What’s the Value in a Retail Travel Agency?
One of the questions we often get asked during our franchise discovery process is “Why should I invest in a retail travel agency franchise?” That’s often followed with “Can’t I run this business at home?” or “Isn’t everyone booking travel online these days?” These are great questions and we’re never afraid of hearing them because we’re confident that our model works. There’s a reason Expedia Cruises has been growing at an average rate of 11% each year – three times the rate of the cruise industry overall – for over two decades. What’s the secret to our success? We won’t give the recipe away (just yet), but having a retail storefront that is visible and connected to the local community is a huge part of it.
Does it cost more to build a retail travel agency franchise vs. a home-based travel franchise? Absolutely. But if you’re serious about starting a travel business with the potential to scale, grow and build equity well into the future, it’s your best and only option.
Here are 6 reasons you should consider making the investment in a retail travel business:
Let’s begin with the obvious. If you’re starting a business of any kind, having a strategically placed retail presence is going to give you an immediate advantage over your online or home-based counterparts. Having a physical location that your target market will notice, consider and eventually interact with provides an entry point to the customer relationship that can be more difficult to start without that billboard for your brand.
For Expedia Cruises retail travel agencies, this is especially true in the early stages of getting the business off the ground. Establishing their presence in the community as THE place to go for great value and expert advice on your next vacation is essential to achieving early success. Our corporate team provides a ton of additional support to help our Franchisees generate awareness about their new store (through media outreach, flyer drops, local events and more). But that connection to the community is really solidified with a 20 foot sign displaying the most recognized travel brand in the world.
Marketers say that it takes, on average, 7 to 13 brand interactions before someone decides to purchase from you. That’s why our franchise start-up team works with each new Franchisee to scout out the perfect store location in the community that will maximize walk-by and drive-by traffic with our target demographic. If a traveler is driving by an Expedia travel agency franchise each day on their way to and from work – and has heard about our brand through several other carefully planned touch points – chances are good that Expedia Cruises will be top of mind the next time they go to book a cruise vacation.
Retail is synonymous with credibility. If customers can see that you are a locally owned, professionally run business being operated by real live human beings, they’ll be more comfortable spending their hard earned money with you. Combine that with a reputable travel brand like Expedia and the choice is even easier. A vacation is a significant investment for most people and they want to know they’re leaving the planning in the hands of someone they can trust to make it truly spectacular.
While it’s true that home-based travel franchises are out there with significantly lower investment requirements than the Expedia retail franchise, it will be more difficult for you to earn the trust of travelers in your community without that symbol of credibility. Even if you have the most professional home office that ever existed or only set up face-to-face meetings at the fanciest coffee shop in town, how do you know that would-be customers aren’t passing you over because they assume you’re selling travel in your pajamas from your kitchen table? In a business that’s built on trust, a retail storefront helps you earn it faster.
3. Customers Want Options
We don’t deny it, a lot of travel is booked online. That’s why Expedia Cruises matches our retail stores with a robust digital model. We call it our omnichannel retail model. Why is it successful? Because today’s travelers want options. They want to book when, where and however they choose to. And as navigators of spectacular vacation experiences, we’re going to give them those options! We’re there for them whether they choose to book with us in person (Center walk-ins), online (Expediacruises.com, Expedia.com, and Expedia.ca), or over the phone.
Truth be told, the majority of our sales do not come from bookings made in store. Once a relationship is established between a customer and their Vacation Consultant, our clients are often very comfortable conveniently making travel arrangements through their Consultant over the phone or even online. Although a customer may only come into the store a handful of times, they take comfort in knowing that if they needed to, they could.
Even through our digital communications, we’re experts at maintaining that relationship between the customer and their local Expedia Cruises. All of our automated marketing is personalized to the franchise and Consultant level so when a customer receives an email from us and follows the link to book online, their local Consultant’s name, phone number, and photo is with them through the entire process in case they need assistance. Even though that customer could be miles from the store, they know in the back of their mind that they’re booking with the local travel agency business they’ve driven by hundreds of times. That’s the power of retail.
4. A gathering place for your team
So if customers don’t often book in the store, what’s the point of having anyone there? Good question. Although many travel agents today have adopted the home-based travel agent model, our Vacation Consultants LOVE coming into the store. It’s not just a place to work, it’s a place for them to socialize, celebrate and learn from other Consultants.
As an Expedia Cruises Franchise Owner, your main role will be to recruit, train and motivate a large sales team and that is very difficult to do when your Consultants are working remotely. That’s why providing a space for your team to gather is absolutely essential to the success of your business. It also will help develop a Stronger.Together® culture based on a belief in sharing our own best practices to achieve mutual success.
The team comradery that develops between agents in our franchises is contagious when the store environment is fun and positive. That energy then translates into Vacation Consultants feeling passion for the product and excitement about hitting their sales goals. And as a Franchisee whose profitability is dependent on the success of your sales team, creating a fun and encouraging working environment will be the key to your success as well.
5. A venue for consumer events
The foundation of our Customers For Life marketing strategy is a set of carefully planned promotions held at key points in the year when cruisers are booking certain destinations. For example, our annual 1 Day Sale with Princess Cruises produces millions of dollars in bookings in a single day, in large part, because all of our franchises hold local 1 Day Sale events for their customers to attend in advance of the promotion. While many of these events have now outgrown the capacity of the store with hundreds of attendees, the retail space is a fantastic venue to invite customers to come enjoy some refreshments and get excited about what Princess Cruises can offer them on their next vacation.
Similar to the energy that’s generated when a team of Vacation Consultants gather in one place, the same buzz occurs when cruisers get together to talk about travel. Swapping stories of their last adventure at sea inevitably creates excitement about where they want to go next!
Many of our Franchisees hold events at their location on a monthly, even weekly, basis! Our Franchise Owner in Orange County, CA for example holds weekly workshops to bring clients and prospects into the store to learn about topics like how to take better travel photos, or about how to choose the perfect shore excursion. Hosting events is a great way to solidify the customer relationship and position your travel agency franchise as the cruise and vacation experts in the community.
6. Retail returns equity
If you’re reading this, you’re likely just in the early stages of starting a travel business. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about selling that business! Imagine yourself 10, 15, 20 years down the road on the day you decide to sell your travel agency franchise and pass the reins to another proud owner in your community. What are you selling? What gives your business value? Of course the sales team, loyal customer base and great reputation you’ve built will all factor into your selling price. But what are you passing on? Having a physical space with desks, chairs, computers and our signature porthole provides a tangible asset that encompasses all the intangibles you’re selling along with your business. It packages together all the equity you’ve worked so hard to build and presents it to the buyer in a 1200 square foot retail space.
If you’re looking to build a book of customers and sell travel for a living, our Vacation Consultant opportunity is likely a better fit for you. If you want to invest in a business that you can continuously grow, scale and build wealth and equity in, let’s have a conversation about how we can make that possible for you!
If you’ve still got questions about why investing in a retail travel agency franchise is a great decision, we’d be happy to answer them! For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise opportunity brochure. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our travel agency franchise here.