Cruise Planners CEO and founder Michelle Fee and COO and co-owner Vicky Garcia addressed the travel industry, discussing the company’s pivot from selling travel to supporting travel advisors during the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s no secret that the travel industry has been hit hard,” said Fee.
On the bright side, she noted that Cruise Planners is seeing an uptick in purchases after the shutdown.
“We are trying to take every little win we can,” Fee said. “Nobody has a crystal ball but we are hopeful that these numbers are a sign that we are moving in the right direction.”
Cruise Planners also reported that cruise bookings are currently holding for 2021 and that the outlook for the coming year was trending up by 15 percent.
“While the numbers are changing daily and being closely monitored, right now, cruise departures for 2021 are leading with Europe as a top destination at 38 percent of the mix with a large focus on European River cruising, followed by the Caribbean making up 23 percent of the mix and Alaska trending with 15 percent according to the company’s latest revenue reports,” said Fee.
Fee also noted that homebased agents, which make up the Cruise Planners franchisees, are more in touch with their customers and have been faring better than their call center counterparts, who are experiencing deeper cuts and more layoffs.
“We are doing comparably well because Cruise Planner’s Home Office Team is fully invested in supporting its nationwide travel advisor network and protecting their client’s travel investments,” said Fee. “The foundation of our home-based model is based on grassroots community networking and personal relationships which is why we feel we may be faring better compared to online travel agencies and brick and mortar agencies.”
Fee and Garcia also touched on how Cruise Planners was navigating the current crisis.
“We are pivoting our marketing to what we are seeing,” said Fee. “We know that there are thousands and thousands of future cruise credits that haven’t rebooked, and we think that those people are in that wait and see mode.”
As the company switches from marketing focused on selling to a message of support, Fee and Garcia are focusing on the good.
“We are trying to keep things positive,” said Garcia. “We are encouraging agents to share the good news stories and started a campaign to encourage positive thinking…It’s not all doom and gloom and I think that we need to focus on that because it makes our heart feel good and our clients feel better.”
Right now, the company is focused on its “For the Love of Travel” campaign. The Facebook photo contest runs through April 30, 2020, and encourages travelers to keep their fond memories of travel alive by sharing vacation photos.
“This contest is a fun way to spark some joy across our travel advisor network, their clients, and travelers who are spending days, and even weeks, inside their homes,” said Fee. “I can’t wait to be inspired by the travel photos submitted as I am already reminiscing about my favorite travels and dreaming of where to go next once the world opens up again.”
Participants can simply post a photo of their favorite vacation memory using the hashtag #CruisePlannersLove on their personal Facebook wall or on a Cruise Planner’s travel advisor’s Facebook business page.
Going forward, Cruise Planners plans to concentrate on more land travel but is also looking to clients with future cruise credits.
“There are thousands of people holding on to future travel credits that still need to be rebooked. We are hearing straight from the experts how to adjust travelers’ itineraries and take advantage of the rebooking offers available to them,” says Garcia. “It is a win/win for clients and agents when a client rebooks a future vacation since many suppliers are offering value adds and perks to those who apply their future cruise credit towards an upcoming vacation.”
Cruise Planners is also giving its travel advisors the tools to keep in touch with clients in a meaningful way during this crisis.
Advisors have access to information on the latest cancellation policies and updates from industry executives. Cruise Planners has also built tools for agents to reach out to clients one-to-one.
Garcia also noted that advisors can take advantage of the downtime in other ways.
“This is a good time to take advantage of training,” she said. “Cruise Planners has increased training webinars.”
The company is offering live Facebook messages and has waived its administrative fees for the last two months. All marketing, print and digital, is free.
“We all need to make a collective sacrifice now to ensure we can operate as a business when the cruise ships are back to providing amazing vacation experiences and airplanes are transporting travelers instead of medical supplies,” Fee said. “We know the value of the travel advisor will be key to help reignite the travel industry.”
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