MAC Chat: An interview with Vicky Garcia, Cruise Planners

by Patti 4/5/2010 3:41:00 AM

A series of 5 minute interviews featuring travel industry leaders. 


This week's MAC Chat features our interview with Vicky Garcia, ACC, SVP, Sales and Marketing of Cruise Planners.. 

Cruise Planners celebrates with RCI Executives after winning 'Home-based Partner of the Year' in February at the China Grill Restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale

For more information:

Cruise Planners was recently recognized in the Entrepreneur's Top 500 Franchise list. Congratulations on being recognized as one of the most innovative Franchises for 2010!
Thank you Patti. It truly is an honor that we take very seriously as Entrepreneur puts so much into this and truly looks a myriad of factors when recognizing Franchisors. They look at overall company financial statements, growth, Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) strength, overall sales, attrition and so much more. We at Cruise Planners continually look at ways to improve and stay ahead of the pact in terms of innovation and tools for our agents to grow their businesses – BOTTOM LINE. Awards are great, but at the end of the day, “We don’t succeed unless THEY succeed” (period). 

Can you tell us more about your ground breaking marketing techniques?
Ahhh, would love to….I honestly can’t say I’ve worked for anyone before like Michelle Fee (CEO & Co-founder of Cruise Planners). She lets us go crazy---truly think outside the box! We have an incredible senior management team with amazing “horsepower” whom are motivated by each and every triumph. We are VERY competitive and passionate and that drives us to continually challenge ourselves to over promise AND over deliver! Okay, so back to your question. Over the years, we’ve continued to bring new, cutting-edge tools to our Cruise Planners agents, however most importantly, made them TURN-KEY…therefore EASY to use. We found that if it’s remotely complicated, people will not use it, no matter how wonderful the tool is. 

So, we have CPpod, our Print-on-Demand portal that allows our agents in under 6 Steps to customize a 1:1 personalized DM postcard and have it printed AND mailed within 24-48 hours. Just imagine sending a postcard mailing to a repeating group with their picture on the cover, addressed personally to EACH member (by name), inviting them back for this year’s cruise….oh, and with a personalized URL (pURL) inviting them to register for the group via our proprietary Group Registration Tool, called RegisWeb. RegisWeb, is exclusive to Cruise Planners and allows our agents to build a link specific to each of their groups, with a custom landing page and secure password registration whereas the group participant can sign up to join the group right there and enter legal names, ages and credit card information themselves. Honestly, some of good “group producing” agents compare it to having their own assistant in-house as it lets you know via email and web-based management portal via live registrations, and lets the agent download manifests, as well as email them to the cruise lines and/or group leaders….and so much more. I could go on and on… We’re are also about to launch a tool that allows our agents to segment their client lists by psychographic/demographic data to identify true buying potential, based on their own buying patterns, outside of what they may/may not have purchased from us already. This is something that the suppliers have expressed a lot of interest in with us, as it truly refines how we market to a consumer in ways that they want to marketed to. We’re really excited about this new tool. 

How does Cruise Planners contribute to their agents' success?
Funny you ask. As I mentioned earlier, “We don’t succeed, unless they do”. Unlike other companies, we do NOT focus on selling cruises/travel from our headquarter office. We truly NEED our agents to sell, in order for us to grow. So every single program or initiative is based around that as our core value. Just last November, we launched our Cruise Planners University (CPU), the first and only virtual university with CLIA and Supplier training programs built in as a requirement to certification. It has different tracks, similar to an actual university. We launched with our Freshman track with over 45 required courses. Sophomore launched last month with close to that as well. In addition to CLIA, we’ve hired third party experts to write/deliver content for us as well, such as industry icons Mike Marchev, Stuart Cohen and travel law expert, Jeff Miller. In addition, we’ve contracted an actual certified social media expert to teach on this ever changing/ever-growing/ever-important topic, and commissioned Adam Lapsevich of Digital Design Video to create a video for our agents to be able to personalize and upload to their sites…not without a course on how to do that either. Again, we don’t want to just throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks…we are there to show our agents how to maximize these incredible tools. And we have the best of the best onboard to lead the charge with this incredible program, my counterpart and industry icon, Terri Burke, MCC, CTC, Sr. VP of Relationship Marketing.

Aside from CPU, we also have a “Coaching “ program that assigns a coach from our experienced HQ team to agents, based on their level of sales and experience. This has been well-received and is just another way for us to help our agents grow their business as it allows them to share with like-producing agents which is often a good benchmark and motivator. 

Once an agent decides to join Cruise Planners, how do they get started?
Once they join us, they are immediately welcomed onboard with not only a phone call with a walkthrough of our initial set-up, they soon attend one of our 6-day classes in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. which starts off with two optional “FREE” CLIA courses. (Yes, so right from the start they are earning CLIA credits with us). The six days are intense as we have all members of the management team come to present to the class vs. just having a corporate trainer, as we truly do feel they’ve “joined the CP Family” and we want to get to know each and every one of them. We include ship inspections throughout the week as well, which gives that experience, plus again allows the agent to earn points towards their CLIA accreditation.

Aside from all of this, we set them up with the cruise lines, and have their business cards ready to customize right on CPpod. If that’s not enough, we have a 1:1 postcard ready to go which is an “announcement” that they are now a Cruise Planners agent in the area and has a pop-out business card built in…so again, it’s turn-key and ready to go in 24-48 hours. 

Cruise Planners has won Royal Caribbean's 'Best Home-based Partner' for the third year. Congratulations!! 
OMG, Patti…this one is our absolute favorite and most appreciated recognition of ALL. Royal Caribbean is an amazing KEY partner and we are so proud to not only win this for a 3rd time, but to be the ONLY recipient of this award is such an honor. We have such an incredible respect for the sales and overall management team at Royal Caribbean…they are truly the best! The product and support is amazing! They work closely with us and KNOW ALL OF OUR TOOLS….I emphasize that because they take the time to do it, and know what we can do to go to market for them and get results. They “get-it”…It’s a true partnership and we are so proud that they see our dedication and passion---this is a relationship business and we work really hard to perform for them as we value our relationship. It’s a two-way street and we couldn’t be more thrilled to own this accolade! (I don’t see it ever being anyone else’s….LOL----told you we were a passionate & competitive bunch!) 

Thank you Vicky for that great interview!


MAC Chat: An Interview with Terri Burke, Cruise Planners

by Jessica 12/7/2009 9:02:00 AM

A series of 5 minute interviews featuring travel industry leaders. 
Hosted By: Jessica Martinez



This week we are featuring an interview with Terri Burke, Senior Vice President of Relationship Marketing at Cruise Planners. 

Welcome Terri, thank you so much for joining us today for MAC Chat. I am really excited about the new Cruise Planners University (CPU) and was hoping you would share a little bit more about it with us. 
Thank you so much Jessica, it’s a pleasure to be with you, especially to talk about such an exciting new program as CPU. 

Cruise Planners is celebrating our 15th anniversary this year and has had a banner year in bringing new agents into the industry in 2009. This is something I am passionate about, as we need more agents and better trained agents for today’s consumer. And, that’s what Cruise Planner’s does, infuses new blood into the industry AND has a stellar training program.

Cruise Planners Executive Team:
(from left to right) Terri Burke, Michelle Fee, Vicky Garcia

What is the goal of this new program?
Although we have had a very successful in-person training program throughout the 15 years and had a Cruise Planners University – it was not meeting the growing needs of our agent network due to the complexity of the business and our “anytime, anywhere and any format” information goal. Therefore, we took a totally different route and created an LMS (Learning Management System) which would interact with the agent in a fun learning environment, as well as be a one-stop career path. Our goal is in our tag line: “Higher Learning = Higher Earning”. According to CLIA, certified agents increase their sales by 261%! So, it was a ‘no brainer’ that investing in higher education would lead to higher sales for our agents. Plus, our goal is always to bring in new agents into this industry – especially now, as consumers that book cruises prefer (by 76%) to book through a certified agent. And that number goes to 85% with luxury cruise lines!

What are some of the exciting highlights of CPU?
How long do I have?? Seriously, there are so many cool things about this new technology and content, that it is hard to pick out the highlights. So, I’d like to give you a list – but more importantly, what those highlights do!

Of course, it had to be web based, but it is on an individual level, so that each agent has their own ‘mycpu’ page. On this page, a complete history of certifications, both Cruise Planners as well as our valued partners will be shown. Imagine, your entire career path in one place – no more wondering where you are in the education process.

It is set up as a virtual university campus, all with a student union, library, academics building, orientation, etc. This allows us to have specific areas for virtual learning courses as well as our CEO’s ‘Book of Month’ club in the library, a FlowRider game to give your brain a quick break, OnDemand Webinars, videos from our headquarter’s office to help navigate the site, an integrated calendar with information of Cruise Planner’s learning events…..and so much more.

This is the first travel LMS that incorporates both CLIA and preferred supplier programs. And, anything that the agents has done prior to CPU (i.e., MCC with CLIA) has been confirmed and is grandfathered – we knew we had to get this information and give them the credit that was due.

The learning content is set up in 6 phases: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, MBA, Phd. Within these phases, there are core courses which include Cruise Planner information, industry information and subject expert’s information. These are required as core learning modules, but we also have electives with extra credit. This is where we marry in the preferred partner’s learning platforms, so that they must accomplish both the supplier’s program as well as ours – but all in one place, as we link directly to each of these platforms.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the accreditation of the program?
We’ve also partnered with CLIA and use their courses within our modules as well as require CLIA certification to progress through CPU. 

A consumer campaign in planned for awareness and recognition of what a Certified Cruise Planner Expert (CCPE) designation means. It will take approximately 18 months to be able to complete the program – so it’s not an easy or quick path.

There are also great benefits that the agents can earn within Cruise Planners as a result of getting their accreditation.

Who are some of the Business Experts currently featured in CPU's educational seminars?
We have a direct marketing company president that has provided training modules for us, a president of a networking organization and even our own CEO who has put together her personal modules on how to be successful. In addition, we offer online tutorials for software products that all of use everyday, as this was a frequent request.

Thank you Terri for telling us more about this new program. It sounds great and I wish you much success!

Please feel free to submit your comments below. Have an excellent day!



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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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