With consistent growth, even in the midst of a challenging year for the travel industry, inCruises is positioned to sail even further into an exciting future.
Frank Codina, COO and Co-Founder
Michael Hutchison, CEO and Co-founder
While traveling the world is on nearly everyone’s bucket list, very few families have the means to pack a suitcase and jet off to exotic locations. Frank Codina and Michael Hutchison are determined to change that, disrupting the cruise industry and making travel accessible to families around the world. With consistent growth, even in the midst of a challenging year for the travel industry, inCruises is positioned to sail even further into an exciting future.
A Company of Destiny
Co-founders Frank Codina and Michael Hutchison brought distinct yet complementary sets of skills to their initial conversations about building a travel company within the direct sales industry. Codina, an industry veteran of nearly three decades, was coming off the heels of a business launch that didn’t quite measure up to his expectations. Hutchison had largely focused on leadership development, both in his work with Tony Robbins early in his career and later as a consultant and author. The two men had known each other for years but had never collaborated until lightning struck in 2015.
“Cruising is a passion of mine and my wife and our boys,” Codina explains. “We love to cruise and we said, ‘Hey, let’s think of the cruise industry as a potential positive disruption and do something innovative.’ We thought about a Membership model, and I realized that I was going to need a strong partner. I needed somebody who’s really good at communications and marketing because I can’t do everything. I can’t do the financial part and the technical part and also be the spokesperson.”
Coincidentally, Hutchison had just walked away from a prospective travel technology venture overseas and was looking to shake up the travel industry as well.
“Frank and I hit it off with the pain and frustration that the average families can’t go on vacations,” he says. “Many people go into debt. That’s what I think emotionally brought us all together.”
From the very beginning, they believed their idea was a “company of destiny” and dreamed up inCruises, a cruise membership program that serves families all over the world. The company was officially launched in January 2016, offering a membership that costs $100 per month, earning Members 200 Cruise Credits for every payment. These Cruise Credits are then redeemed for cruises booked through the inCruises system, giving Members exclusive access to prices the company has negotiated with more than 5,000 cruises around the world. The inCruises field team is made up of almost 100,000 “Partners” who join the company’s Independent Partner Program to earn commissions, bonuses and other incentives by referring new Members.
Today, inCruises has served over 773,000 Members, operates in 160 countries, and is supported by a corporate team of 67 employees. inCruises has helped more than 171,000 passengers book their dream cruise vacations. Over 90 percent of all inCruises passengers were first-time cruisers, an exciting statistic for a company focused on making travel affordable. By the end of 2019, the company had reached the $100 million annual revenue milestone and was on track for an even more exciting 2020.
Thriving Amidst Challenges
The global cruise industry was forced to navigate significant financial and public relations challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. inCruises grew 10 percent last year, possibly one of the only travel companies with positive growth in 2020.
“When the pandemic hit, airlines and hotels and cruises all decided not to give refunds,” says Hutchison. “They wanted to hang on to that revenue and keep it on their books. We went the opposite direction. We refunded our customers, so one hundred percent of our customers who asked for a cruise booking refund, we gave it to them, in cash. We did not give them a future cruise credit or a travel voucher, like so many others did. We gave people that sense of certainty that we were there to take care of them.”
Customer refunds were only part of inCruises’ thoughtful response to a difficult season. Codina and Hutchison decided to advance payments to the cruise lines, negotiate cruise credits and found new ways to support their cruise line Partners.
“We met with every single financial partner we have,” adds Codina. “We have many—bank processors all over the world, financial providers, payouts, all kinds of things. And they all wanted to know if we were going to weather the storm. It was obvious from the very beginning that we were going to make it through. We were set up for success. Our model is very flexible, our cost basis is very low, and we’re debt-free. So, we could afford to go the distance.”
As a lifelong advocate of leadership and positivity, Hutchison knew he could serve the inCruises team in even more ways.
“I wrote an e-book called SOS, How to Survive in Turbulent Times and put it out to our teams,” he says. “(I suggested) they start sharing excerpts on social media and let that be the conversation—that you’re trying to help, you’re trying to give back. The decision to write that book is what prompted us also to triple down in the area of leadership development. We tripled the number of courses that we offered and did what we profess.”
The inCruises Leadership Academy was an integral part of the company’s field team training program prior to 2020 but expanded significantly last year. The Academy currently offers courses in 17 languages and averages over a thousand course completions a day. This focus on leadership development has always been important to both founders, but it is a particular passion of Hutchison.
“We’re grateful that we are the world’s largest subscription-based cruise Membership club, but I’ve always had this bigger vision that at our core, we’re a leadership development company,” he says. “My entire career has been helping people to grow, to stretch, to experience, to become more. On the surface, we are a cruise Membership club, but we’re bigger than that.”
The Next Port of Call
With Members eager to cruise again, Partners who feel supported and an industry on the road to recovery, inCruises is extremely positive about what’s beyond the horizon.
“Twenty new ships will debut in 2021, each will cost the cruise lines about $950 million,” says Hutchison. “I challenge anyone to compete with a $20 billion product launch in 2021.”
Looking ahead, the company intends to expand into other travel sectors, even more international markets and hit $1 billion in revenue, with a goal of quickly reaching legacy company status.
Codina and Hutchison are also excited about a different kind of ship on the seas. The company recently partnered with Mercy Ships, an international organization that operates hospital ships throughout the world, providing humanitarian aid, lifesaving surgeries and healthcare.
“I’m really excited about this partnership because it’s a way of truly giving back in a way that really resonates with our Members,” says Codina. “Our Members love cruises, and if cruises and cruise ships can be used for an incredible purpose like this, then it gives them this warm feeling inside. Our Partners are now matching us. If they match us, we’re going to increase the amount donated. We lead first.”
While 2020 may have paused inCruises’ explosive pattern of growth, the company and leadership are more excited than ever about the possibilities that lie in 2021 and beyond. Codina and Hutchison view last year as a season of stress testing that challenged the fortitude of what they had built together. And they’re thrilled to see the validation of what they knew all along—that inCruises is a “company of destiny,” built to last and positively change the cruise industry forever.
From the May 2021 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.