Vicky Garcia

Vicky Garcia, COO & Co-Owner, Cruise Planners - American Express Travel Representative

MailPound: What is your professional background?

Vicky: It’s funny, my family was in insurance and accounting early on. I was a school rebel. I dropped out of high school early on and went to work at my family’s business for about a year and a half and I hated it!

Literally, one day, I picked up at lunch time and didn’t tell them. I ran over to one cruise line, put an application in. Ran over to another cruise line, put an application in. I made it back to my office in time and I was hired a few weeks later at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line back in 1987, before they were a household name. I was 19 years old with a passion for travel and cruising and I loved working in the industry.

MailPound: What are the benefits of working with a travel agent?

Vicky: For a consumer working with a travel agent, the agent debunks both the myths and misinterpretations of cruising or travel in general. They do all the legwork for you and it doesn’t cost you extra. In more cases than not, a travel agent will save a customer money because the agent may have their own specific promotions going on, or different group departures that they book in advance. There’s also additional smaller perks they can add onto it, offering more value. It really builds a better experience for the customer because a travel agent will take care of the customer as opposed to going direct.

MailPound: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?

Vicky: As I said earlier, I’m a high school dropout, and now, I’m co-owner of the largest travel franchise in the country. That’s a big one accomplishment, professionally.
What goes in tandem with that is that I’ve been able to give a lot back to the community, especially as a company through our CP Cares initiative which is non-profit supporting organizations locally, nationally and internationally. We’ve raised more than $1.5 million dollars–It truly warms my heart that we are so blessed to be this successful and be giving back.

MailPound: What are some resources you use to stay informed about the travel industry?

Vicky: One of the best ways to stay on top of the travel industry news is staying connected with different organizations such as CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association, or ASTA, American Society of Travel Agents, and different news media specifically from the travel industry. It’s a matter of keeping your fingers on the pulse and staying on top of what’s happening to the economy in terms of how it affects travel and any other kind of threats to travel.

If you don’t know what’s happening in your environment and aren’t keeping up with the news, your client – in our case, our agents – don’t have that trust in you. You have to make sure that you’re ahead of the game in terms of what’s happening in the world today.

MailPound: Based on your personal experiences and what you have seen in the travel news, what trends for the industry do you foresee in the near future? What about the long term?

Vicky: We’ve coined the phrase “martech” – the integration of marketing and technology – which definitely affects businesses large and small. It used to be you could have great marketing or you could have great technology. In the world today, to stay ahead of the competition, you have to have both. Unfortunately, for the independent home-based agents, if you think you don’t have the time to learn and adopt some of these tools, you’ll be left behind.

Martech is a huge trend and we’re embracing it. We’re getting ahead of the game using artificial intelligence with tools such as Amazon’s Alexa. We’ve launched two different skills on Alexa. The first one is for our agents that is almost like using a virtual assistant, called CP Maxx. The second is for the agent’s consumer. The consumer can look up a myriad of things about their upcoming trip or even find their nearest Cruise Planner agent.

At Cruise Planners, we develop tools and provide the training to keep our agents and the forefront of the latest travel trends.

MailPound: Are you involved with any associations outside of work?

Vicky: I am on the Board of Trustees for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

MailPound: What about this organization do you find yourself most passionate about?

Vicky: It’s a true passion point for me. I’m sick of cancer. We’ve lost too many people to it. I’ve lost my sister, my dad, my grandfather, and friends – all to cancer. Needless to say, I’m super passionate about this.

At the end of the day, LLS is about finding a cure for cancer. They also provide patient support and advocacy, so they are there for families that were diagnosed and need help and don’t know where to turn. They are there to help them find the right doctors and even assist with their insurance co-payments. Some of these patients don’t have the money to take care of their insurance needs or even their basic living needs. LLS does so much for those people and their families who are suffering.

MailPound: How has volunteering affected you both, personally and professionally?

Vicky: Obviously volunteering personally fulfills your heart. You’re doing something special. I’ve had people come up to me at events in tears, crying, “You have no idea how much this organization has done for me. My husband lost his job. They paid our bills. He’s now in remission.” I’ve seen children be saved through the incredible breakthroughs that LLS has brought, and, unfortunately, seen too many pass on. It’s really near and dear to my heart.

I didn’t get into it for professional reasons, but our involvement has definitely increased our visibility in the local market place and nationally. Everyone knows me as “Ms. Cancer Curer” and everyone wants to be involved, even our competitors. We’ve also been able to bring many of our cruise line partners to be involved as they’ve seen the movement and what strides we’re making towards this incredible mission.

MailPound: What advice would you give to someone considering membership within a professional organization?

Vicky: You’ll always think you’ll never have the extra time. When I was first asked to join the Board for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I was like, “No way, I don’t have time for this. My hands are too full running our own company. I travel too much”. But, I carved out that time. It’s almost like when people say they don’t have time to go to work out. If you make that extra time it’ll happen. It will make you a stronger and better person. It’ll make you a more visible person. It’ll connect you with more people in and out your industry.

Sometimes, we become a little stagnant – we know everyone in the industry. This has broadened our reach. I have friends now that are major doctors at local hospitals–oncologists, pediatric oncologists. Even jewelers or other retailers because they donated a gift for an auction item. It truly expands your network and your networking ability.

MailPound: In the classic saying, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger,” what are some things that you wish you had known ahead of time?

Vicky: I’m one of those who doesn’t regret anything in life. It’s made me who I am today. However, I do wish I could have spent more time with my sister, and not fought with her so much. Remember when I said earlier I was a rebel? I lost her too early in life, at 53. So, that’s the rawest I can answer that question.

MailPound: What is your favorite destination?

Vicky: I always go back to Greece. I don’t think I’ve spent enough time there, although I don’t repeat destinations often. On my next visit, I would do the Greek Isles for a few weeks and stay on the islands – Santorini, Mykonos and really just enjoy and take it all in. And turn off the phone!

MailPound: What’s on your bucket list?

Vicky: Tahiti and the Maldives.

MailPound: What are some fun facts about yourself?

Vicky: Gosh, I’m such an open book, everyone knows me. I’m married to my partner of 17 years, Carol, and we’re coming up on 5 years of being legally married.

I think everyone knows I’m kind of a gadget girl. I love my technology stuff. Even though I’m not a techy person, I’m a gadget person. I always have to have the newest phone, the newest camera, the newest everything, and I’m kind of nerdy about all that stuff!