She also calls out agent Adam Martindale, who runs Meet Me on Board (meetmeonboard.com), a “gay cruise community” and website that invites travelers to connect online prior to a trip.
“We’ve done some LGBTQ training for agents, like how to be sensitive to it or where to promote LGBTQ travel. We’ve also done a lot of work with Pride events all over the country,” she said. “But it’s always evolving, because not everyone is the same. There are people who love being on an all-gay cruise, and that’s cool. But [not all gay travelers prefer] to be with only other LGBT people. The ‘gay market’ does want to travel, they want experiences, and they tend to spend more money than many other couples…I just want to get over that stigma that gay people always want to travel with gay people. With travel, there’s something for everybody.”
To make her point, Garcia rattles off emerging and increasingly intimate trends based on clients’ personal interests.
“There’s so many niches! I’m hearing now that people are traveling based on how they took a 23andMe [DNA] test, and found out they have heritage in Scotland, for example—and now they’re planning trips with their families to Scotland.”
“People are also building more itineraries around wine, spirits, and food.” She says one Cruise Planners agent is a fan of whiskey, so he found a cruise with a wide spirits selection, partnered with a local specialty liquor store, and got a few hundred guests to join him on a group whiskey-tasting journey. Similarly, there may be trips that couple LGBTQ interests with another niche, like wine tours.
Cruise Planners finds much of its success through its professional collaborations. As an official American Express travel representative, the company’s agents are able to accept Amex membership points for travel. Another cooperative bonus is passing along Amex travel benefits to customers, like early check-in/late checkout, free breakfasts, and upgrades.
The company has “extremely strong relationships with the cruise lines and operators because we sell so much.” As a go-to partner for major carriers, Garcia says Cruise Planners’ clients enjoy better offers and opportunities, including first looks at new vessels and itineraries.
Garcia seems especially devoted to technological innovations, which can be easily combined with smart marketing programs she’s dubbed “MarTech.” She shouts out to Cruise Planners’s nimble IT team, which developed an agile smartphone app that’s instantly customized by each franchise owner.
In the past year, the team also launched two Amazon Alexa “skills” for travel. “So if you download that Alexa app, you can actually say, ‘Hey Alexa, ask Cruise Planners, is there a Cruise Planners agent in my area?’ Or ‘Hey Alexa, ask Cruise Planners about Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas?’ And it will give you facts about the ship.”
For the trade side, she adds, “We’ve launched another skill that’s for our agents, most of whom work from home. They can ask ‘Hey Alexa, ask CP Maxx how many final payments I have due this week?’ She’ll reply with information from your database along the lines of ‘It looks like you have XYZ, would you like me to read them off to you?’ It’s like having a virtual assistant in your office. Our IT team wrote the skills, and over time we can build from the questions being asked, program better answers, and maybe position them a different way.”
Garcia admits that work keeps her profoundly busy, and she’s often away from home, without regrets. To explain her devotion to travel, she cites her company’s concept of “cruisitude.” She describes it as your disposition, a manner of being, that sums up your particular feeling about travel, and about life in general. It might be that first margarita at a resort, or the feeling of new adventures with your family. For her, it’s that first moment on a cruise when she’s settled into her cabin, and she’s free to walk around the ship and gaze out to sea.
“Travel is my business, but it’s also my hobby,” she says, making it crystal clear that her passion is portable.