Former educator and school counselor, LaTonya White, began her entrepreneurial journey in 2018, when she launched Cruise Planners, a travel agency based out of Houston, Texas. Since inception, LaTonya has grown Cruise Planners to offer services beyond domestic and international travel and cruise planning—the business now specializes in destination wedding planning as well!
While LaTonya’s business has seen much growth since launching, the road to success did not come without major challenges. In 2020, only two years into operation, Ms. White and Cruise Planners faced the harsh effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working in the travel industry, Ms. White felt the devastating impact from the get-go, as travel restrictions were being enforced all over the world.
“When the pandemic hit, I essentially lost all of my income for 2020 and 2021” says LaTonya of the pandemic’s immediate aftereffects.
By 2022, LaTonya remained determined to keep her business alive, even through the ongoing struggles of the pandemic, and she identified efforts that would redirect her business towards recovery. Those efforts would entail revamping Cruise Planners’s marketing, primarily to focus on creating a strong digital presence. Like many other business owners who faced pandemic-related challenges, Ms. White knew that pivoting to digital-based business approaches was critical for her business to survive. In terms of skillset, Ms. White was well-prepared to ramp up her marketing efforts—she knew she could draw on her experience as an entrepreneur, blogger, and motivational speaker to market her business. Financing the new marketing efforts, however, was the main challenge. With major revenue losses in 2020 and 2021, LaTonya worried she would not be able to afford and move forward with her marketing vision.
As Ms. White sought financial support, Harris County, in partnership with LiftFund, launched a $30 million relief fund to provide financial support to micro and small businesses recovering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her search for resources led her to the Harris County Small Business Relief Fund, through which she applied for a grant that could be used for business-related expenses.
In November 2021 LaTonya was awarded a grant! The grant offered hope, positioning Cruise Planners to move forward with the long-awaited marketing enhancements.
“The grant really boosted my morale and my business overall! I used the grant funds to enhance my marketing efforts, which helped me reach new clients and land a feature on CBS to promote my business and I have gained several new clients since that [CBS] feature.”
Ms. White’s decision to invest in marketing efforts proved to be beneficial, with positive effects on Cruise Planner‘s overall reputation—her audience quickly took notice to the sharp branding, recognizing the online presence, logo, website and overall brand as a trustworthy business. Through the successful marketing efforts, Ms. White established a strong reputation within the travel industry, ultimately leading to new customers and growth.
Seeing the value in strong marketing and digital presence, LaTonya has since expanded Cruise Planner’s digital and online presence to include a YouTube channel and podcast for the business! With digital content that can be easily disseminated, LaTonya has reached new markets and clients—she looks forward to the future business opportunities that she is fostering as a result of this new exposure from the marketing revamp.
Ms. White credits the grant for positioning her and her business to not only survive the pandemic but prosper and grow.
“With the support [from LiftFund and Harris County] I am still here today, standing in confidence!” says Ms. White.