Despite the challenging business environment, Cruise Planners, a travel-selling franchise organization with 123 employees in Coral Springs, FL and 2,500-plus franchisees throughout the United States, is upbeat about the future of travel and cruise sales.
The franchise organization has taken many steps to adapt to the current crisis. It’s steadying its financial picture, continuing to market but with different messaging, retaining 90 percent of its home office team members (now working remotely) and giving franchise owners emotional support, business guidance and tools that are helping them weather the tough times.
In a presentation Thursday to reporters, Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder, and Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner, stressed that Cruise Planners hopes to position the organization and its advisors to jump right back into vacation selling when travel opens up again.
Tracking Sales – Still Up for 2021: When looking at what’s on the books for 2021, compared to what the organization had on the books at the same time in 2019 for 2020, cruise departures are trending 15 percent higher. Europe is the top destination, account for nearly 38 percent of the mix, with European river cruising comprising half of that business. The Caribbean is the second most booked destination at 23 percent of the mix.
But how much of that business consists of future cruise credits (provided to customers who have opted for that option when their cruise this spring was cancelled) compared with new bookings? Fee says it’s a combination of both, and that a large volume of them are not necessarily future cruise credits; the clients simply might have opted to go ahead and book. That said, Fee says, “I don’t think it’s the bigger percentage, but we are seeing people book for 2021.”
Slashing Home Office Costs: “Obviously, we’ve all had to look at every single line item on our financials,” Fee says. “We had to be very sure that we were cutting all those unnecessary costs. We did a very small layoff, but we kept 90 percent of our home office team members. So, we think again, we’re in a better situation than most.”
Cruise Planners also has applied for the government’s Payroll Protection Plan, she said: “So, that will help us, carry us for at least a couple of months. We just think we’re in a good position—because we know that others are going to have to ramp up to where we are and, as you can see, we’re full mode at this point. We’re running our business, albeit from home but we are running our business.”
Getting into the nitty gritty, Fee notes that she and Garcia are not taking any salary right now; the executive team has taken sizable pay cuts; other employees still on the payroll have also taken cuts; and the company has temporarily suspended certain employee programs. It’s also offered the headquarters team voluntary furloughs and some people with children now at home have taken advantage of that in order to take over “teaching” those