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 Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch

martin CRUISING TO AN AMBITIOUS
AND LAUDATORY PROJECT


BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

March 1, 2007 -- Over the decades, periodically and unequivocally, I have expressed my firm belief that cruising offers the best, most restful and most relaxing holiday for business travelers who are burned out by life as a road warrior.

I have gone on record with this argument in a variety of media outlets, ranging from the now-defunct Frequent Flyer magazine to broadcast television and this Web site. To my knowledge, no one has ever contradicted me. So it seems that there is no doubt about it: The cruise experience makes sense for the busy business traveler who needs to get away from it all.

These comments are, I think, a logical segue into a recent conversation with Adam M. Goldstein, the president of Royal Caribbean International, whose floating villages ply cruise waters around the world, often with more than 4,000 passengers on board. Beyond his obvious grasp of the industry he serves, Goldstein's interests range far and wide, including one new project that I thought deserved some extra coverage.

After months, if not years, of complicated preparation, Royal Caribbean International is partnering in the launch of an ambitious and laudatory project to recruit minorities into the travel-agent business. Royal Caribbean International has taken a sizable stake in the Magic Johnson Travel Group, a franchise business that will set sail, so to speak, by the end of March.

Goldstein explained that successful recruits will be home-based, a reference to the latest phenomenon that is driving travel agency growth in this country: a significant and ever-increasing number of travel agents are working from their own apartments or houses.

"Some people might find it surprising, but we have taken an ownership stake in the Magic Johnson Travel Group, which itself is becoming a home-based travel agency franchise network for minority travelers and minority franchisees," Goldstein said. "That won't affect everyone in the broader market [but] it's a testament to the strength of the home-based franchise concept that we would get into it ourselves in a targeted way. And we are very proud of our involvement with Magic Johnson."

Goldstein described the complicated steps required to pull this project together, including the hiring of key people, resolving the legal issues and the "Byzantine process that you need to go through to create a nationwide franchise network.

"The reaction to Magic Johnson as a brand has been more than terrific. And, from our vantage point, Magic Johnson is the Number 1 positive force in urban development and in the urban economy today."

In discussing Johnson's role, Goldstein said that the former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star will be a tireless promoter since he is already developing minority business ownership and assisting minority customers in this way.

"This program will allow participants to work in their homes and in minority communities. This will also encourage and stimulate minority voyagers to enjoy broader travel horizons," Goldstein explained.

I asked Goldstein how the consumer would know that this is a project aimed at minorities, both in terms of the travel-agency owner and the prospective travel client. "The Magic Johnson brand name is extremely powerful and resonates with minority customers, generally speaking, throughout America and especially in the larger cities," he explained.

Of course, there is no prohibition "against anyone who is interested in becoming one of the franchisees," Goldstein added. "The Magic Johnson brand name is astounding. He has one of the most uniformly positive identities in America today." He said the Magic Johnson name is inspirational to all communities across the board. "So certainly, there will be a percentage of people from the general market who will respond."

But Goldstein clearly felt that the thrust of the effort will be aimed at minority agents and minority clients.

"The profit opportunity inherent in that market is primarily in minority space," he said. "I think the focus and the passion will be in the minority space. That's why this business has been started and that's where the profitability will primarily reside."

Royal Caribbean's move also shows the strength of the growing home-based movement among travel agents.

"I've been in the business long enough to remember a time when the home-based travel agent was both an oxymoron and a taboo," Goldstein said. The idea "simply was not acceptable. For the evolution to occur now is highly desirable. It's an extraordinary transformation. The whole industry wants to facilitate this because it is an opportunity for travel agents to be very efficient in how they conduct their business affairs and to spend their resources where they're sure to be effective."

In conjunction with its sister company, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean was the first to establish a separate department to deal with home-based travel agents. So it's no surprise that Goldstein is enthusiastic about home-based travel agents.

"This will allow many thousands of intelligent and passionate travel agents to operate in a highly effective and efficient manner in the industry's distribution system," he said.

FOR THE RECORD
Adam Goldstein joined Royal Caribbean International in 1988. He was named president two years ago and oversees fleet operations, sales and marketing, brand development, supply-chain management, government and community relations and Royal Celebrity Tours. In previous positions, he has held a plethora of titles, including senior vice president of marketing and executive vice president of brand development. Goldstein also serves on the board of trustees of Our Kids, a nonprofit organization that has oversight responsibility for foster care and related services for approximately 5,000 children in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in Florida. Goldstein has a law degree from Harvard and a public-policy degree from Princeton. He, his wife and their two children reside in the Miami area.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com

Copyright 2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.