Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Kyle Matheson of Expedia CruiseShipCenters
A growing industry, customer-centric culture, and big brand name led this hotel executive to trade land for sea.
A life-long traveler, Kyle Matheson, shares his experience taking over an existing franchise location and reveals what he believes is the key differentiator setting Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors.
What were you doing before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner?
Kyle: Most recently I was the Director of Sales for the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver, BC, but I’ve always worked in tourism and hospitality. I started in the travel business as a tour guide for my dad’s corporate event company and transitioned into hotels in 2000 and I have spent the last 18 years in sales and marketing for hotels.
What led you to consider franchise ownership? In particular, why a travel franchise?
Kyle: There are a couple of things that led my wife, Tammy, and I to Expedia CruiseShipCenters. I could see the cruise market being an area for growth with every year at least 50,000 more people cruising through the port of Vancouver alone. We initially looked at a couple independent travel agencies, but once we attended Discovery Day for Expedia CruiseShipCenters we were sold. We realized that we could own our own travel agency that specializes in cruise, and get the technology, marketing, and the Expedia brand recognition, it was really a no-brainer for us to go with the travel franchise option.
Originally, we were looking to open a new Expedia franchise, but there weren’t any available in our area so we started looking at existing locations for sale and purchased one of the original 10 Centers ever built.
Why an Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise?
Kyle: The very first thing we noticed about Expedia CruiseShipCenters was the support. Expedia CruiseShipCenters has great technology, customer management systems, good marketing programs as well as a large corporate team that help us. On top of that, we are backed by Expedia, the largest brand in travel which allows us to offer the best deals and our Travel Consultants can earn higher levels of commission.
What do you believe sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from our competitors, including travel websites?
Kyle: It’s really about the service that we offer. Everybody says they have great service but what I like about Expedia CruiseShipCenters is that it’s backed up by the training. We’ve added 10 new Consultants in the past year and to be able to put them through a set of training that formalizes what they’re meant to do — how to take care of a guest, how to look for customers, how to qualify properly, how to match the customer to the right cruise line — all of that is really drilled home through the training and in the end is what benefits the client. It’s all about living the Promise that Expedia CruiseShipCenters puts forward.
How do you find your customers?
Kyle: I think when you buy a franchise you’ve got to jump in with both feet and really work the system. We participate in every one of the flyer mailings, email blasts and Facebook marketing initiatives. For our Center, the secret sauce for finding new customers and hosting an event in conjunction with the 7 core promotions Expedia CruiseShipCenters has each year. Sometimes we’ll hold the event here in the Center and other times at an offsite location like a golf course or a community venue. Partnering with a participating cruise line and holding an event around the promotion provides a reason for people to act on the marketing we’ve sent them and has been a real winner for us.
The other thing I’d say is when you buy a business you need to put work into it. I tell potential new franchise owners on the validation calls, you’ve got to keep recruiting and promoting top of mind and constantly network. I’ve had three leads just from standing in bank line-ups! If the opportunity comes up to have a meaningful conversation and I’ve got my branded Expedia CruiseShipCenters shirt on I jump on it.
What do you do to drive repeat business and Customers For Life?
Kyle:Kyle: I believe it’s important to build strong relationships with our customers to drive repeat business. I’m so lucky to have such a great team of Vacation Consultants who are passionate about travel and love helping customers book memorable vacations. If some issues come arise either before, during or after our customers trip, we can work together and keep their business because we have a good relationship. Creating a deep customer connection allows us to follow up after their vacation and ask if they enjoyed that 75th birthday trip or that 15th wedding anniversary cruise was and if they would like to plan their next vacation.
What aspects of this business do you enjoy the most?
Kyle: For me, it’s the people. I don’t think people get into the hospitality business if they don’t enjoy being part of a team and bringing people together. We get to deal with clients when they are at their happiest. They’re dreaming about their next vacation or their bucket list trip or a special occasion, and that’s just fun to talk about and be in the office for.
Another thing that I didn’t expect is the great community of Franchise Partners. Quite a few of them have taken the time to have a coffee or a meal with me to let me pick their brain and help me get up to speed and improve my business. I’ve found the entire Expedia CruiseShipCenters community has been super helpful and open.
How would you describe the culture at your center?
Kyle: We celebrate birthdays with wine and cheese at our Center! It really has a family feel, which is something that I like and have tried to foster after working in my own dad’s business. This business is very personal to me. My wife and I have made the investment to do this and we involve our 9-year-old daughter as much as we can. I feel like the people in the office really care about each other and their shared success. The previous owners built a Center where people wanted to be and enjoy each other’s company and I’ve worked hard to continue that so that everyone feels that same level of trust. Some of the Consultants even go on vacation together which I think that says a lot about how well they get along.
How has the Expedia CruiseShipCenters corporate support team helped you launch and grow your business since you started?
Kyle: Since I joined the Expedia family I’m felt consistent support from the corporate team from the very beginning. I felt like the corporate head office truly wanted to get to know me and understand what I was looking for in a franchise. My Franchise Performance Coach is awesome at helping me grow my business in the right direction. She’s encouraging, but also knows I like numbers and benchmarks so she gives me all the information I need. She’s also great at providing the check for blind spots and is always encouraging me to recruit. The proof is in the pudding: halfway through this year we were already over half of our growth and it is from the new Consultants we added last year who are now starting to hit their stride. Without her support and encouragement, we wouldn’t have been as successful.
Where do you see your business in 5 or 10 years? How do you see your lifestyle changing as a result of your business growth?
Kyle: Even though we’re an established Center, I’m still in growth mode. When I look at the high performers in the Expedia CruiseShipCenters system they have more Consultants. We have 32 Consultants right now and I’d like to get to 50, while still maintaining our great Center culture. I see us growing over the next 5 years with Tammy ideally joining the business in the next year or two.
In terms of lifestyle changes, I truly have more flexibility now. Working in hotels, especially at the leadership/executive level, it was hard to get away and have family time. The biggest change in my life since buying my Expedia franchise is I have been to every single one of my daughter’s dance recitals and school assemblies because I’m my own boss.
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