Michelle Fee, the President and CEO of Cruise Planners, claims to have the the best job in the world. That’s the way Michelle Fee feels about Cruise Planners, a turnkey franchise operation for aspiring travel agents. For $9995, committed people receive training, get leads, and maybe embark upon the best job they ever had. Michelle and her organization have won numerous awards and accolades, from Travel Agent of the Year to seven years being selected number one in the cruise/travel/franchise category by Entrepreneur Magazine.
TRO: So how did this all begin?
MF: I started in 1981 as a full service agent in a Mom and Pop store. So I can definitely identify with agents. In 1985, I brainstormed with two agents who had their own operations, and we came up with a plan to educate agents and start a franchise – Cruise Planners. They now number 700 home based agents in 45 states, and growing.
TRO: Tell me about the training offered to new agents/franchisees.
MF: When I first started, it took one year to put together the training manual, and that was before the internet and computers. Five people were in the first class. Now we average between 45 to 50 people in a class. We have a six day program on technology and marketing and all the “to-dos”. We hold it in Ft Lauderdale. They are taught from A to Z the best business practices. We have interactive modules. Online support. We mentor them. We have conventions, and the learning is ongoing.
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TRO: What is the success rate for the agents?
MF: About 85% of the agents are new to the industry. And we have good statistics – only one in twelve drop out.
TRO: What do you look for in new agents?
MF: We look for people who have a passion. They love to travel. Maybe they sold something other than cruises, and know how to sell. They know they have goals to reach. Usually the first year is $100,000 and then $150,000 and up. We look for people who are lead driven. We don’t want the people who just want three or four personal cruises.
TRO: You selected the name “Cruise Planners,” but do your franchisees sell more than cruises?
MF: Yes, the agents can sell tours, hotels, cars. Don’t let the name fool you.
TRO: How did the WAVE season do for Cruise Planners?
MF: This year was 100 times better than last year. Our sales are rocking. Alaska suffered last year and this year it’s so much better. We started seeing the improvement in sales in the 3rd quarter of 2009. And the analysts are starting to talk that by early 2011, we’ll be back at the rates we had before the recession . It will help with marketing.
TRO: In what way?
MF: It means the agents can get the message out to their customers that rates are going up, so they can act on it. We help design the marketing, but we let our agents do what they do best – marketing to their clients.
TRO: You’re a visible person to your franchisees.
MF: We run the company as a family. My door is always open to all my agents. I want to be hands-on. Their success is our success and their failures are our failures.
TRO: Do you offer territory exclusivity?
MF: No, we don’t offer exclusivity. But we do have an addendum that agents cannot solicit a club or organization that another agent has registered with us.
TRO: What was your favorite vacation?
MF: Africa…South Africa. It was the most incredible experience.
TRO: And on your bucket list?
MF: The Orient- and a on cruise definitely!