Wave Season is Here! Your Guide to the Year’s Biggest Cruise Sale

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For cruisers, it’s like Black Friday. Except these discounts last longer than a day, and you don’t have to wake up at 3 a.m., deal with hordes of people, and break down any doors to get them.

It’s called Wave Season — that glorious period in late winter when cruise lines offer their best deals. Maybe you were visiting your friends and family over the holidays and thinking about how good it’d be to vacation with them once the kids were out of school. Or maybe you’re freezing your butt off in the winter weather and fantasizing about your future getaway.

Either way, cruise lines know that many are planning their trips now. And the point of Wave Season is to entice you to book your cruises now.

“Whether you’re in hotels or bed and breakfasts or cruising, January is a huge peak time to plan travel,” says Geraldine Ree, senior vice president of sales and marketing for cruise booking agency Expedia CruiseShipCenters. She says there are some amazing deals for Caribbean, European, and river cruises this Wave Season on some of the newest ships on the water. “The cruise lines are trying to out-value each other.”

But not everyone is that bullish on Wave Season. “We haven’t seen a true Wave Season in 14 years,” says cruise expert Stewart Chiron, also known as The Cruise Guy. He notes cruise lines aren’t that motivated to offer big discounts nowadays because they’re seeing record bookings, especially from passengers who booked their summer trips even before the traditional Wave Season. “The cruise lines aren’t giving anything away,” Chiron says. “The offers that are being made really aren’t different from what’s being offered throughout the year.”

But if you know you’re going to cruise this spring or summer, it’s still an ideal time to book your trip. Here are some tips for riding the Wave.

Book early

Waiting to score last-minute cruising discounts may end badly. “You might get a cheaper fare here or there, but you may be disappointed that the cabin you wanted, the itinerary, the sailing dates you wanted, are no longer available,” Ree says. Chiron agrees, noting that procrastinators often “wind up getting a lower-class cabin and spending more money” than they otherwise would, had they booked early.

And even if you manage to score a cheap, desirable last-minute cruise fare, the small fortune you’ll likely pay for that last-minute plane ticket to the departure port will wipe out any savings. “Why not get a great deal on a cruise and get your airfare and everything you need to have a great vacation?” Ree suggests.

Use a travel agent

“One of the worst things you can do is book a cruise directly,” Chiron says. “I recommend people research online but don’t book online.” He says only an experienced travel agent can help you navigate all the different cruise lines and Wave Season discounts out there — a point with which Ree, from Expedia CruiseShipCenters, is all too happy to agree. “You want to work with someone that is really interested in asking great questions and really getting to what is important to you on your vacation.” Speaking of which…

Figure out what you want

This is crucial to finding the best Wave Season deal for you, as many discounts come in a variety of forms: fares, cabin upgrades, shipboard credits. “Focus on what’s really important to you as a traveler,” Ree suggests. “There are so many great deals in the market, chances are, whichever cruise line you choose, it’s going to have a deal with you.”

For instance, if you’re cruising just to see the destinations — and don’t plan to spend a lot of time on board drinking, shopping, or doing much else besides sleeping — a sale package offering a few hundred dollars of shipboard credit is worthless to you; look for a lower overall fare instead. But if you tend to spend a lot on board, that shipboard credit is a lot more valuable (but make sure it doesn’t come with an unreasonably high fare — “Shipboard credits mask higher cruise pricing,” Chiron warns).

Here are some Wave Season deals worth checking out.

Princess Cruises: This is Princess Cruises’ 50th anniversary, so the company is definitely doing things up this year. Its Wave Season deal offers savings of $500 per person, plus up to $200 in onboard credit (per stateroom) and free specialty dining for two. Plus, it’s open for all sailing dates.

Royal Caribbean: This cruise line is offering a “buy one, get one 50 percent off” discount, plus up to $200 in onboard credit per stateroom (ocean view and above). The deal expires Jan. 31 and covers all sale departures (excluding Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, and China departures).

Celebrity Cruises: Ree is a big fan of Celebrity’s “123go!” offers. “They pretty much can’t be beat,” she says. For its Wave Season discount, the cruise line is offering passengers a choice between a free Classic Beverage package for two; free prepaid gratuities for two; or up to $300 in onboard credit per stateroom. If you book a Europe sailing, you get to choose two offers. Those who book a Concierge-class stateroom or higher will get all three. The offer expires Feb. 28 and covers sailings between April 1, 2015, and April 30, 2017.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian is also offering a choice of deals for those who book ocean view or above: an unlimited beverage package; an unlimited dining package; or up to $300 in onboard credit per stateroom. Those who book Europe or Hawaii are eligible for two of those offers, while those who book the Haven get all three. It’s open for all sail departures, but you have to book by Jan. 31, 2015.

MSC Cruises: MSC hopes to make a Wave Season splash with its own promotion, which applies to select Caribbean, Bermuda, Europe, Canary Islands, and Transatlantic Grand Voyage sailings that are five days or longer and booked through Feb. 15, 2015. The deals offer a mix of perks, such as up to $200 in shipboard credits, beverage packages, and reduced deposits. Plus, MSC is offering free sailing for children 11 and under.

Cunard Line: Cunard is celebrating its 175th anniversary with complimentary amenities — including a wine package, Internet minutes, a keepsake photo, a specialty coffee card, gratuities, balcony upgrades, and shipboard credits — to those who sail in its luxury Grills Suites aboard Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth. The Grills Suites Inclusive Package is available for bookings made now through Feb. 28, 2015.


Original article found on www.yahoo.com

Cruise Week

The Changing Face of Luxury

With Regent, Oceania, and Seabourn growing in the future, the face of the luxury category is changing.

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Specifically, Seabourn will build a second new luxury ship to be delivered in spring 2018. Like the next Seabourn ship scheduled for delivery in late 2016, Adam Tihany will design the newbuild in its entirety.

Meanwhile, shortly after its purchase of Prestige Cruise Holdings came through, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings essentially illustrated that they are willing to do with Oceania what they did with Norwegian from the getgo: invest heavily in improving the fleet.

The company is not only spending a reported $82 million to purchase the Ocean Princess, but a further $40 million to overhaul the former R-Class ship into an Oceania-style vessel. The ship, to be renamed Sirena, will then fit in nicely with three other former R-class vessels in Oceania’s fleet: Insignia, Regatta and Nautica.

Factors Driving The Change

Mark Conroy, principal of Mark S. Conroy & Associates, says what’s driving the growth in the upper-end sector is a good economy for the wealthy and aging baby boomers who have a lot of discretionary income.

“The wealthier people are getting more wealthy despite the recession and the number of baby boomers getting to age 65 is growing,” he sums up.

That’s leading to improved results for the upper-end lines. “If you look at the results, they’re quite strong,” says Conroy. “You can’t see Seabourn results within Carnival Corp., but you can assume they’re doing well since they’re ordering new ships.”

Meanwhile, Regent and Oceania continue to fill ships at strong rates which Conroy says leads to their respective brand growth..

“So I think there’s plenty of reason to expand on the luxury side,” he says. “The beauty of the luxury cruise business is it feeds off the premium and contemporary market. Most luxury cruisers are not first time cruisers. So the message becomes not, ‘Will you try a cruise?’ but the easier, ‘Now that you like cruising, here’s what’s different about taking a luxury cruise.'”

New Ships Brighten 2015 Outlook

The most recent expansion by the cruise business is seen by leaders of retail groups as positive for 2015 business and beyond.

For instance, several major agency groups, including Cruise Planners, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, CruiseOne/Cruises Inc., combined conferences with two nights aboard Quantum and all came back raving about how the ship represented something different.

Matthew Eichhorst, President of ExpediaCruiseShipCenters, observes, “Quantum was amazing. We love the new technology and hardware.”

He believes the newest ships positively change the outlook for ’15. “I love the new Regal Princess and that Norwegian continues to reinvent themselves. So we’re bullish over the next three to four years.”

Eichhorst emphasizes the positives won’t be immediate but adds that this business has cycles and seems to be emerging into a more positive time period.

“I’ve been in the industry now for 13 years so I’m not a veteran by any stretch, but there’s been these cycles of all these new ship builds and there’s always a halo effect after all these ships are coming out. We have 4000 agents and giving them interesting things to talk to consumers about is always a good thing.”

Adding Newcomers to Trade, To Cruise

Expedia CruiseShipCenters itself has 150 new locations planned in the next three years.

“We’ll have added 30 this year, plan to add 40 next year and 50 the next year,” reports Eichhorst. “I would say our growth is different [from the past] in the sense of how we’re going to market to get people to join our organization.”

He calls it an aggressive expansion. “We have a dedicated franchising team that awards the franchises as well as starts them up very well at the beginning to set them up for success. So we’ve invested a lot in that area in the last couple of years.”

There’s a certain skew toward first-timers. “We attract people who have never been in the business before, not only our franchise partners but also the 1200 agents that we added this year,” says Eichhorst. “We look for people new to the business and they tend to have a circle of influence that isn’t necessarily cruisers.”

While first-timers are the rage in terms of the trade, it’s still repeat business when it comes to consumers. “In the last 3-4 years the repeat business has been performing better than the first-timer,” he observes. “But I think we’re making progress.”

He credits new pricing promotions with helping entice them: “What Celebrity is doing, what Norwegian is doing, and the other lines with aggressive promotions in the marketplace is attracting a different type of cruiser. Some of the experimentation around all-inclusive may not work 100% of the time, but it is making a positive difference.”

The end result? “We’re having more conversations these days with people that have never been on a cruise that would like to go on one than we’ve had in the last couple of years.”

Leading Travel Franchise to Celebrate Record Growth at Yearly Conference

Expedia CruiseShipCenters to Share Why Bigger is Better Aboard Norwegian Breakaway®

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® – part of Expedia Group®, is gearing up once again for its highly anticipated annual national conference at sea. This year the franchise company will welcome attendees from Nov. 9 through Nov. 16 onboard the spectacular Norwegian Breakaway sailing round-trip New York City.

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“Our yearly conference is a phenomenal opportunity to empower our Franchise Partners and ensure we are maintaining the Stronger. Together® culture that sets us apart in the franchise industry”

The theme for the annual event, which is attended by Franchise Partners, Vacation Consultants, and travel industry executives, is “Bigger, Better, Stronger, Together,” emphasizing the power in numbers that comes with continued, system-wide growth as the company approaches 200 retail locations across North America. The theme is especially relevant after a record growth year with 22 new franchises signed so far in 2014 alone, and plans to add another 150 locations over the next three years. The week-long conference will contain an action packed agenda aimed at sharing best practices and helping franchise partners prepare for an exciting year ahead. Attendees will leave with insight into new and improved tools and support to help them drive greater sales, profitability and business value. Some of the scheduled corporate keynote presentations include:

“Bigger Better Stronger Together” – President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Matthew Eichhorst, will discuss why “Bigger” is “Better” for Franchise Partners and why sustaining the company’s Stronger. Together® culture will benefit all franchisees in growing their business. He’ll also explain how the company’s national expansion provides leverage and opportunity for Franchise Partners at the local level.

“What Matters Most” – Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Geraldine Ree, will discuss what is involved in maintaining a proven system for franchisees to grow a successful business. This includes continuously investing in new technologies, seeking ways to improve processes and sharing best practices.

“Building our Brand in North America” – Vice President of Marketing, John Mast, will educate attendees on key strategic marketing initiatives and program enhancements for 2015. These include cost effective programs that increase awareness and drive more leads and sales for the brand’s Franchise Partners.

Also joining onboard will be representatives from 15 different cruise lines, including Andy Stuart, Executive Vice President of Sales and Passenger Services for Norwegian Cruise Line, Keith Lane, Vice President of Field Sales and National Accounts for Celebrity Cruises, and Nathan Hickman, Vice President of National Accounts for Oceana Cruises.

“Our yearly conference is a phenomenal opportunity to empower our Franchise Partners and ensure we are maintaining the Stronger. Together® culture that sets us apart in the franchise industry,” said Matthew Eichhorst. “As a franchisor, the success of our franchisees is all that matters. That’s why we’ve set aside this time to showcase the many initiatives we’re taking to best serve our Franchise Partners in growing their businesses in 2015 and beyond.”

As the cruising industry continues to thrive with nearly 22 million people worldwide expected to cruise in 2014 and 29 new ships set to enter the market by 2016, the company continues to rapidly expand its network to meet the growing demand.

About Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Expedia Group, the largest online travel company in the world, has partnered with Expedia CruiseShipCenters to provide travelers a one-stop-shop for cruises and vacations. Expedia CruiseShipCenters was founded in 1987 and offers the best value in the industry with 3,800 travel consultants in more than 160 franchise locations throughout North America. Recently named a fast-growing franchise by MSN Money, the company offers flexible, rewarding business opportunities for travel consultants and franchise owners with a passion for travel.

Expedia is either a registered trademark or trademark of Expedia Group, in the U.S. and/or other countries. Other logos or product and company names mentioned herein may be the property of their respective owners. © 2014 Expedia Group All rights reserved. CST # 2029030-50 and CST # 20893-43


Original article found on www.businesswire.com

Backed by Expedia, Manatee County travel agency converts clicks to cruises

Rich Rogers, owner, sits at a desk at Expedia CruiseShipCenters on University Parkway // Photo: GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

Rich Rogers, owner, sits at a desk at Expedia CruiseShipCenters on University Parkway // Photo: GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

By Charles Schelle

UNIVERSITY PARK — Rich Rogers has the opposite challenge for those in Florida who work in tourism: helping people get out of Florida for vacation.

Rogers is the new franchise owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a travel agency with the backing of one of the largest online travel booking websites. The store opened Oct. 16 in the Market at University Town Center, also called University Park Center, beside Kohl’s and Tijuana Flats on University Parkway.

It turns out that if Floridians want a cruise for a vacation, it’s a relatively easy sale for the state that is the “cruise capital of the world.”

“Two-thirds of all cruises are booked through travel agencies,” he said. “A lot of it is an untapped market and cruising is really popular, especially in Florida.”

CruiseShipCenters started in Vancouver, B.C., and after steady growth Expedia purchased a share of the company in 2007 to offer a brick-and-mortar presence.

“They realized that cruises are a really difficult thing to sell over the Internet because it’s consultative travel and not commodity travel,” said Tom Galbraith, manager of the University Park agency and a friend of Rogers since high school.

The Expedia name helps create curiosity from customers, Rogers said.

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“Many of the different travel websites are owned by Expedia, so the buying power is huge,” he said. “We’re navigators of spectacular vacation experiences.”

Expedia has 43 U.S. locations and 180 worldwide and expects to open another 30 this year.

That formula is what makes a travel agency that touts

cruising successful in Florida including several ports offering cruises and Port Tampa being the closest. Cruises departing from the Sunshine State offer Florida resident discounts and special military rates to help entice locals to set sail.

“When you hear about the billions of dollars invested in new cruse ships coming online, it’s really a growing industry,” he said.

The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association estimates that cruise operators are investing more than $14 billion of capital this year. Also, 50 million Americans are interested in cruising over the next three years, Rogers said.

For this area it’s double-edged sword because the ships are getting so big that the newer ones cannot fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge to and from Port Tampa, prompting state officials to consider modifications to the bridge, a partial tunnel or a new port west of the bridge to avoid losing business. But for Rogers, who books cruises out of any port, he only sees opportunities for the area.

“Either way, it’s great that the governments and politicians are looking to expand that port,” Rogers said. “It’s going to bring a lot of business to a lot of people and a lot of jobs.”

CruiseShipCenters also books land vacations and other excursions to supplement its business, Rogers said.

Vacationer to vacation planner

Rogers, a New Jersey native, vacationed in the Sarasota-Bradenton area to visit family and relax. He wanted to settle here after recently living in Los Angeles.

He’s used to travel in his careers in business operations. His first was for ABC News in New York booking satellite transmissions that took him on domestic and international presidential trips when it was the network’s turn for pool reporting.

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“I got to go to a lot of places I normally wouldn’t have gone to and that gave me the travel bug,” he said. “… I liked to travel to begin with but that just accelerated my interest in travel.”

After a stint working for a major accounting firm in graphic design, Rogers decided he wanted to leave the traditional corporate environment and be his own boss as a franchisee.

He learned more about CruiseShipCenters and decided to make the permanent move from Los Angeles to Lakewood Ranch.

For him, there’s nothing more uplifting than helping people forget their worries.

“I liked the fact that what you work on every day is people coming to you for travel and great vacations,” he said. “So, it’s a positive thing. You’re not just selling a widget or whatever the product might be. This is a positive product to sell, and who doesn’t like to travel or sell a vacation?”

Rogers and his consultants help educate customers on the different cruise lines, what type of experience they want, pricing and logistics to help them through booking a tour.

“They don’t know what they don’t know is what it comes down to,” he said. “To ask a few good questions to get an idea of what they like and what their personality is like (is important).”

One of the busiest times for booking cruise travel is in the beginning of the calendar year as people plan out their vacations for the year, he said. Alaskan and European riverboat cruises are two of the more popular and growing destinations, Rogers added, for people who want something other than a Caribbean cruise.

The store also will host events for travelers such as a “first-timers” night for first-time cruisers to help people prepare for their trip or another night for those going on riverboat cruises.

“A lot of the online services don’t have the community-based location,” he said.

The way the company is structured, the stores not only sell to walk-in customers living in the area, but also help people out of state looking to come to Florida. Each of the travel agents are independent contractors who can build a database of customers to help build their own business, and the new agency is hiring. So far the University Park location has a dozen consultants.

Rogers and his consultants will also be on hand during the Chamber Expo co-hosted by the Manatee and Sarasota chambers of commerce from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto.


Original article found on www.bradenton.com

WestJet hosts 2nd annual Partner Awards

By Terrilyn Kunopaski

Top travel partners were given special recognition by WestJet and WestJet Vacations last night at the second-annual Partner Awards gala event.

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In true WestJet spirit, emceed by their own Ian Smyth, the evening included flight giveaways and trip prizes in partnership with the Las Vegas Conventions & Visitors Authority and AMResorts.

The key message was one of thanks by both the airline and tour operator for the continued support of the travel agent community. The agency channel remains a priority for both business units, especially as product and destinations continue to grow, most recently with the introduction of a second transatlantic route to Glasgow, Scotland from Halifax, Nova Scotia set to begin May 2015.

Winners of the 2014 WestJet Partner Awards are as follows:

– Top USA partner: Vegas.com

– Top Canadian tour operator: Skyroute

– Top cruise line partner: Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

– WestJet Vacations top growth multi-national: Flight Centre Canada

– WestJet Vacations top growth national: Maritime Travel

– WestJet Vacations top growth regional: Uniglobe East

– WestJet top multi-national: HRG

– WestJet top growth national: Vision Travel Solutions

– WestJet top regional: Expedia CruiseShipCenters

– Top overall WestJet sales: TravelBrands

Check back to PAXnews.com on Monday for insight to WestJet’s future thanks to a one-on-one interview with Bob Cummings, vice-president, sales, marketing & guest experience.


Original article found on www.paxnews.com

CLIA Revamps Membership With New Tiers, More Perks for Individual Agents

By Susan Young

It’s been nearly 40 years since the founding of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) yet its membership model – despite some tweaking over the years – still harkens back to an earlier era of trade sales.

Today, that changes. The world’s largest cruise trade association is launching a newly redesigned travel agency and agent membership program. Agents and agencies can register starting today, with membership for the new program effective Jan. 1, 2015.

CLIA hopes its new membership program will attract more individual agents, improve support from hosts, franchises and consortia and drive more cruise sales. // Photo by Susan J. Young

CLIA hopes its new membership program will attract more individual agents, improve support from hosts, franchises and consortia and drive more cruise sales. // Photo by Susan J. Young

To create the new program, CLIA tapped into focus group research, cruise line feedback and travel agent ideas and suggestions.

Acknowledging it’s CLIA’s biggest change ever on the membership side, Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO, said “the previous membership model was launched 40 years ago, done at a time when agents were all still in storefronts. It was all about being a CLIA agency.”

So what’s new? CLIA is debuting new Silver, Gold and Diamond membership levels and a much stronger, more cohesive focus on attracting more individual travel agents with perks and benefits just for them. The new model also recognizes that many more agents work at home or are affiliated with host agencies or franchise/consortia groups. “What we see is creating a value proposition and membership model for the individual agent who isn’t in a storefront,” Duffy said.

It’s also the first time host or franchise groups or consortia can become full-fledged CLIA members. “We couldn’t be any happier about the new CLIA membership program,” said Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners. Her organization has now joined CLIA as a Premium Diamond Member: “The new program speaks to the changing dynamics of the cruise industry and reinforces CLIA’s commitment to travel partners.”

Stronger Focus on Individual Agents

For 2015, Silver level membership for an individual travel agent starts at $49-$99; the price agents now pay under the existing 2014 program is $119. All agents applying for individual membership still must work for an agency that’s a CLIA member.

One new requirement is that individual agents must earn a minimum of $5,000 total cruise commission in a year (verified by the agency or host group). “Putting in the minimum sales requirement assures we are serving professional agents,” said Duffy.

The best perks? Individual agents who join CLIA will get their own membership number; previously, they used the agency’s number, but now they’ll log in with their own number to www.cruising.org and have a more personalized online experience.

More than 25 cruise lines will also provide what Duffy calls “exciting special offers” for the individual agents. Some of those offers are also enhanced for those agents affiliated with consortia or host groups.

The package of perks for all agent members is valued at an estimated $5,000; it will include bonus incentive commission for individual agents (paid to the agency to be distributed to the specific agent); reduced rate cruises for agent personal travel; priority FAM trip invitations; onboard credits for agents and their clients; and points towards CLIA accreditation.

Under the new set-up, cruise lines will track all individual agent members; they’ll know which agents are performing well in selling their products and whom to reward with added perks. Many will have “cruise expert finders” that will allow consumers to see a list of CLIA member agents on their websites.

CLIA will also list agents in its own Cruise Agent Finder on www.cruising.org. There will be extra benefits or incentives for those who are certified or who achieve different levels of CLIA certification.

While the normal training requirement has been “waived” for 2015 membership, agents must take one annual CLIA designated course and a “state of the industry” type exam for renewing their membership, starting with the 2016 membership year.

CLIA cruise lines offering exclusive agent member incentives include AmaWaterways, American Cruise Lines, Avalon Waterways, Azamara Club Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Hurtigruten, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises, Tauck River Cruising, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Windstar Cruises.

Duffy stressed that in the past individual agents joined CLIA primarily because they were pursuing CLIA training accreditation. While that’s still an important part of CLIA’s support for the trade, “now, we think that CLIA individual agent membership isn’t just for those who want to enroll in certification,” she said. “It’s for anyone actively selling cruises.”

Agents who join as individual CLIA members will also receive advocacy and insight reports from CLIA’s legislative efforts in Washington D.C.; preferential pricing for CLIA products; and preferential registration for ship inspections. And, members may register for CLIA’s extensive training programs and its annual cruise3sixty conference.

Brian O’Connor, chairman of CLIA’s trade relations committee, as well as vice president of North America sales for Princess Cruises and Cunard Line said both CLIA and the supplier executives on the trade relations committee truly value and champion the important role of travel professionals: “It is for that reason that we have collaborated to redefine and enhance the value proposition of what it means for a travel advisor to be a member of CLIA. It’s exciting to see so many rich and even exclusive benefits to reward and encourage agents through their CLIA membership.”

Duffy said the perks the cruise lines are offering to individual agents basically pays for the Silver level membership fee of $49 by the time the agent sells a second cruise.

“Individual agent bonus commission will be going directly to the agent as opposed to the agency,” Duffy stresses, calling that one of the “rich benefits that the cruise lines are providing in support of agents.”

Travel Agency Membership Changes

CLIA has also redesigned its travel agency membership by adding levels based on the agency’s number of agents and creating a premium category for larger agencies as well as hosts, franchises and consortia.

Silver level agency membership is for small to mid-sized agencies with one to 24 agents. A new Gold membership tier is for larger agencies with 25 to 99 agents. New Diamond membership is for very large agencies with 100+ agents as well as for the consortia and host groups.

For membership renewal, a Silver agency will pay $339 in 2015, the same price it paid this year under the old program. For new agencies joining CLIA, the Silver level fee for 2015 is also $339 but they actually will save $80, as CLIA is doing away with the $80 application fee charged under the existing program.

Membership fees will rise for the premium level agencies are considerably higher. A Gold agency now will pay an annual membership fee of $3,000, and a Diamond tier agency or consortia/host/franchise group will pay $5,000 annually.

Duffy stressed that given that strong initial response from Diamond-level members, it’s clear these groups will promote individual CLIA membership to their agents. That’s a type of support CLIA hasn’t had in the past.

She believes that by moving from an agency model to an agent and agency model, CLIA could attract upwards of some 50,000 individual agents, simply based on the numbers of those affiliated with consortia, host agencies or franchise groups that have already said they’d become premium level agencies.

While CLIA has enjoyed a large number of agency members, around 13,000 globally, Duffy said the number of agents who are direct CLIA members within that has been relatively small, perhaps around 2,000 or so, again mostly because they were seeking CLIA certification.

Among those who have already signed on for Diamond level membership are: AVOYA Travel, Cruise Planners, CruiseOne, Cruises Inc., Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Montrose Travel, Nexion, Signature Travel Network, Travel Leaders Group, Travel Planners International, Uniglobe, Vacation.com and Virtuoso. “This membership really reflects what agents want and will help us to mold our agents into strong cruise sellers,” believes Fee, who says she’s also happy to encourage all her franchise agents to join CLIA.

Similarly, John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, expressed his support, noting that his group’s agents now may take advantage of CLIA’s many sales and marketing tools, cruise line benefits and education: “I’m personally encouraging our 35,000-plus travel agents to join forces with us in supporting the new CLIA membership structure.”

From one cruise line’s perspective, Andy Stuart, executive vice president sales and passenger services with Norwegian Cruise Line, described the new membership program as “a win-win for everyone in the cruise industry.”

He said the agent benefits – from CLIA management training to incentives for themselves and their clients – are outstanding and “a major outcome will be a healthy distribution channel for cruise sales.”

More to Come

Over the next several years, CLIA will move into additional phases of the program. There will be redesigned CLIA courses and more online CLIA training.

Moving forward, agents also will get something they’ve been clamoring for — credit for training that they might receive through their host agency, consortium or franchise group, or, alternatively, through individual cruise line product training.

In the past, agents who took a Norwegian Cruise Line or CruiseOne course, for example, didn’t get CLIA credit. “Therefore, they didn’t see a benefit,” Duffy said. That change is on the horizon.

Duffy told Travel Agent that some of the training enhancements will be introduced at CLIA’s annual cruise3sixty conference in Fort Lauderdale, April 22-26, 2015. CLIA also plans to introduce new technology tools for its agent and agency members in 2016.

The entire effort, said Duffy, is to help agents do their job better and support them to the fullest as they sell cruise vacations. “We’ve heard loud and clear from agents and the agency community that technology tools make it easier for them to find things about the cruise lines without having to go to multiple sites,” she said. “We do have a resource directory now, but we’ll have a new CLIA Resource Center that’s much easier to use.” It will be a one-stop place for all member line information, ship profiles, cruise line profiles, photos and more.

With more technology investments, CLIA hopes to move the needle in terms of the numbers of consumers who take a cruise. “We still have a lot of great opportunity with those who have not cruised before, so we think the more tools and more training [that CLIA can create or integrate for agents], the more lift everyone will have,” said Duffy.

Duffy also pointed to hiring earlier this year of Dwain Wall, a former CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. executive; he’s now CLIA’s senior vice president of agency and trade relations and was actively involved in the new membership program development, as were other CLIA staffers.

In addition, sizable input for the new membership program was provided by CLIA’s Travel Agent Advisory Board and its trade relations committee. CLIA also tapped focus group research and individual agent feedback.

The association also brought in Mark Conroy, former president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, as a consultant during the membership design project. The goal was to ensure the organization was looking at all angles. “He has a broad and deep relationship with many agencies,” stressed Duffy.

While acknowledging it’s a significant investment, Duffy said the new membership program changes are “totally supported by the CLIA board” and that the organization believes it will gain higher membership volume. Over time, she believes it will pay off with more cruise sales and, hopefully a stronger market penetration for cruising as a vacation choice.

“CLIA’s new travel agent membership program is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International. “It offers agents more training and rewards and reflects the value that the cruise industry places on them.” Freed said her line is 100 percent behind the new program and “I hope every agent who is serious about their business and their future takes advantage of this opportunity.”

CLIA’s membership model was tweaked over the years, but with the rise of consortia, hosts and franchise groups, plus the diversification of the agent “workplace” to include agents working from home offices, it definitely needed more significant changes, Duffy said, adding: “We think it’s time.”

The new CLIA membership model is only for North American travel agents and agencies. Duffy said the Australia/New Zealand, Asia, United Kingdom and Ireland business models for agencies are, in and of themselves, quite different than the North American agency model. So, CLIA will continue to work with CLIA groups in those global regions as to what might be applicable and best practices, but it’s also sensitive to the culture as well as legal and regulatory requirements and modeling.

The organization is, however, looking at a more global level of training for 2016, which will include more online training and new courses, such as one on the groups market. “There is a lot more opportunity for agents to be selling groups on cruises, affinity groups or corporate incentive groups,” Duffy said.

Agents can find out more information about the new 2015 CLIA agency and agent membership program at www.cruising.org/ridethecruisewave.


Original article found on www.travelagentcentral.com

Running a cruise-centered travel agency floats his boat

Entrepreneur opens a branch of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in the Clear Lake area

Riyaz-Momin

Riyaz Momin owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a travel agency franchise specializing in cruise vacations opened the office about a month ago in Webster. Tuesday, March 25, 2014, in Webster. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Webster is the first retail store of Expedia Cruise ships in Texas according to Momin. // Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Houston Chronicle

By Sandra Bretting

As a young pilot studying at the Bombay Flying Club in the mid-1990s, Riyaz Momin loved nothing more than to embark on new journeys.

Although he ultimately passed on the dream of becoming a commercial pilot, he said, he never lost his love for travel. In February, Momin opened a Clear Lake-area branch of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a travel agency that books cruises and more with a staff of eight consultants.

“The best thing about booking a cruise or trip through a travel agent is that we know what specials are coming up six months from now,” said Momin, 38. “We can tell you what cruise ships will be offering next season and the season after that.”

While his office also offers air and land trips, Momin said most of his business involves cruising.

In the Houston area, tourists can board cruises at either Galveston or the Bayport Cruise Terminal.

Cruise companies began coming to Galveston in 1974. Today that port’s home to Disney, Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.

“The Port of Galveston was the second fastest-growing cruise port in the United States in 2012,” said Virginia Sheridan, a spokesperson for an industry trade group called the Cruise Lines International Association.

Overall, 181 cruises will depart from the port this year, using four different ships.

Meanwhile, the Port of Houston opened Bayport Cruise Terminal in 2007. Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line inked deals last year to begin sailing from there.

Riyaz Momin, who owns a branch of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, says: “The best thing about partnering with a big brand like Expedia is the amount of technology you get.”

Princess began using one ship at the port in November, with a second set to come this November. Norwegian Cruise Lines will begin sailing from there with one ship in October.

According to cruise line association, some three-fourths of all cruises are booked through a travel agent. Expedia, the online travel site that also owns Hotels.com and Hotwire.com, has about 170 franchised locations like Momin’s around the country.

“The best thing about partnering with a big brand like Expedia is the amount of technology you get,” Momin said. “Our office is virtually paperless because everything is done online.”

Momin said a $29,000 franchise fee bought him access to the technology and training at Expedia CruiseShipCenters’s corporate office in Vancouver, British Columbia. He credits his consultants, some of whom have 20 years of travel experience, with knowing the ins and outs of the travel
industry.

“These days there are so many families that want to travel together, but they have kids of different ages,” Momin said. “That’s especially where we can help, because we find out how many teens are going to be on a boat, for instance, or whether there are things for a toddler to do.”

For now, Momin hopes to add more consultants and embark on a few more trips himself this year. Given the choice, where would he go for a dream destination? “Antarctica,” Momin said. “I’d like to see places full of natural beauty before they’re all gone.”


Original article found on www.houstonchronicle.com

A Cut Above the Rest: Five Ways to Differentiate Your Franchise

Matthew Eichhorst

Matthew Eichhorst

Creating a brand promise, streamlining the sales process and developing industry leading technology are all unique ways a franchise can stand out from the crowd.

By Matthew Eichhorst

Successful franchise brands begin with a unique vision and follow a plan to achieve it. Offering a distinctive service or product is one way to separate your franchise from the rest, but what other initiatives can you consider to rise above other businesses in the same category? Below are five ways to leverage what makes your franchise business unique.

1. Maximize your brand.

Being able to clearly articulate how a brand defines itself is crucial for any company that wants to stand out in the crowded franchise space. Creating a “brand manifesto” from the bottom up is one way to accomplish this goal. Expedia CruiseShipCenters has developed what we call our brand promise. Within this promise there are six supporting statements that succinctly communicate all that we stand for. This promise has helped our 180 franchise partners and 4,000 vacation consultants understand their common purpose as “Navigators of spectacular vacation experiences.”

To develop our promise we partnered with a strategic branding company to get an outside perspective on what makes our company unique. The branding company advises that brands need to refine their strategic positioning platforms to better attract target customers and drive optimal organizational behavior.

In addition, by developing a refreshed brand promise based on research outcomes and supporting it with compelling internal and external communications, it is possible to enhance a brand’s strong positioning in the marketplace. In addition to the external point of view, it is also important to gather input from internal stakeholders about how a brand should be positioned. Everyone in a franchise organization needs to be marching to the same beat, and building your brand manifesto together is an important first step in achieving that unity.

2. Systemize your sales process.

One of the biggest benefits of joining a franchise is the opportunity to leverage the proven systems that have been developed and perfected by the franchisor. Systemizing the sales process for a high demand product will help any franchise succeed. For example, Expedia CruiseShipCenters created an internal online system that eliminates the need for additional software to leverage the growing demand for cruise vacations and in turn, has achieved greater sales. When a cruise line has a special promotion to roll out, we have an established system in place for communicating it to our vacation consultants, marketing it to our customers and booking it through our proprietary CruiseDesk software.

3. Help franchisees become sales leaders.

We place a big emphasis on helping our franchise partners become exceptional sales leaders. To make this happen, we created a comprehensive program called The Navigators Approach to help our franchisees train their vacation consultants to sell travel the brand’s way.

“The Navigators Approach training has been extraordinarily useful,” said Matt Velure, Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee in Eugene, Ore. “You can’t put a dollar value on the benefit that we’re getting from the tool. It goes beyond sales numbers and leads. It’s truly making people better at building their business.”

It is also crucial for the franchise development department to know which qualities to look for in a potential franchisee. Identifying a particular skill set − such as people who are excellent nurturers, trainers and motivators who will drive results − will help a brand succeed.

4. Recruit individuals who are passionate about your product and your brand.

People who are ambassadors for your brand and the product you sell will help bring your franchise to life. Those who love what they do, also love to talk about what they do and that excitement is infectious. Our franchise partners and sales consultants not only want to build a successful business, they also want to enjoy the rewards of travel – both planning it for others, and experiencing it for themselves. “About 15 years ago a close friend and mentor told me ‘if you truly want to be successful, you have to believe in what you are doing and who you are doing it for.’ If you have those chapters set, the book writes itself,” said Tracey Codd-Lorenz, Expedia CruiseShipCenters Cruise sales manager in Port Charlotte, Fla.

5. Evolve with your industry and its technology.

It’s hard to imagine, but 30 years ago computers were a household rarity. Today, mobile technology platforms like tablets and smartphones are essential to our everyday communication.

Given the incredible pace at which technology advances, companies need to recognize the importance of keeping up with current trends and having a very strong online presence to provide as many ways for customers to connect with them as possible. The internal technology system we use to communicate, report, market and sell includes a button in the platform called “Feedback.” We often receive 200 to 300 pieces of feedback from the distribution channel in a single day, and all of that is tracked and monitored by our support team. In 2012, we incorporated about 800 of those suggestions from the field into improving the system. Our technology is continuously influenced by the distribution channel. Not every email that comes in gets met with ‘Hey that’s a great idea!,’ but every person in the organization has a voice. The reason for this is not just feel-good propaganda. Their feedback helps us make the system better and more effective for all.

Sometimes, success cannot solely be measured on sales, but on investments made for the future. It is imperative to be constantly looking at how a business can advance itself in the marketplace and continue to grow. Initiatives like creating a brand promise, streamlining the sales process and developing industry leading technology are all unique ways a franchise can stand out from the crowd.

Vacation-planning franchise, Expedia cruises into Alberta

crop1

With a desire to help people in their community find the right vacations, local entrepreneurs and new franchisees Vicky Barzey, Marty Fulkerth and Jed Snatic have opened an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in Chestermere, Alta.

Barzey has 12 years’ experience as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel consultant and has now returned to the company to become a franchisee with the help of her brother, Fulkerth, and friend, Snatic, who both love travel. Barzey leads the team with her in-depth knowledge of the travel industry. When she worked for Sears Travel, for example, she was ranked number one in sales in Western Canada.

“I look forward to working with the community,” she says. “The Internet can become overwhelming when trying to plan a vacation. With so many options available, customers really want to speak to an expert. Our travel consultants can explain the differences among ships and cruise lines to help our customers find the vacation that’s perfect for them.”

Expedia is the largest online travel company in the world and its CruiseShipCenters brand comprises 180 franchises. Customers can choose from numerous travel options over land, sea and air, including customized trips and coach and rail tours.

In addition to the research and booking features available on their website, Barzey and her team will offer personal travel consultations in person, through e-mail or over the phone, so customers can book when, where and how they choose.


Original article found on www.franchiseinfo.ca

Featured: Four boomers on why they chose second careers as entrepreneurs

CruiseShip01

Sandra McLeod, 58, and Ian McLeod, 66
Owners and managers of Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Etobicoke, Ont.
Opened new franchise location in 2007; 15 independent consultants; $2-million annual revenue

Life before:

Ian and Sandra McLeod both worked as accountants for 30 years. Ms. McLeod worked for several firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and, finally, Grant Thornton, where she found herself out of a job at the age of 52 when her focus of practice area was eliminated.

Mr. McLeod worked for different companies during his career, too, including Continental Bank and Investors Group. After serving as CEO at a credit union that merged with another credit union, he took early retirement at age 60.

What she did:

When her position was eliminated at Grant Thornton, Ms. McLeod looked at a number of different options. Eventually she started looking into different franchise opportunities.

“We developed a list of certain characteristics of must-have, nice-to-have and good-to-have,” Ms. McLeod says. Through that process, CruiseShipCenters came up as the franchise that would be the best fit for Ms. McLeod. The couple did their due diligence, spoke with franchisees and attended corporate meetings, and concluded the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise had a good corporate structure and strong support system.

“It boiled down to does this feel right and is the financial stability of the company there and do we think we can make money,” says Ms. McLeod. “We decided to jump in with both feet and here we are.”

They carefully chose a high-traffic location in Etobicoke and Ms. McLeod immersed herself in learning about the business. “It was a huge learning curve,” she says. “We had travelled but we had never sold travel or been in the travel business.”

Why she took the leap:

After working in the corporate world for 30 years and “having the rug pulled underneath” her when her practice area was eliminated at her last job, Ms. McLeod says she didn’t want to be in that position again.

“I was at a point where I wanted to be controlling my own future,” she says. “I wanted to have more control over what I was doing.”

She says the flexibility of running her own business also appealed to her, even though she was concerned about the risk involved.

“You sign the cheque and then you go ‘holy cow, what did I do? What have I just gotten myself into?’”

On her success:

Ms. McLeod says she had a clear plan on where she wanted to be in their first year of business.

“We far exceeded that plan and we’ve continued to exceed it. We’ve been growing every year by 20 to 30 per cent,” she says.

Biggest challenge:

Making sure they have a life beyond the office is a continuing challenge, according to Ms. McLeod.

“Keeping a lifestyle balance is challenging, because we’re here six days a week and so it’s challenging to run your business and also have a life outside of work,” she says.

While they started off working seven days a week, arriving early in the morning and working until late at night, Ms. McLeod says she and her husband have scaled back their hours.

“You don’t want to be there 24 hours a day – you could be, but we don’t want to be.”

Greatest reward:

Ms. McLeod says her greatest sense of satisfaction comes from clients who go on vacation and have a fabulous time, returning home full of excitement.

She recalls the first time one of her clients gave her a big hug and brought her a bottle of wine after coming home from a great vacation she had arranged. “I didn’t get that when I was doing tax planning,” she says with a laugh.

Words of wisdom for aspiring boomerpreneurs:

Ms. McLeod puts it succinctly: “Never lose sight of your dreams, because if you can dream it you can do it.” She also advises fellow aspiring boomerpreneurs to “find something you love to do because it won’t be work.”


This is an except from the original article found here.