by Robin Amster
Last updated: 5:00 PM ET, Tue December 8, 2015
Photo courtesy of CruiseOne
Travel has long been considered a great second-career option but not one that necessarily comes to mind for former military personnel.
CruiseOne's "Operation Vetrepreneur: Become Your Own General" contest is changing that. Created three years ago, the contest has since awarded $250,000 in free CruiseOne franchises-each valued at $12,500-to 20 military veterans, said Tim Courtney, vice president of network development and ambassador of veteran affairs for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
"With approximately 250,000 service members transitioning out of the military each year, we strive to make their return to the civilian workforce as seamless as possible by offering the Operation Vetrepreneur contest and an award-winning training program in preparation for franchise ownership," he added.
Courtney said starting a new career is an "overwhelming" experience but can be particularly daunting for those transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce. But "Franchising has become a popular career path for those in the armed forces because the military skills attained translate well into franchise ownership."
CruiseOne's contest begins around Memorial Day each year and ends in August with winners attending a week-long training at CruiseOne headquarters.
Larkin Frazier of Nashville was one of five vets who won this year's contest. He spent four years in the army including being deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Before his transition to travel, Frazier worked in health care sales.
So how and why did he come to own a CruiseOne franchise?
Frazier said the biggest factor was his mother, who passed away earlier this year, telling him how important it is to be doing something you love.
"I wanted to do something that I wake up to and enjoy," he said. "There's nothing not to enjoy about waking up and either traveling myself or helping people to travel. And I'm not selling people something they don't want to do."
In addition to what Frazier calls his "all expense paid trip to the Middle East," courtesy of Uncle Sam, he did a lot of travel, both in his personal life and for his health care job. But he had never taken a cruise.
He read about the CruiseOne contest in Black Enterprise Magazine and before he entered the contest took a Royal Caribbean cruise out of San Juan to the southern Caribbean.
"On that cruise, I made the decision that this was something I have to do," he said.
The number one skill he learned from his military experience - one that is "critical to his new work as a travel franchisee-is the ability to listen, Frazier said. "It's understanding what the drivers are [for clients], he added. "Understanding, and prioritizing, those are key."
Frazier is now developing a client base, starting with networking through his local chamber of commerce and his social media contacts.
He also plans to sell land programs in addition to cruises and will focus on domestic destinations. "There's so much of the U.S. people haven't seen," he said. "I haven't defined a niche per se but I want to help people understand where to travel beyond the tourist destinations. And there are so many."
There are more than 5,600 vets that have become franchise owners since 2011, according to Courtney. The home-based travel franchise is especially attractive. "Not only is a travel franchise something that veterans can do part-time, but it is home-based and many of these veterans are interested in regaining time with their families that was lost while they were serving in active duty."
"CruiseOne's military veteran ownership has a 90 percent success rate with more than 150 veterans opening a franchise since 2010," he said. "In addition, more than 30 percent of the home-based cruise franchise system is military veterans or active-duty spouses."
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