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Out to Sea

Travel agency franchisees mix work and play, operating their franchises from cruise ships.

Have you ever wished that, when asked, "Business or pleasure?" you could answer, "Both"? Be careful what you wish for. Sure, Des and Sue McCarthy, husband-and-wife owners of a CruiseOne Inc.cruise-only travel agency franchise in Palm Desert, California, consider going on cruises a part of their business. But those cruises aren't all about leisure. The partners, who opened their franchise in 1997, are never far from their cell phone voice mail or their laptop, from which they access client files, read office e-mails and respond to clients day or night.

Why the need for constant accessibility? All kinds of unexpected things can happen on clients' vacations, explains Sue, 36. For example, some clients recently called the McCarthys from Amsterdam at 11 p.m., frantic because their two-week cruise had been cancelled, and the airline wanted $1,700 to let them come home early. "That was an occasion where we had to jump into action and say, 'Don't worry. We'll take care of it,'" Sue says.

Des, 45, and Sue go on cruises about once every two months, mostly for just two to three days at a time. Because the McCarthys have no employees to manage the office for them, they check their voice mail and e-mail messages every three hours. If clients need help, they'll start working right away, or if they can't handle something, they call CruiseOne corporate to take care of the problem for them.

With their laptop, and the data ports and Internet cafes Sue says are becoming more available on ships and at ports, the McCarthys have the ability to access all their clients' files. The couple also set up a toll-free number, so clients could call from anywhere in Europe in case of emergency.

Do clients ever assume the McCarthys are lounging more than working? Not really. Sue says most people understand that traveling is an essential part of being a travel agent, and that just because she and Des are out of the office doesn't mean they're not available. "We don't hide the fact that we may be on a cruise," she says. "Most people are happy we're keeping up with new ships and new products. We always try to call them back as quickly as we can, and they're fine with that."

Though the idea of a work-free vacation appeals to Sue, she accepts the need to be available to clients day and night. "That's just something you have to do when you own a business," she says. "[That's] just part of the job."

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