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Cruise Planners shares survivor strategy, new tools at Virtual Forum

Cruise Planners CEO Michelle Fee, left, and COO Vicky Garcia in 'Survivor' character at the Virtual Forum
Cruise Planners' Virtually Yours Forum kicked off with a survivor theme, a host of new tools and record registration. Cruise insights were shared with media before the event.

After months and months of cruise cancellations, with the latest wave of those coming last week, clients are booking further out, according to Vicky Garcia, co-owner and COO of the home-based travel advisor network.

Europe No. 1 seller

Cruise Planners' No. 1 seller has been Europe, CEO Michelle Fee said, so that indicates people are looking to start traveling mid-way through the coming year, and the COVID vaccines play a part in that. The Caribbean books closer in, she noted, and that market is 'at a standstill.'

Fee's not sure there will be a 2021 wave season.

'The confidence level is for the second half of 2021,' Chief Sales Officer Theresa Scalzitti said.

Galápagos, river cruises, Alaska

Luxury Europe, the Galápagos, river cruises and Alaska have been featured in Cruise Planners' new in 2020 Where2Next virtual events series for clients, resulting in strong sales bumps. The five events averaged 1,500 participants.

Examples of month-over-month increases were 1,500% for the Galápagos (Scalzitti said the average sale has been a whopping $17,000), 174% for river cruises and 55% for Alaska. The tally isn't in for the luxury Europe event, held just last Thursday.

The Where2Next events spring from CruisePlanners' 'Where To Next?' survey that collects clients' bucket list destinations for the next one to three years, giving insight to effectively target market the right destinations to specific customers.

The 'golden ticket'

Concerning future cruise credits — what Fee calls the 'golden ticket' — early on, Cruise Planners took a proactive stance, getting information from the lines about who's holding FCCs and cross-matching with its database to create an automated email campaign that went out periodically to touch base with those clients.

FCC redemption 'unsurpassed'

As a result, Cruise Planners agents have handled more than 17,000 bookings with FCCs for $20m in revenues. This has been a 55% redemption rate which the group has been told by its travel partners is 'unsurpassed.'

This exemplifies how the network has been taking the bull by its horns during the pandemic.

'We want to be survivors. When this is over, we want to be poised for success,' Fee said.

'We didn't put our heads in the sand like some others did,' Garcia added.

500 touchpoints over eight months

Cruise Planners recorded more than 500 touchpoints with advisors over the last eight months, including weekly executive video updates, supplier presentations, briefings from cruise industry leaders, training and continued personalized business development coaching.

Opening the virtual forum on Monday with an entertaining and cleverly produced play on the "Survivor" series, the executive team reviewed a bevy of tools introduced in 2020 and unveiled new ones for 2021.

New tools

These include enhancements to the client-facing CP Mobile App, a supplier partner star rating and review system and Care Team, a one-stop shop for advisors when they have questions, inquiries or issues. Instead of looking up departments, they can use a single phone number or email address for help.

And the new Task Manager allows advisors to create a task list related to a client, bookings or other scenarios that happen often, replacing sticky notes and spreadsheets. They'll get reminders about important follow-ups.

Before Monday's opening Virtual Forum session, 2,200 advisors had registered for the three-day forum, 'by far' Cruise Planners' largest conference. The event usually draws about a thousand but often is capped because it's paired with a ship inaugural where capacity is limited.