Home-based Travel Business Reaching Out To Veterans

Friday, August 07, 2009

Even though he proudly served in the U.S. Air Force, Chris Silman's future now lies on the high seas.

Now that he is out of the military service, the Arizona resident is embarking on a new career in the cruise industry, thanks to a Broward business trying to reach out to returning military veterans.

''I think it is important that we do something to say thanks at the minimum to show that we appreciate the sacrifices that they make.

For us, it is giving them access to their own business,'' said Jason Mattes of Cruise Planners/American Express, a nationwide home-based travel agency franchise.

In late 2008, the company launched a nationwide franchise giveaway to celebrate the launch of its CP Cares program, which among other charitable contributions, provides veterans with discounts toward purchasing a franchise.

''We think it is going to play an important role as we see a greater number of veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are going to be making transition back to civilian life,'' Mattes said.

After winning the essay-writing contest, Silman received the ceremonial key to his franchise July 28 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Fort Lauderdale among representatives from Broward County's Veteran Services and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Silman served six years in Afghanistan as part of a combat search and rescue team responsible for 22 rescue missions. After his discharge in 2005, he earned a degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and was looking for a new opportunity.

''I was really surprised when I learned that I won, but I am going to make the most of it,'' said Silman, who traveled to Fort Lauderdale for the presentation.

As part of the giveaway, Cruise Planners asked veterans nationwide to write a 500-word essay explaining why they deserved the free franchise. According to company President Michelle Fee, Silman's essay stood out, explaining how his military and educational experience was a bonus.

''It was very well written and the essay was well thought out,'' said Fee, who oversees 700 franchises in 42 states. The company also announced a yearlong charitable partnership with Royal Caribbean International called Voyages for Veterans.

Both companies will donate $50 for every booking by Cruise Planners on select Royal Caribbean voyages. The proceeds will benefit the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that provides no-cost housing to families of veterans who are undergoing medical treatment at Veterans' Affairs hospitals.

The foundation, established in 1990, has 43 homes around 98 hospitals and 18 military bases. Construction is under way on a home near the VA Medical Center in Miami.

''We hope to have it done by the summer of 2010,'' said Marjorie Valdes, public affairs specialist for the Miami VA Healthcare System and Fisher House Foundation representative.

For information, visit www.CruisePlanners.com.

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