Artwork for podcast Seatrade Cruise Talks
Cruise Convos | Susie Flores, Countdown Travels
Episode 72nd February 2024 • Seatrade Cruise Talks • Seatrade Cruise
00:00:00 00:28:52

Share Episode

Shownotes

Hear from a travel advisor's perspective this week, as Claudine engages in a captivating conversation with Susie Flores, the CEO and Founder of Countdown Travels LLC.

With an astounding 95% of Countdown Travels' sales attributed to cruise travel, Susie provides valuable insights into the shifting dynamics of selling cruise packages.  With a whopping 99% of these sales driven by the power of social media, Susie unpacks this shift in consumer booking and how she has harnessed the power of social media to become one of the top 100 travel advisors in the USA.

Explore the world of content creation onboard these cruises and unravel the mystery behind the enduring popularity of booking through travel advisors, constituting 75% of all travel reservations. 

Susie sheds light on the evolving dynamics and growing trust in travel advisors, emphasizing the unique value they bring to the table – a human touch, specialized knowledge, and a genuine understanding of the cruise experience. 

Transcripts

Claudine Pohl:

What is currently happening in our cruise industry today? Join me for Cruise Convos as we discover and learn from cruise industry leaders across the globe all within 28 minutes. Cruise community Welcome back to Cruise Convos you're listening to Cruise Convos, part of Seatrade cCruise Talks. This is Claudine and today I have an amazing person, a very epic person. My friend Susie, she is a top Travel Advisor and our first Travel Advisor that we have on Cruise Convos! Susie Welcome to Cruise Convos!

Susie Flores:

Thank you so much for having me today. Claudine. It's such an honor to be here on this amazing podcast, epic, epic times, I'm telling you!

Claudine Pohl:

I love it. I love to invite people that I know in the industry who are making a difference and that are genuinely good hearted, good people. And I love your story. Susie, we met back three years ago during the pandemic on clubhouse. During one of those conversations, we were gathered with some cruise community with some people from the cruise industry. I met you there and I love your energy. Number one, I loved your energy, your heart, you're just a good human. I love that. And then from there, we hit it off. And we just became really good friends. And you started off in the industry as a Travel Advisor. And you were a full time teacher as well. Right? Tell us your story.

Susie Flores:

Actually, I have 13 years of Social Work experience prior to that. And I have to give up that career to be a stay at home mom, I do have a son who's on the autism spectrum. So gave that up became a stay at home mom ended up working in the education sector. And in 2019 I was like let me try selling cruises because everyone Claudine would ask me, Hey, how do I book a cruise? And I'm like, why am I not making money doing this? So March 2019. Listen to the date, march 2019. I said give me one year. I said to myself, give me one year, what happened a year later. But it was an amazing start navigating through the pandemic, when all the cruises came to a halt the restart. And ever since essentially went back into water back in 2021. It has been nonstop. It has been a journey and you and I met during the pause as a matter of fact, where we were holding on. We're like we are not going to let go of this cruise industry that we love. You are in a different part of this industry than I am but we came together whether it be working with the ports, selling travel, the cruise line industry cruise line reps, we all gather together in that community. And here we are, like in a thriving booming travel industry that is just amazing and gives back in more ways than you can even imagine.

Claudine Pohl:

That's amazing. Suzie, you were telling me I saw you earlier this year and you know not to share was last year I saw you you were telling me how much you had for sales. How much you and your team did in sales for you know the year. What was it you guys were at for sales or you personally for travel for cruise? Because you only focus strictly on cruise? Correct. That's like your bread and butters cruise.

Susie Flores:

So I'm the owner of countdown travels and we service clients all over the US. And as a matter of fact, I have clients in like Trinidad. I have clients in Canada. So we do have some sprinkles of clients that live in other countries majority are US base. And because our business is promoted on social media, I have clients all over the US. I do have two other girls that work for countdown travels ones in Washington ones here in California with me. And we closed our year off at about 3 million in sales. I would say 95% of that being cruise travel.

Claudine Pohl:

Wow. Congratulations!

Susie Flores:

We sell what we love, and we promote what we love. And the three of us that count on travels. We kind of are cruise addicts. So that is yeah, we focus we do a little sprinkle of land travel. But really honestly our bread and butter is a cruise industry.

Claudine Pohl:

I love that. And Suzie... Why don't we tell everybody all our listeners, you know what the difference is between you and a different Travel Advisor. And this comes down to your entire marketing your entire social media approach. I think you said 99% of your sales come from social media, right?

Susie Flores:

Yeah, absolutely. Initially again, started Claudine with when I first started this business back in 2019. It was friends and family and we were just you know, pushing along. I started taking a little dabble here and there into social media... that the pandemic hit, live came to a pause. And that's when you and I came together in the clubhouse, and I continued to push crews positive content on my Instagram. I started up a tick tock account, and it has kind of taken off there. And for me honestly coding, it's putting an emphasis on sharing what you love. If I love going on a cruise ship and traveling and visiting different destinations, immersing myself and learning about other people, their cultures, their language, their food, and how cruise travel can allow us to get all that I'm going to be sharing that with you and when you share what you love it sells I rarely Claudine share like add on my social media you don't see that for me. You see story telling, you see personal I when I go on cruises, I share it. And if not, it's informational mall bits of information where people can digest it and they want to come back and they're like, I want to do what she's doing.

Claudine Pohl:

I love it. I agree with you. You're you never sell anything I love as well that you give us like behind the scenes. I think you do that a lot like you try to take us into places like on cruise ships where people don't usually get to go. So I love that about your videos that you're you're you're always teaching us something, I think you're always teaching us something you're giving us up behind the scenes. And kind of like the perspective of this is what this would be like, I love like one of your videos like you get so detailed and your videos are showing us like the cabins, which is like people ask me all the time, like where what cabin should I get? I'm like I have no idea. Like you need to talk to Susie. But you shown the different types of cabins. And I'm learning along because I have no idea what all this means I think, what was it a cruise line just had a special and you were telling them that if they book online, even though the balcony doesn't mean that it's going to be an outdoor balcony. And I was like, Oh, wow, I would never have known that. Right? Like you're giving out all these little tips. Tell our audience like, you know, why do people book with a Travel Advisor? What do people get? Because, you know, trends have changed? I think it was a report. Who was it? I was in a meeting the other day and there was a report that said over 75% of all travel was booked with travel advisors for last year, bring up the article where it was, but it came out. And I thought that was interesting. Why do we see such a change and such a demand now, and such a trust with travel advisors? What do you think?

Susie Flores:

Well, that's a great question, Claudine. Because, honestly, I can't even tell you the amount of times when people are like what travel agencies still exist. A lot of brick and mortars have now shut down. So a lot of us work from home we work remote. But the interesting part in all this is it started in a brick and mortar type of community you drive, meet your local travel agent and book your travel there and including air travel right? Do you remember those days, I know I'm old enough to remember that. And then switch to online. So then you had people working on a .com or booking direct and the pandemic hit. A lot of those dot coms Claudine, shut down. They reload their their employees, and then they had people working in other countries answering those calls. We now more than ever see the value of using a human that specializes in cruise travel, someone that actually knows what that rock feels like. So let me give you an example. If you're selling a rock or you want to buy a rock, don't you want to buy a rock from a person Claudine that has felt the rock that knows the weight of that rock, the texture of the rock maybe like sees the different colours. And that's the value of someone like myself, who's been on, I think 49 And now cruises. And I can tell you, this is what it's like, I can show you pictures, I can show you videos, you cannot get that on a .com. You cannot get that by booking direct. We do not charge for our services, what you're going to pay on the cruise line website is going to be the same or less, because we have access to consortium rates. I belong to travel Leaders Network, that means that I have access to their group space. That means you pay less I get to perks and they give you service most importantly!

Claudine Pohl:

yeah, I love that. And you mentioned an interesting thing. You said you don't pay for your services, which is interesting because I know there are travel advisors that you do pay a fee on top of that. So you're getting all of this service and extra perks because I tell you I watch your videos and you're like well Look, was it Virgin Voyages just just gave me this deal that I can pass on. And I will say like, you're so well loved by all the industry. You were just on a podcast on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. You've been on like many, many podcasts not only that you're getting recognized. I think it was the CLIA travel advisors event last year, like, who was Vicki?

Susie Flores:

Vicki from Royal Caribbean? Yeah gave me a shoutout in front of like hundreds of people.

Claudine Pohl:

She did! And she's talking about how you're using social media to sell how high your sales are, like, you know, you were just on Virgin Voyages, cruise for being top 100 Travel advisors in the country. Like, that's huge. There's tons of travel advisors and to be the top 100. Like, that's huge. You're doing a lot with celebrity, you have a big group cruise going out to Alaska, you have a lot going on, you know, how do you think the social media is impacting and how did you grow? And how do you continue to grow the sales with social media besides, you know, do you find that the following start following you and just really, what do you think's happening there?

Susie Flores:

I think being authentic, being real, and being honest, is the key to how you're going to grow your business on social media and taking away that stigma of, for example, on tick tock Claudine, people have the perception that it's for younger people, I've actually heard this from other travel agents, what are you selling 20 year olds, if you only knew those sales that I've been able to get from tick tock, because tick tock is our new way to market. And if you do it right, it will turn into sales, sales turned into money. So again, it's a perfect recipe. I don't want anyone to ever think I'm shoving something down their throat. I want you to get to know me. I want you to understand that I'm a mom, I live in California. I love coffee. And then I sprinkle in the cruise information, the cruise deals, how I can save you money. But you will be able to create that perfect recipe where people are going to understand you are genuine and you're real. And you're just not here to close a sale. And I tell my clients all the time. Okay. I just want you to know, Claudine, if you go on that cruise ship. This is what you're gonna get. Because I don't want you to close a sale. I want to tell you, you work hard for that money. Claudine, and this is your once a year vacation. Let's make sure you have all the information you need. And you're making that right decision.

Claudine Pohl:

Yeah, no, I agree. I think that you you do that so well. And you mentioned something like you want people to get to know you. I'll get a little vulnerable here because we know each other very well. And we're not all perfect. I remember talking to you. And and and I mentioned I said you share some personal things on your videos. And I'm like, I don't know how you do that. Right? And you're like, that's what really connects people. And like, and I'm like, it was eye opener for me, because I know, hey, I'll post things. And it's all very positive. But I never like, you know, I shared with you not long ago, you know about my mom being a little sick. But it's not something I'm gonna post you know what I mean? And your videos, you share some real, you know, day to day things that everyday people go through. And I think what connects people is saying, You know what, Susie is going through this, I've gone through this, I'm connecting with her. Like, there's some videos that you post and I'm like, Oh my gosh, and I just keep walking because I'm like, she'd be so raw and honest. Right? Like, and and I love as well. And I'll say this, you will give honest commentary of the cruise lines and the cruise ships and the experiences. And I think that that holds a lot of weight. And I think people respect that. You're never negative, but you always share the truth. You know, not everybody does that.

Susie Flores:

The way that I see it again, and I'm gonna say it over again is I want people to trust me. And how do you gain someone's trust is by being honest. And and that's a good point that you bring up clouding the fact of there are a lot of travel advisors or people in the travel community whether you're an influencer of lager that will focus on the negative for clicks, likes and views. I don't do that. We are not going to focus on that we're going to focus on maybe things that could be improved, things that I loved things that maybe weren't exactly the way that I wanted them to be, but you will never hear me completely trash, a cruise line trash a destination. I think there are positives in every situation and when someone comes to me and says, Susie, I want to cruise line where there's absolutely no kids. I don't want all that party stuff. I know exactly where maybe I can suggest to them based on my experiences. I'm afraid I get this a lot. And I told you, when I first met you, people are like, I'm afraid to go to Jamaica. And I said, Why? Why are you afraid to go to Jamaica? Let's talk about that for a second. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? And we kind of discussed that, you know, on on a one to one basis with my client. And I give them options is all about options. You have to be real with people.

Claudine Pohl:

Yeah. I love that. You mentioned the word influencer. And I think it's interesting. If I look at you, I think of you as a Travel Advisor. But I also consider you a big influencer in the industry, for the amount of followers that you have, you're not only selling travel, now, you have destinations who reach out for you to go to their destination to do content for them, to be able to, you know, for them to use the content for you to share the content about their destinations for when cruise lines come. I know you've worked with many different countries. Now you were just in Canada, New England. I reached out to you. I'm like, Hey, Susie, I'm working with Halifax Would you mind? You know, doing this, you're like, Yeah, I'll do this. You've been doing this, you know, destinations reaching out? Where do you put the line? How do you handle that? Like, I know, probably the biggest part of your business is the Travel Advisor part that influencer and sharing your content part is growing as well. Right?

Susie Flores:

I actually like creating content and that's the part that like, it's kind of for me, my artistic outlet, Claudine. I can't wait to show you by the way, I'm almost done on the final touches on a Halifax reel that I have for Instagram. I'm actually gonna post it on Tik Tok as well. But for me, I like taking pictures. I like to keep video I like the creativity that you can do with that. And being able to visit these destinations have you run into a restaurant Claudine, where they're giving out samples. And you just want that sample and you're like, oh, I need to come back and have a meal. What we're doing with social media is that I'll give an example. I partnered up with Quebec, thanks to you last year, and the number of people that reached out and were like, Suze, I want to go to Quebec now. Thank you so much. It wasn't on my list. It's on my list of places to visit now. Can you find me your cruise that has Quebec included or starts or ends in Quebec? Oh, and I'm sorry, I should say Quebec, cuz I know you're Canadian. But that's what you're doing. You're giving them a little taste. And then you want them to come back to have the full experience. And it's a fine balance of when do I have time to do this when I'm running a multimillion dollar business. It's the my little one to bed. I'm like secretly on my phone, creating reels, adding stories and transitions. And I actually like it. And for me creating content. Claudine is therapy. I know it sounds really cheesy, but I like doing it because it helps me stay balanced.

Claudine Pohl:

Yeah. And I love the creativity that you use, and you put in your videos. I love the little video clips that you're doing like little samples of each destination. I think they're under a minute long. I think that's what they were right. I love those videos. They're so attractive. And you're like, wow, what is she doing? Let's talk a little bit about your videos. I think you're in the millions in views. What's your top video? How many views do you have?

Susie Flores:

Those are all on Tik Tok. I have currently I think 84,000 followers over there, more or less somewhere in the low 80s. I have almost a million likes. Over all my videos and in views. I think one of them is three or five. Somewhere. It's it's up there. A lot of them are the rooms where people love room tour videos. I'm not too sure like those videos, but they're very simplistic. They're very short and to the point. And people really enjoy seeing that. And then I have a whole series clogging of videos, tips for first time cruisers. That entire series, whether it be what to do with your phone, put it on airplane mode, what does the word gratuities mean? Like is my cabin that's on deck two, are we going to be underwater? People love all that. So those are the videos usually that grab a lot more traction than anything else.

Claudine Pohl:

Yeah, great job. I think you're doing amazing. It's so nice to have you on cruise combos to talk about it. Because we're bringing something different. You're not just a Travel Advisor. You're a Travel Advisor, but you're getting all your business from social media, which is very, very unique. And on top of that now you're definitely an inch lumens are in the industry. I would definitely consider you an influencer in the industry. I think you're getting invited to events not only because of your Travel Advisor but as well for your social media.

Unknown:

I haven't told you this yet.

Claudine Pohl:

Oh, let's hear it! Like you make me jealous every time!

Susie Flores:

I was on a train from Paris to Amsterdam two weeks ago. Okay, true story...

Claudine Pohl:

Yes...

Susie Flores:

I have my computer out because I don't travel without it. Being I get a notification Claudine. I got invited to Antarctica!

Claudine Pohl:

Oh my goodness. With a cruise line?

Susie Flores:

Scenic! And I know you've cruise with Scenic before.

Claudine Pohl:

Yes, that's amazing. So Scenic wants to have you on board for you to do the social too right?

Susie Flores:

I think that my host agency recommended me to them which I think they know that I do both. I seriously was like I almost started crying. I was like Antarctica on a luxury cruise line. Are you kidding?

Claudine Pohl:

That's amazing. And you know what? Scenic has really really epic rooms. I'm telling you one of the most luxurious rooms I've stayed on on the ship. It's been on Scenic.

Unknown:

Did you go to the Middle East with them?

Claudine Pohl:

Yeah, they're pretty cool. You should do it. That'll be awesome. Now you're going on Icon of the Seas, you got a VIP invite or something like that. You're gonna be on Icon of the Seas. What? Next week?

Susie Flores:

on January 20.

Claudine Pohl:

oh, my goodness, how exciting!

Unknown:

In just a few days. And that is going to be absolutely Iconic. And I just can't like that ship. Like, I know you want to go with me. And I wish I wish....

Claudine Pohl:

I want to go I'm like hey, Susie, are you taking someone? I think anybody would want to go with you. That is amazing. That's chip looks. Wow. I saw this video just the other day. Of the I think you posted it of the zipline outside. I think you did. It's like a walking path outside where the crown is. Right. And then you Yeah, tell me what it is.

Susie Flores:

It's called crowns edge. It's essentially a ropes course and a zipline all put together they harness you up, and you hang literally off the side of the ship.

Claudine Pohl:

You got to do that Susie!

Susie Flores:

So I Claudine...

Claudine Pohl:

That would go viral.

Susie Flores:

My team is doing it. So I might be like, quote, unquote, peer pressured. I actually saw the icon come into Miami a few days ago, I was getting off my Virgin Voyages, crews for being top 100 travel agents, and happened to be the most perfect timing icons coming into the port Miami. And they had music blaring. They had, I mean airplanes, it was like seriously, Michael Bailey was there. All the crew from the ship was there shoreside people were there greeting it I was it was seriously the most amazing experience. I was on Tik Tok live had hundreds of people watching my live and I was like, in tears. I was like, I cannot believe you know, again, for anyone that works in this industry, whether you're a travel agent, whether you work with ports, whether you're, you know, one of the representatives from the cruise lines, see trade, Clea Asda, any of us that are part of this travel community club, and whenever something new like this comes, it really is a sign that we're moving forward, it is a sign that we're contributing to this industry, and that we're going to be okay, I always see like, oh, my gosh, life is gonna be okay. Because that's the association I make where this business this industry provides for my family. This helps me pay, you know, the bills and for my daughter's singing classes, or, you know, my rent or whatever it is. But I also know in turn, I'm helping ports, I'm helping local people. I'm helping crew members by being able to sell some of these cruises. So it's kind of like a circle of giving, so to speak between all of us.

Claudine Pohl:

Amazing, amazing. You're right, you're right, in one way or another. Whatever we do in the industry, it is a circle. And it's helping not just ourselves, it's helping other people and, you know, different parts of that chain where the cruise industry lies. Definitely. My friend, we've been talking for a while now. I'm gonna ask you this is our very last question. We asked this question to everybody that we have on and the question is, if you could look back at your younger self, what piece of advice would you give yourself now, to your younger self?

Susie Flores:

Great question. I think taking a chance and not being afraid, because I fell in love with the cruise industry. Claudine 21 years ago, I went on my very first cruise on Monarch of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. It was December 2002. It was my honeymoon cruise. I fell in love. And ever since then I would always book cruises behind my spouse's back. And then he would get mad at me and then he'd be over it right. And I was always like, okay, when's the next one? I need to have a countdown clock, which is why my business is called Countdown Travels. I need to have something to look forward to. And I didn't. I didn't jump into this industry because I was afraid. I was afraid of what if I fail, I was afraid of like, I really wanted to do it. And I put my desire of doing something that I really love on hold, because I was afraid to take that risk. And I would have started in this business a long time ago. Oh,

Claudine Pohl:

wow.

Susie Flores:

Now, but I knew deep down inside my name is started Cruising Susie Claudine on tick tock was a joke. It was a joke. People used to make fun of me. Oh, there goes Susie cruising Susie on another cruise on another cruise? Well, you know, I coined it. I was like, Well, you guys are making fun of me. Let me show you what I'm going to do with it. So if anyone listening to this, if I'm in my 40s, okay, I would say follow your heart and really take risks. And if you fall, you get back up. And you try again. And I'm just thankful that I'm here now, but I wish I would have started sooner.

Claudine Pohl:

I love it. What great advice. You know, especially within our industry, we have a lot of people and changes in jobs and positions. There's always opportunity to grow. And what great advice that is just to be able to, you know what, take a risk. And I love that you said, if you fall you get back up. All right. I remember somebody told me this. And it was actually Dan Cockerel who we just had on the show. You know, when I started my business, I thought my biggest fear is what if I fail? Right? What if I fail? And, you know, he said, if you fail, you can always get a job. That little piece always stuck with me like, Okay, if I fail, I can always get a job. Like there's always something going to be there. And I think that sometimes we get so scared to try new things. Right? And I think you're spot on, like you took the risk and the path and you had that passion for it. And I think you mentioned at the beginning of the show, you're like, I love what I do you truly love it. And I think that's key. If you love what you do, you'll be successful in it. Absolutely.

Susie Flores:

Never stop learning. I mean I drive to learn more like I want to dive into river cruising now and luxury cruising. And I'm excited about it. So every day when you wake up, and you get to your office, your work, whatever you should be with a smile on your face starting your day. And that's what I do every single day. I might have challenges here and there, Claudine, but even this morning, I'm like, I'm gonna have a podcast with that epicardium poll. Like what an exciting thing to wake up to and to get ready for so I thank you again for having me. I really appreciate you more than you know.

Claudine Pohl:

Ah, thank you girl. And I really appreciate you taking the time to be here. Congratulations on all your success and if people want to follow you, where can they follow you?

Susie Flores:

Right so I'm on Instagram Cruise? Yes Please and tick tock Cruising Susie. I am the proud owner of Countdown Travels LLC. You can find my website at countdowntravels.com

Claudine Pohl:

Amazing. Thank you so much for being our guest on Cruise Convos today. Susie, keep shining and keep being epic. Take care girl.

Follow

Links