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Travel Professional Success Stories – Charles Russell


Travel Professional Name: Charles “Russ” Russell

Agency Name: Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative

Location: New Braunfels, TX

Years as a Travel Professional: 3 ½

Specialization or Niche: Family/group land and cruise. Breaking into romance groups (destination weddings and buddymoons).



What led you to be a travel professional?


After I retired from the United States Air Force, I spent about a year researching franchise business opportunities, and Cruise Planners just kept popping up on my radar. For years, I had planned adventures for friends, family and myself, attending to every detail from hotels, trains, flights, tours and even a city-by-city, six-country tour. And then a light bulb went off … “I can do this for a career” and I haven’t looked back.


At what point did you know that the travel industry was the career for you? 


At the end of 2014, my first full calendar year in business grew 270% over 2013 when I was still working a full-time job as a trauma nurse researcher and covering the business only on evenings and weekends. When I bought my franchise with Cruise Planners, most of my friends thought I was crazy with the abundance online travel websites. Over the past three years, I’ve proven that not only do travel agents exist, but we fill a void left by the online booking engines.  As internet search engines get “smarter,” information overload is becoming more common and consumers are turning to expert human interaction once again. I couldn’t have timed my transition and business decision any better.


What aspects of your Host Agency let you to your decision to join their program?


I can attribute much of my growth to the tools and education provided by the Cruise Planners home office. From initial franchisee training held in Florida, to marketing programs, continuing education, familiarization trip opportunities and industry recognized cutting-edge technology tools & support: Cruise Planners has always been at my side in providing me the tools to succeed. Having Cruise Planners backing me up has been extremely helpful in cultivating strategic relationships with sales support staff within the various cruise lines and tour operators that I work with daily.


What three things about working with your Host Agency has been the most useful and helpful?


First, I would have to say is industry recognition of the Cruise Planners brand. With our agent network and reputation in the industry, I actually had tour operator and vendor representatives seek me out to establish those ever so important relationships.


The incredible support we get from our home office team has to be next in my personal “top three” also.  While attending a trade event a couple of years ago, our COO, Vicky Garcia, was speaking in a general session.  She said something along the lines of, “If our agents aren’t making money, neither are we.”  That spoke to me at a personal level and helps to illustrate that the “Corporate” office has a vested interest in each and every agent’s success as a businessperson.


Finally, I find the “Cruise Planners Family” mentality contagiously invigorating.  Every franchisee, their associates and the corporate team have a shared mentality of cheering on successes and assisting as much as possible when challenges come up. I have not encountered that sort of camaraderie since I retired from the military. I’ve made many new friends from all walks of life that all have a similar business mindset. This common thread binds us together and it’s a rare and beautiful thing.


Please share a couple of things that have been the most important to your success so far?


Education, training and certification have been important. As with any profession, things are constantly changing. By leveraging vendor-specific webinars (available on demand) with Cruise Planners, I’m always up-to-date on all the latest and greatest trends and updates. Would you go to a CPA that wasn’t practicing under current tax law structures? I’m pretty sure no one would, so why use a travel agent who can’t be invested in staying up-to-date for the benefit of their clients?


One thing that has helped me be successful is under-promising and over-delivering from a customer service standpoint. I often joke with fellow small business owners that I am Star Trek’s chief engineer (Scotty) for the travel industry. I didn’t start out with this intention, but more often than not I am able to come up with some inspiring moments throughout the lifetime of a consumer booking. I constantly monitor new incentives and promotions with Cruise Planners’s ValueTracker Cruise Fare Reduction tool; usually I can apply applicable price adjustments and forward the good news after the fact. Who doesn’t like to hear that they just saved $500, and they didn’t have to do anything to make it happen?!?


What are your plans to grow your business in the next year?


I have added a third independent contractor to my franchise recently, and expect great things to come from having an associate that is in a different geographic area than me.


I’m targeting my local marketing efforts to further zoom in on specific segments of the travel consumer to increase my consumer database.


I’ve recently completed some new (to me) industry certifications and I plan to use those credentials as a part of my 2017 Consumer and Bridal Tarde Show schedule to show individuals at these events why they want to work with me.


Do you feel that getting yourself out there and traveling is important for your business? 




If so, how do you make yourself get out there and take those trips?


In my mind, destination immersion is another level of education and training and professional development. I grew up as a “military brat,” so getting up and going is in my blood. I have had many opportunities to go to new-to-me places all over the world since purchasing my franchise.  To be able to speak firsthand about my experiences touring the Tuscan hills, staying at a world-class all-inclusive resort or just speaking one-on-one with a potential client about their dream destination, nothing will ever beat personal experience of having feet on the ground and having lived the experience. I use these experiences to paint a mental picture for my clients while also controlling their expectation levels so they are not overwhelmed, or worse … underwhelmed by their vacation.