About two months ago, it was announced that Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president, human resources, for World Travel Holdings, was promoted to Senior Vice President of CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. Recommend’s Managing Editor, Deserae del Campo, had a chance to chat with Fiorino about her new position; what she hopes to bring to the table; and also what’s in store for both brands in 2015.
Deserae del Campo (DC): It’s been two months since you’ve held the position as senior vice president for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. What have you learned about the travel agent franchise and cruise business that you didn’t know beforehand? What do you see as current challenges?
Debbie Fiorino (DF): I am fortunate to be a cruise industry veteran, having been with World Travel Holdings, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.’s parent company, for the past 12 years, most recently as senior vice president of human resources. So my learning curve is more geared toward the travel agent sector, but of course, there are always new things to learn in the cruise industry.
Since taking on this new role, I have had the opportunity to meet many of our franchisees and independent vacation specialists in-person at regional trainings and council meetings. It is inspiring to see first-hand how passionate they are about what we do and the industry as a whole. We make people’s dreams come true, and this passion is what drives their individual success, and ultimately, ours. I learned that our network is looking for suppliers and their franchisor/host to be great partners—they want success as much as we do. We need to further open these lines of communication by continued engagement and working together to seek out opportunities.
DC: Tell us about any personal goals you’ve set for yourself since your recent promotion.
DF: While I am not new to World Travel Holdings and have a high-level understanding of our home-based division, I have not been exposed to all of the intricacies of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. To be an effective leader it is crucial to have a strong foundation and I plan on spending my first 90 days listening and learning. I have been meeting with the leaders of each department, understanding their past successes and future goals; the Advisory Council, a leadership board acting as a liaison between the home-based agents and the corporate team at headquarters; and our cruise line and land suppliers.
Based on these meetings, I plan on feeding success and starving failure. What this means is that we will recognize and continue to focus on initiatives that have proven successful, and we will modify and discontinue projects that have been unsuccessful. I learned this mantra at Google and I plan on keeping it at the forefront of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
DC: What’s new in the future for CruiseOne or Cruises Inc.? Anything interesting to reveal for the rest of 2014? What’s in store for both brands in 2015?
DF: In 2014, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. made a half-million dollar incremental investment in our technology resources so our agents will be experiencing innovative changes that will help them run their businesses more smoothly and efficiently.
In addition, we just launched our third annual “Operation Vetrepreneur: Become Your Own General” contest for U.S. military veterans. Five veterans will win a CruiseOne franchise this fall! We are consistently recognized as being military-friendly and this contest is just one way we show our support to those who have served our country. Other ways include offering a 20 percent discount off the franchise fee and additional discounts for hiring former members of the U.S. military or active-duty military spouses as associates. Our goal is to have 25 percent of our CruiseOne network consist of military veterans by the end of 2014.
Since I’m just at the 60-day mark, it is still too early to tell what is in store for 2015. I’m still learning and listening. In general, you will see a continued investment in our technology resources, network growth and enhanced engagement with our franchisees and independent vacation specialists to keep them motivated and educated throughout the year.
DC: Recommend has seen you at a few cruise trade shows. Now that you’re on this side of the business (meeting travel agents, cruise execs, and the like), what’s your take on the industry in general?
DF: The industry is very resilient and is bouncing back from the setbacks over the last several years, and has in fact grown, as can be seen by the exciting new ships that are being deployed. The cruise industry is a small network where everybody knows each other. Competitors, suppliers and agents genuinely want to see each other succeed. A healthy industry is good for all of us. We understand that in order for any of us to grow we need to attract new cruisers. This is a common thread that we all share.
DC: Recommend recently read a statistic that CruiseOne has seen a 16 percent growth in the last three years of young millennials buying a CruiseOne franchise. What do you believe is the draw when millennials rarely use or understand the importance of travel agents?
DF: There are several reasons why millennials are interested in becoming travel agents. Many of the younger generation of travel agents are joining the family business, first as associates, and then eventually as the owner. When owning a travel franchise such as CruiseOne, it is possible to pass the business on to family members. A common trend is that parents continue with the more traditional approach to selling travel, while their children may take over or launch their franchise’s online presence through social media, marketing, etc. When the parents are ready to retire, their children already have the knowledge, and a built-in client base to continue the business and be successful.
Owning a home-based travel agency is a low-cost investment without a lot of overhead. In addition, there is low risk and great potential to succeed. Being part of a franchise network, owners have a plethora of resources at their fingertips, at no extra cost, to help them succeed. These include marketing programs, sales support, business training and more.
Also, parents always want what is best for their children and to see them succeed. The low-cost and low-risk elements make this an ideal business opportunity for millennials to get their feet wet with, and ideally it will turn into a prosperous franchise. We see a trend that many of our millennial franchisees have parents who are small business owners and they have seen first-hand the benefits of operating their own business.