Michelle Fee Helps Globetrotters Live Out Their Travel Dreams
What you’ll learn in this interview:
- Personal relationships are invaluable, so surround yourself with good people – we call them unicorns on our team
- Embracing change isn’t just a good thing – it’s necessary to stay competitive
- The future of the travel industry is at the intersection of marketing and technology
- Find motivation in the success of others – lift others up and give back
How She Helps People Travel The World And How She Runs Her Business Behind The Scenes
1. What do you do? Who do you help?
- I am the CEO and Founder of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, the nation’s largest and most-awarded home-based travel franchise. We have home-based travel advisors selling vacations in all 50 states.
- I help people who have a passion for travel become small business owners and travel entrepreneurs. Whether they’re looking for a side hustle or something to build their life around, I feel proud to say my company has helped develop the tools our more than 2,500 travel advisors need to run their businesses on their terms in a way that fits their lifestyle. All while seeing the world, of course!
2. List your favorite business tools.
- Personal Facebook: Facebook is a huge asset for maintaining the relationships I have with the more than 2,500 travel advisors we have nationwide, our travel partners and our Home Office Team (the 120+ people who make up our corporate office). I believe in the power of personal relationships and while I cherish the face-to-face opportunities I have with our travel advisors throughout the year, Facebook helps me keep up with what’s going on in their daily lives and see the successes they’re having as a Cruise Planners franchisee – I especially love getting to see all the destinations they are traveling to! Using social media schedulers like SmarterQueue to schedule your posts is a good idea too.
- YouTube for Business: Video is imperative to growing our reach and through our Cruise Planners YouTube, we’ve been able to share the personal stories of our travel advisors and our team so franchise prospects can see the real people who make up the CP Family.
- Instagram for Business: Instagram is highly visual, and we love showing off our “CP Green” pride! I’m a big fan of telling our story on Instagram, because we get real-time metrics on our stories and promoted posts, as well as insights into our audience base and how they interact with our account.
- Triggered Email Campaigns: We have created a series of email campaigns that help agents stay in touch with up to 8 automatic touchpoints, which are triggered throughout the lifecycle of a client’s booking to ensure clients are prepared for their travels and receive a high level of service.
- In-House: Our in-house marketing team designs weekly and bi-weekly travel deal newsletters that go out to all our travel advisors’ clients. This intense collaboration between our award-winning marketing and technology teams and our travel advisors makes these a huge success with clients.
- Cruise Planners Apps: We have two apps, and these tools are what make us truly mobile. One app allows our agents to have their entire database on their smart device. They can literally do business from anywhere in the world. And on the other hand, the second app is for the client to be able to easily access their travel agent and stay up to date with all their travel plans.
- CP Maxx: One of our proudest innovations is CP Maxx, our back-office system that is the go-to for our travel advisors. It’s a Customer Relationship Management tool that serves as a booking engine, accounting tool, marketing center and client database. The best part is that it’s proprietary, so we can update it as we see fit.
3. What is a good course, website or book you would recommend and why?
- STAR University: Once you join Cruise Planners as a travel agent, you get invited to STAR University to give you all the necessary knowledge to be successful as a travel professional. This comprehensive, six-day program in Fort Lauderdale features tailored seminars and workshops, networking and two ship tours.
- Cruisitude Academy: As a former travel agent, I believe in lifelong learning, which is why training doesn’t stop after STAR University. Cruisitude Academy offers ongoing industry education for travel agents from all walks of life. And as we’re in the midst of the digital age, this platform can be accessed anytime from anywhere.
- Networking: Join a BNI or women’s networking group in your community. Whether you’re starting a home-based business or a storefront, the power of small business owners working together can have a positive impact on your business and give you a perspective from all different industries.
- I love to read Jeffrey Gitomer books, his series of books covers sales, leadership skills, attitude for success and more. The books are clever, motivating and fun to read.
4. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
- Surround yourself with smart people who will challenge you. You have to be able to set your ego aside and truly listen – no one person has all the answers. Believe me, I’ve been voted off the Island before. And I know I couldn’t have built Cruise Planners without my amazing team. They are truly the heart and soul of the company and they aren’t afraid to challenge my ideas. I’ve learned more from being open to constructive criticism, and it’s made us the great company we are today. This is powerful since we all have the same end goal: we want the travel industry to flourish and our Cruise Planners travel advisors to build successful businesses.
- There is ALWAYS something to do when you are growing a business: At Cruise Planners, we embrace innovation and constant change. Twenty-five years ago, when I started Cruise Planners, travel was in the midst of a huge change. For travel agents to stay relevant, we needed to change as well, or we would become extinct. I thought if I could bring on 100 agents, we would have a solid business. Little did I know, the company would take on a life of its own … today we have more than 2,500 travel advisors located throughout all 50 states.
5. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
- Be Nice: Most people will work harder for someone they truly like. I have an open-door concept, so anyone in my office can come in and chat for any reason. There is no ivory tower!
- Grow from Criticism: The best way to learn about your business is to ask questions. Call your customers and find out if they are happy with your services. Some may criticize and give you an earful, but this is invaluable feedback and it teaches you how to be better.
- Be a Unicorn: Like a unicorn, be different and unique! Figure out how to create a competitive advantage in your industry. There may be many other companies that do exactly what you do – figure out how to stand out in the crowd.
6. What is your beauty and/or fitness routine?
- My hair has become my signature over the past 25 years. My father, who owned a salon, has actually been my hairdresser my whole life, but when I’m traveling or attending an event, I make sure to schedule a blowout – it gives me a time to relax and gives me that extra boost of confidence that comes from that fresh-out-of-the-salon feeling.
- I’m fortunate to get to travel frequently and while maintaining an exercise routine while traveling can be difficult, traveling itself is quite the workout, always moving from place to place seeing a destination’s sites. Plus, an airport is a great place to get your steps in!
7. List the products or items that are indispensable in your life.
- My phone: Since I’m always traveling, my phone keeps me connected with my entire network, especially my family. I can FaceTime with my grandkids, keep up with what’s going on at the office and of course, take tons of photos.
- A green power dress: Cruise Planners’ signature color is green. Whenever I’m presenting at a training or meeting with industry partners, I always “go green” when it comes to my wardrobe.
8. Which female entrepreneur(s) do you look up to and why?
- Oprah: We got to sail with Oprah on the Girlfriends’ Getaway cruise where she was officially named Godmother of Holland America Lines’ MS Nieuw Statendam and she is incredibly deserving of that honor. She has built an empire that at its core inspires others to be better versions of themselves – and now also inspiring them to cruise!
- Cruise Planners franchise owners: The majority of our franchisees are women and I am constantly inspired and motivated by their success and determination. Some are work-from-home moms running a business and a household, others are retired and looking for a second career and many are running their business in partnership with their spouse, friends, child or parent. I am in awe of the passion they bring to this industry and they keep me pushing forward.
9. List your social media platforms.
- Facebook @CruisePlannersFranchise
- LinkedIn @cruise-planners-hq
- YouTube @CruisePlanners123
- Instagram @cruiseplannersfranchise
- Twitter @cruisitude