel, you're going to succeed.
Technology is an area many franchises struggle with. Cruise Planners has one of the largest technology teams in your marketplace. Why is that?
We want to be cutting edge, so decided a long time ago to create our own in‑house technology team. We have two apps. The app for our agents enables them to run their business from any Smart device anywhere and at any time. We have agents who travel, so wanted their business to be mobile. The other enables consumers to go on one of our agent's apps to look up and book a trip. Once they do so they can do a variety of things such as checking the weather or seeing their itinerary.
We do at least five webinars a week per agent that they can listen in on live or via our Cruisitude Academy. We upload all of the webinars on to the academy page so our franchisees can listen to them at their convenience.
Our franchisees can also send their clients what we call a Client Cruise Sheet. It's like an E‑brochure that can be created within five or six clicks and emailed to clients. Clients can book and pay for their trip via their E-brochure with the click of a button, which facilitates the sales process.
Do Cruise Planners franchisees enjoy any special perks?
Yes. They get to go on what we call Fam Trips, which are familiarization trips. They enable our franchisees to test offerings. For example, they may go on a river cruise or stay on a new cruise ship for a couple of nights to see the ship, taste the food, and see the entertainment. They end up with great stories to share and anyone they share it with is a prospective clients.
Do Cruise Planners franchisees interact with and support each other?
Yes. We run a number of different boot camps throughout the year throughout the country where franchisees interact and learn from each other. Some communities of our agents, for example those in Boston and Houston, get together on their own. We also have a closed Cruise Planners Facebook group that enables franchisees to chat with each other all week and all night. The Cruise Planners Family of Agents consists of over 1,700 agents in all 50 states so it is likely someone has been some place that you would like to know about or can help you with a challenge you may be facing.
Why would somebody book through a travel agent if they can go directly to a cruise line or a tour company?
When people book their trips themselves, they typically pay more than they would if they went through a Cruise Planners agent. Also, our agents can help people with more complex travel planning. It’s not so difficult for someone to figure out what cabin they want on a cruise ship, but if they are taking a 10‑day cruise in Europe that starts in one country and ends in another and want to book hotels pre and post cruise for three nights each, that is more complicated. Our agents can set that all up and again, because we have so much experience, we can suggest to clients special things they can do when they are in a particular port. In a short period of time our agents design wonderful trips for their clients based on their preferences and interests, trips that would take days to research and plan if people were doing so themselves. In addition, their clients don’t pay anything for the service because our agents are paid via vendors.