January 09, 2013 // Franchising.com // CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Cruise Planners - American Express Travel, the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise network in the cruise industry, announced yesterday that CEO Michelle Fee, CFO Tom Kruszewski and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Vicky Garcia together purchased the company from Palm Beach Capital, a private equity investment firm that had been the majority owner of Cruise Planners since 2005. The transaction price for the deal, which closed on Dec. 31, was not disclosed.
Fee, who has owned the company since she co-founded it 19 years ago, said she’s thrilled about this partnership and the strength the team gives to the company with their strong commitment to agents as well as the industry.
“I am honored to say that I now have two of the best partners in the business,” said Fee. “Cruise Planners has come a long way since its inception and much of our success comes as a result of the dedication and innovation of Tom and Vicky. We believe in this industry, its potential for growth and together this partnership will strengthen the company’s efforts to support our incredible agents.”
Cruise Planners was created by Fee along with industry veterans Lynn Korn and Marvin Davis in 1994. Just prior to the retirement of Korn and Davis in 2007, their shares in the company were purchased by Palm Beach Capital. Fee continued to grow the business, signing on Garcia in 2004 and Kruszewski in 2008 to round out the executive team. Under their management, Cruise Planners has earned top sales awards from all of the major cruise lines and increased the number of franchisees to more than 800 with an impressive growth in 2012.
Under the new ownership, Fee will remain CEO and Kruszewski as CFO. Garcia will take on the new title of COO, overseeing the overall strategic and operational responsibility for all business development and marketing programs including the formation of third party partnerships that have become an extension of the company’s in-house offerings for agents.
“Cruise Planners is known in the industry for its family-business approach to servicing agents as well as clients, so it’s always felt like my family,” said Garcia. “Now we really are one big family and we will continue to focus our attention on our agents. We don’t sell travel, they do and we’re here to give them the tools and the resources to be the most successful travel advisors in the business.”
On the heels of the company’s annual convention titled The Cruisitude Revolution, which took place last month in Hollywood, Florida, the new partners have set the stage for a robust 2013 with a number of technological advancements being launched this year including a consumer smartphone app, additions to the agents’ websites called MyTrips, a client portal where anyone authorized can login to view upcoming trips and share them with friends and family via social media, and Client Snapshots, which allows agents to see an intelligent view of their clients’ buying and travel patterns, as well as the highly-anticipated Cruise Fare Reduction tool that allows agents to easily see if a cruise fare has dropped since booking.
“This investment illustrates the dedication our executive team has in the success of the Home Office associates as well as our franchisees,” continued Fee. “This partnership was the logical next step for the company and we have some wonderful plans in store that will take Cruise Planners and our agents to new heights.”
Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Services Representative, is the largest home-based travel agent network in the cruise industry with more than 800 franchise owners across the country that independently book cruises and associated travel. Named No.1 Cruise Tour / Travel Agency by Entrepreneur magazine for the past nine years, Cruise Planners positions franchise owners for success by providing them with innovative marketing, booking and lead-generating tools as well as professional development and hands-on training with the industry’s top executives.
Headquartered in Coral Springs, Fla., Cruise Planners has achieved top producer status with every major cruise line. Accolades include winning a record nine Magellan Awards from Travel Weekly in 2012, Special Needs Group Accessible Travel Advocate Power Partners™ for 2012, American Express Travel Representative Excellence Award for 7 years in a row (2004 – 2011), Agency of the Year from American Express (2010), Royal Caribbean International Home-Based Partner of the Year (2007 – 2012), Norwegian Cruise Line Franchise Agency of the Year (2012-2013) and Home-Based Agency of the Year (2010), Southeast Region Travel Agent Partner of the Year from Celebrity Cruises (2010), Globe Award from American Express Vacations (2008 – 2012), Globus Family of Brands Premier Agency Partner (2009- 2012), Platinum Circle Member with Viking River Cruises (2009-2012), and Regent Seven Seas Cruises Top Producer. For more information, please visit www.cruiseplanners.com.
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