American Express Travel

28 03, 2022

Cruise Planners’ exclusive Elite Summit Sails toward success on the Danube

2022-03-28T21:56:05-04:00March 28th, 2022|Tags: , , , , |

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — After two years in the making, Cruise Planners’ Elite Summit finally made its way along the Danube river aboard the magnificent AmaMagna for a scenic and productive tour of Eastern Europe. Cruise Planners proudly hosted the event to celebrate the achievements of their top producers at the 2022 Elite Summit on AmaWaterways luxury ship last week. Over 170 travel advisors from all over the U.S. convened on the Danube to network, learn and revel in the fruits of their labor.

Cruise Planners CEO and Founder Michelle Fee hosted the eight-day event alongside Cruise Planners Senior VP of Strategic Development Scott Koepf and Chief Sales Officer Theresa Scalzitti. Although this trip was originally planned for March 2020, it had a spate of delays due to the covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” said Michelle Fee, CEO and Founder of Cruise Planners. “These agents are the equivalent of travel advisor royalty. They are successful self-starters and experts in their fields and this summit is a chance to celebrate their achievements in an undeniably difficult year. They have led by example to show that it’s possible to turn lemons into lemonade—topped with a splash of sparkling champagne.”

This is the first time Cruise Planners has had a full ship charter and the trip began on March 13th in Vilshofen, Germany with stops in Passau, Linz & Grein, Melk & Spitz, Vienna, and Bratislava before wrapping up in Budapest on March 20th.

The Elite Summit featured supplier partner one-on-one meetings and networking. Industry partners in attendance included:

  • AmaWaterways – Kristin Karst, Co-Owner & VP
  • AmaWaterways – Diane Marie Curchy Horan, Director, Strategic Partner Networks
  • Carnival Cruise Line – Jodi Kinmon, Director of Strategic Partnerships
  • Silversea – Laurie Bohn, Senior Director, National Accounts
  • Norwegian Cruise Line – Soleil Domagala, Sr. Manager, National Accounts
  • Oceania Cruises – Nikki Upshaw, Senior Vice President
  • Princess Cruises – Mary Irene Jencen, National Account Business Development Manager
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Lisette Thurman, Strategic Accounts Director
  • Allianz – Jeff Schafer, Regional Sales Director
  • Celebrity Cruises – Yolanda Sheppard, Manager, National Accounts
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises – Vicki Freed, SVP, Sales and Trade Support & Service
  • Kensington – Stephanie Governali, Director, Agency Sales
  • Disney – Jodi Bainter, Director, Travel Agency Sales
  • Seabourn – Wendy Whitener, Director, North America Sales

The AmaMagna features multiple dining venues, and is twice the size of traditional river cruises, adding space and luxury to the river cruising experience. Guests on board also had access to a massage and hair salon, a fitness room, a swimming pool and whirlpool. AmaMagna is also the first of AmaWaterways’ ships to feature a water sports platform complete with the Sundowner boat for evening river excursions.

“The Elite Summit is always one of the most amazing experiences of the year,” said Joel Wilder, who has been on nine top producer trips. “It’s always so uplifting and inspiring to exchange ideas, visit with CP and cruise line executives, see old friends– all while seeing the world! I have sailed on most European rivers onboard Viking, Uniworld and Avalon and now AmaWaterways, which certainly did not disappoint. The AmaMagna is an amazing ship and I’m planning on putting a group cruise together to sail on her.”

The summit included executive presentations, one-on-one meetings with suppliers while also giving top producers a chance to network and immerse themselves in the culture of these historic, top destinations. Sample excursions include, “Hungarian goulash making class”, “wine tasting and castle walking tour”, “Passau River biking tour” and ” Cesky Krumlov Excursion with Czech Beer” to name a few.

“This year feels extra special because 1) the ship was chartered for just Cruise Planners 2) because it feels like we are back on track after the two past difficult years,” said Mellanie Ingle, who is based in Huntington Beach, CA. “I love that all of us have a bond that encourages sharing information, helping each other when we can, and looking forward to our time together each year.  We all understand what it takes to achieve this level of sales, and support each other.”

AmaWaterways co-owner Kristin Karst also hosted a special surprise dinner for its top producer and Cruise Planners Executives with Count Carl Philip Clam in Austria.

Cruise Planners hosts two Elite Summits each year, with the second one slated for May 1-5  at the Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau. In addition, there will be a series of four, in-person Boot Camp events including around the country with locations in Las Vegas, Connecticut, Dallas, and Orlando. To culminate, Cruise Planners annual convention will take place in Miami and complete on the Norwegian Prima as it makes its inaugural sailing.

“They truly earned this,” said Fee. “You can’t ask for a better setting, for a more dedicated and talented group of travel advisors to recharge, innovate and immerse themselves into the world of travel before they get out there and keep doing what they do best. It’s only going to go up from here.”

About Cruise Planners

Company Background: Cruise Planners, an award-winning American Express Travel Representative, is the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise network. Cruise Planners positions a nation-wide network of 2,500 franchise owners for success by providing innovative marketing programs, proprietary and cutting-edge booking and technology tools, as well as professional development and hands-on training with the industry’s top executives. The company continues to be an industry leader and was named the No.1 travel franchise by Entrepreneur magazine for 18 consecutive years and awarded by Franchise Business Review as “Best-In-Category” for 2 years. FBR also ranked Cruise Planners #3 OVERALL on their list of Top 200 Franchises of 2022. Cruise Planners was recently featured in Entrepreneur as one of the top 30 franchise innovators in technology, has been consistently named as one of the Top Women-Owned Businesses by the South Florida Business Journal, is on the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, and was recognized as one of the Top Workplaces by the Sun Sentinel.

Visit our website, www.cruiseplanners.com, for more information or to view the complete list of awards and honors. For those interested in becoming a franchise owner, please visit https://www.cruiseplannersfranchise.com/.

17 01, 2022

Franchise Business Review names Cruise Planners #1 in Franchisee Satisfaction in Travel and Tourism Category and #3 in Top 200 Franchises of 2022 Overall

2022-01-17T10:12:57-05:00January 17th, 2022|Tags: , , , , |

Independent Survey Ranks Cruise Planners #1 in Franchisee Satisfaction in Travel and Tourism Category and Ranks #3 among All Franchise Brands.

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, continues to thrive and dominate as a top travel franchise to own according to Franchise Business Review by once again naming the company “Best-in-Category Franchise” for the second year in a row. In addition, FBR also named Cruise Planners #3 in its list of Top 200 Franchises of 2022 overall, a feat no travel service company has ever achieved and a milestone that is especially poignant, given the uncertainty of the past year. This ranking also puts Cruise Planners ahead of dozens of large companies such as Sotheby’s International Realty, Planet Fitness and Pinch a Penny, to name a few.

After closing out a tumultuous year for nearly all businesses, but especially those in the travel and hospitality industry, Cruise Planners continued to deliver and was also awarded the following recognitions in 2021: “Best Low-Cost Franchises to Buy”; “Best Franchise for Veterans”; “Top 50 Franchises for Women” — an accolade we are especially proud of considering our executive team consists of a majority of female leadership and our closest competitors did not make it on this list. In addition, Cruise Planners made an astounding 41-spot leap in just one year and took home the #3 spot for the “Top 50: Enterprise” category.

“Considering we just weathered one of the toughest times in the travel industry, I can’t tell you how much this means,” said Michelle Fee, CEO and Founder of Cruise Planners. “Our franchisees are passionate and dedicated travel professionals, and they continue to show up, rain or shine, pandemic and all. We’re so proud to be able to offer a high value, low-cost franchise to so many people to be able to work from home and create their own business opportunities.”

This marks the 17th annual ranking of the 200 best franchise opportunities as rated by franchise business owners. Franchise Business Review is the leading market research firm in the franchise industry, where ratings and reviews are provided directly by franchise owners, who are able to offer the best testimonials about what it really is like to own a franchise. Cruise Planners joined FBR’s Hall of Fame in 2020, meaning the company has made the Top Franchises Awards list 10 separate times.

“As an independent research firm, Franchise Business Review is committed to helping prospective franchisees get an objective view of the best franchise opportunities, based on actual feedback from franchise owners,” said Michelle Rowan, president & COO of Franchise Business Review. “We survey franchisees from franchise companies in the marketplace today and identify those with the highest levels of satisfaction and performance in order to educate potential buyers and help them choose which franchise to invest in. The companies on this year’s list of Top Franchises are the top-ranked brands in the key areas critical to their franchisees’ success.”

As the nation’s largest network of home-based travel agents, Cruise Planners also scored well in FBR’s Franchisee Satisfaction Index (FSI)™ by ranking 87.4 against an FBR benchmark of 72.1 — 15.3 points HIGHER than their industry standard benchmark. In addition, Cruise Planners’ increased their satisfaction rating by 6.4 points compared to their 2020 survey results of 81—all of this during the worst year in our industry’s history.

By focusing on the agents, Cruise Planners created an award-winning virtual series titled “Where2Next”, reaching 18,000+ subscribers and generating $20 million in sales, and worked to support their travel advisor network by implementing twice weekly livestreams consisting of updated information and conversations with suppliers. Cruise Planners also announced more than twenty new initiatives at the 2021 Cruise Planners Conference, making sure agents were ready when things settled down.

“I bought this franchise in March of 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, and the leadership team, from Michelle Fee on down, did everything in their power to help both new and old franchisees survive the dramatic downturn in travel,” said Marine veteran Bill Brown.  “From reducing monthly/annual fees to retaining incentive ratings at previous levels, the Home Office went above and beyond what other corporations were doing to ensure survival of their franchise owners.”

Cruise Planners was among over 300 franchise brands, representing more than 30,000 franchise owners, that participated in Franchise Business Review’s research. Cruise Planners franchisees were surveyed on 33 benchmark questions about their experience and satisfaction regarding critical areas of their franchise systems, including training & support, operations, franchisor/franchisee relations, and financial opportunity.

“We have been with Cruise Planners going on 22 years and there has been so much that the Cruise Planners team has helped us with,” said Rick Carlson Cruise Planners franchise owner and top producer. “From the exceptional marketing materials, social media posts and the exclusive specials that we are provided by the cruise lines, booking tools and our software, everything that is provided to us has helped us grow to a member of the millionaires club. What I like about this company is that as big as it is, you can still talk directly with the leadership team. Everyone is there to cheer you on and help you to excel.”

“The support from Home Office is amazing,” said Carolyn Leibowitz, who celebrated 15 years with Cruise Planners in November. “You can call anytime and they’re right there. The technology is phenomenal. As we have evolved, with online and social media, Cruise Planners has been on the cutting edge. They’re doing all the work on the backend sending e-cards and marketing to your clients and they just make you look great.”

The Cruise Planners’ home-based franchise model provides entrepreneurs the ability and flexibility to work from anywhere in the world, even while traveling. Its network of more than 2,500 travel advisors receives access to unmatched hands-on training, dynamic marketing, innovative mobile technology, lead-generating tools and continuous business development and coaching.

“This just reaffirms that we are doing right by our franchisees when it comes to equipping them with the best, cutting edge, proprietary technology, award-wining marketing tools and Home Office team support,” said Fee. “This gives us the extra pep in our step to go the extra mile for our franchisees and we predict even bigger things for the year to come.”

The rankings are a testament to the Cruise Planners brand and business model, which offers flexibility, support, and opportunity to travel for those looking for a change in career, ready to be their own boss, or seek a part-to-full time options that are equal parts rewarding and profitable. The low-cost investment with Cruise Planners is a suitable fit for anyone looking to jumpstart their new career with no prior experience.

Visit FranchiseBusinessReview.com to see the full description of the 2022 Top Franchises.

About Cruise Planners

Company Background:  Cruise Planners, an award-winning American Express Travel Representative, is the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise network. Cruise Planners positions a nation-wide network of 2,500 franchise owners for success by providing innovative marketing programs, proprietary and cutting-edge booking and technology tools, as well as professional development and hands-on training with the industry’s top executives. The company continues to be an industry leader and was named the No.1 travel franchise by Entrepreneur magazine for 18 consecutive years. Cruise Planners was recently featured in Entrepreneur as one of the top 30 franchise innovators in technology, has been consistently named as one of the Top Women-Owned Businesses by the South Florida Business Journal, is on the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, has been ranked as the #1 travel franchise by Franchise Business Review for 5 consecutive years, and was recognized as one of the Top Workplaces by the Sun Sentinel.

Headquartered in Coral Springs, Fla. with more than 25 years of experience, Cruise Planners has achieved top producer status with every major cruise line, many land vendors and maintains a philanthropic drive assisting in raising over $2 million in charitable contributions.  Cruise Planners is one of the Top 50 franchises for Veterans according to GI magazine, the Top Franchise Brand for Veterans according to Franchise Business Review, has been named one of the Top 25 franchises for African-Americans by Black Enterprise magazine and is a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

Visit our website, www.cruiseplanners.com, for more information or to view the complete list of awards and honors. For those interested in becoming a franchise owner, please visit https://www.cruiseplannersfranchise.com/.

14 11, 2021

Cruise Planners Founder & CEO Michelle Fee receives first “Executive of the Year Award” at Travvy Awards

2021-11-14T03:27:00-05:00November 14th, 2021|Tags: , , , , |

Cruise Planners Founder and CEO Michelle Fee honored by Travvy Awards with “Executive of the Year” title.

MIAMI — For the first time in the history of the 7th Annual Travvy Awards presented by TravelPulse Magazine, Cruise Planners Founder and CEO Michelle Fee was honored with the inaugural “Executive of the Year Award.” The ceremony took place on November 11th at the Miami Convention Center during the three-day CruiseWorld industry showcase.

“I am deeply honored to be the recipient of the first Executive of the Year Award by TravelPulse Magazine,” said Michelle Fee, Founder and CEO of Cruise Planners. “To be recognized for this in one of the toughest years in our industry’s history just proves that perseverance and tenacity will help us overcome any obstacle. I’m so proud of my entire team, and the network of Cruise Planners advisors who work tirelessly alongside me every day to move our incredible industry forward.”

The Travvys recognize the top suppliers, destinations, technology providers and attractions and is voted on by travel advisors in the industry. However, unlike the majority of Travvy Awards cateogories, the “Executive of the Year Award” is not voted on and is instead, a Northstar executive decision based on the following criteria:

  • This leader is someone very special who continually goes above and beyond and who leads with integrity and grace.
  • This is a person who is a passionate and positive leader and sets the example every day for others in their company and in our industry.
  • This leader has made outstanding contributions to their organization and is one who exemplifies the increasingly strategic role necessary to survive in business today.

In light of the hardships the travel industry endured during the pandemic, Fee never stopped championing the 2500 agents under the Cruise Planners franchise by pivoting and providing crucial support and initiatives that highlight her collaborative spirit. Her exemplary leadership and visionary skills resulted in implementing a new virtual series called “Where2Next”, engaging over 18,000 subscribers and generating over $20 million in sales during one of the worst times in travel history.

In addition, Cruise Planners also took home the following awards:

  • Gold, Best Host Agency
  • Silver, Best Travel Consortium, Cooperative, or Franchise Group
  • Silver, Best Travel Technology Provider

“We couldn’t be prouder of Michelle for the steadfast commitment she provides to ensure Cruise Planners’ leadership in the industry.” said Vicky Garcia, COO and Co-Owner of Cruise Planners. “She constantly breaks barriers and pushes for greatness every day, with integrity, grit and humor.”

While the world came to a literal standstill, Fee quickly jumped into action with twice weekly livestreams to the Cruise Planners network keeping them abreast of breaking news and insider conversations with supplier executives.  And through her leadership, her team announced over 20 new initiatives that were unveiled at the 2021 Cruise Planners Conference, held in Cancun, Mexico this past October with over 600 advisors.

Fee began her career in1994 as an owner of a traditional brick-and-mortar travel agency and then co-founded one of the first home-based franchise agencies. Her commitment to innovations in technology and marketing has been instrumental to the growth of the company and Cruise Planners is consistently at the top of the leader board and achieved its’ 18th consecutive year ranking as Entrepreneur’s No. 1 Travel Franchise amongst the Annual Franchise 500 – no small feat for a female-owned business.

As an American Express Travel Representative, Cruise Planners sells over half a billion dollars in travel annually, and her recognitions include:

  • Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Hall of Fame Honoree
  • EY Entrepreneur of the Year® for Hospitality and Leisure
  • Florida Trend‘s Florida 500 Most Influential Business Executive in Hospitality
  • South Florida Business Journal‘s 250 Power Leaders
  • South Florida Business & Wealth‘s Distinguished CEO Apogee Award Winner
  • Godmother of AmaWaterways’ AmaSerena
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Woman of the Year

About Cruise Planners

Cruise Planners, the nation’s largest home-based travel advisor franchise network and an American Express Travel Representative, has more than 2,500 franchise owners who independently book vacations and travel experiences for their clients. Headquartered in Coral Springs, Fla. since 1994, Cruise Planners provides its travel advisors with access to award-winning, innovative marketing; cutting-edge mobile technology; dynamic, hands-on training; lead-generating tools, as well as professional coaching and development. Cruise Planners has achieved top producer status with every major cruise line, many land vendors and maintains a philanthropic drive earning an International Franchise Association FranTech award for innovation and Magellan Awards from Travel Weekly. Learn more at http://www.cruiseplanners.com

4 10, 2021

Cruise Planners Continues to Focus On the Future of Travel

2021-10-04T10:07:36-04:00October 4th, 2021|Tags: , , , , |

With a “Back to the Future” Themed Annual Convention, Cruise Planners celebrates the future of travel by bringing their network together in Mexico.

CANCUN, Mexico — Cruise Planners travel advisors were excited to safely return to its largest in-person event by hosting its annual convention in Cancun, Mexico at the El Dorado Royale. With clever “Back to the Future” movie nods and creative sessions focused on energizing Cruise Planners travel advisors, the five-day event was jam packed with information, entertainment and innovation.

“Cruise Planners’ conventions never disappoint. They are always filled with fun, engaging high-quality productions, videos and best of all, their exciting new innovation announcements,” said Vicki Freed SVP, Trade, Sales Support and Service for Royal Caribbean International. “Cruise Planners certainly did not stop during the pandemic and they will go into the future stronger than ever.”

Cruise Planners leaders reflected on the success of several new programs introduced in 2020 – mainly as a result of the pandemic.  The Where2Next™ Virtual Travel series proved to be enormously successful with twelve events completed to date and over $20 million in total sales resulting from the events.  The Task Manager tool which allows advisors to create a series of tasks and sets reminders and is integrated throughout their entire CRM system, helps advisors never miss a step in servicing their clients.  Over 125,000 tasks have been created so far.  And the All-Inclusive Resort Tool bringing hundreds of resorts into one easy to search and filter location within Cruise Planners’ proprietary booking tool, CP Maxx.

During the executive opening, Cruise Planners executive team including Michelle Fee, CEO and founder; Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner; Brian Shultz, CIO; Theresa Scalzitti, CSO; and Scott Koepf, SVP of Strategic Development shared over twenty major announcements to the network including:

  1. SOAR Dashboard Analysis – Highly Detailed Business Analytics dashboard for Advisors containing 120 different metrics to analyze their business and includes a heightened focus on setting and tracking business goals
  2. Enhanced Sales Opportunities Tool – Allows advisors to easily track the sales stage of their leads and integrates with Task Manager for follow-up reminders
  3. White-Label Websites– Customized, professional websites for cross marketing with local businesses and organizations
  4. Landing Page Templates – Helps advisors easily create professional landing pages on their websites to promote groups, promotions, blogs and more
  5. Enhanced Website Customization Options – Ability to further customize the homepage of their site to showcase franchisee’s unique attributes, services and specialties
  6. Enhanced Social Media and Digital Services – A new, third level of social media and digital footprint management.  The new “CP Pro Elite” program includes daily posting to Facebook and Instagram, Facebook digital ad boosts, directory listings and reputation management, all in one easy to use dashboard
  7. Enhanced Trigger Emails – New cleaner and more concise messaging
  8. Shore Excursion Marketing Email Triggers – Automated emails focused on shore excursion sales leading to a 40% higher conversion
  9. Client Lead Form & Contact Sharing – Automated Advisor Contact Sharing built into the client lead form
  10. Care Team – One Stop Customer Service for franchisees including Phone, Email and Chat communication methods
  11. Hotel Booking Engine – Coming soon, a new hotel booking engine that incorporates American Express hotel programs, enhanced commissions, customer savings
  12. Automated Marketing Program – New marketing program that encompasses emails, push notifications and more utilizing AI and big data
  13. Dedicated Supplier Landing Pages – Robust landing pages on all consumer websites for top suppliers showcasing supplier videos, exclusive offers, featured itineraries and more
  14. Automated Client Texting Communications – Text communications sent automatically for important date reminders such as deposit and final payment dates, as well as, the ability to send quotes and other information in the method preferred by clients
  15. Destination Content Provider – Destination content on over 9,000 destinations will be available throughout their websites, customer marketing tools and more
  16. CP Destination Hub – Central place for all destination content including community sourced information from the Cruise Planners network such as hotel, restaurant, transfer and activity recommendations
  17. Sherpa Travel Restrictions Interactive Map – Interactive map with real-time travel restriction information available on consumer websites and advisor CRM to help easily stay up to date on the ever-changing restrictions by country
  18. 2022 Events – With 5 Bootcamps, 2 Elite Events, 3 CP Tech Days, Land and Luxury Event and the Annual Convention, there are 12 In Person Events available for advisors in 2022 in addition to 6 STAR University training events for new franchisees
  19. Romance Travel Specialist Program – Advisors will be able to receive this designation after completing robust wedding and honeymoon training program 
  20. Task Manager Integration in the Mobile App – The very popular Task Manager tool will now be fully integrated into the advisor’s mobile app which allows them to quote, sell and service from anywhere

“The Power of Cruise Planners is strong, we are ready to put the pandemic behind us and focus on the future of travel,” said CEO and Founder, Michelle Fee. “Our travel advisors have been incredibly resilient and our entire team’s performance continues to solidify our leadership in the industry.”

Fee continued, “We are fighters, we aren’t going to stop innovating, marketing, and helping our network grow into the future.  There’s no turning back – there’s only looking ahead.”

Day 1 ended with Keynote speaker, Shari Wallack, President of Buy the Sea.  Wallack published her memoir, From Hell to Challah and shared her inspirational message about struggle and perseverance during the pandemic.  Wallack hopes that travel advisors can grow, learn, and benefit from her story.

“The future is bright with Cruise Planners,” Fee said about sales for 2022 and beyond.  Cruise Planners, together with strong supplier partnerships, will help rebuild the travel industry and propel us into the future.”

About Cruise Planners

Cruise Planners, the nation’s largest home-based travel advisor franchise network and an American Express Travel Representative, has more than 2,500 franchise owners who independently book vacations and travel experiences for their clients. Headquartered in Coral Springs, Fla. since 1994, Cruise Planners provides its travel advisors with access to award-winning, innovative marketing; cutting-edge mobile technology; dynamic, hands-on training; lead-generating tools, as well as professional coaching and development. Cruise Planners has achieved top producer status with every major cruise line, many land vendors and maintains a philanthropic drive earning an International Franchise Association FranTech award for innovation and Magellan Awards from Travel Weekly. Learn more at http://www.cruiseplanners.com