Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Michael Decker of Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Why a 35 year travel industry veteran chose to invest in an Expedia franchise
With 35 years of experience in the travel and cruising business, Michael Decker knew Expedia CruiseShipCenters was exactly the franchise opportunity he was looking for. He opened the Orlando Shingle Creek location in 2013.
Michael was Director of Sales for Expedia Group Destination Services for 10 years before opening his home-based CruiseShipCenters. He then opened the successful CruiseShipCenters storefront in Orlando. We recently asked Michael to share his Expedia story.
Tell me about your path to becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?
Michael: I started out as a home-based Expedia CruiseShipCenters consultant in 2010. Prior to that I was the Director of Group Sales for Expedia Local Expert in Orlando, Florida. I always wanted to get back into the cruise industry and liked the entrepreneurial side of Expedia as a business and their cutting-edge, “let’s take a risk and do something different” environment.
Throughout my early career I wanted to have a system for selling cruises and travel. In the late 1990s, I launched a boutique cruise line, and after two years I went to work with a friend who owned a ticket company in Orlando in Group Sales. I’d get feedback from people saying they liked the cruises but that they wanted longer cruises or different cruise options and I thought, “Wow, if we had a system – look at all those clients we could help.” At one time I had thousands of past customers all saying they wanted cruise options.
Expedia later bought that Orlando company. I was familiar with Expedia and how they had grown over the years through entrepreneurial, outside-the-box thinking. When they entered into a strategic partnership with CruiseShipCenters I knew the two were going to do something really special and I jumped onboard with Expedia CruiseShipCenters shortly after and opened our retail location in Shingle Creek in March 2013.
What appealed to you about the Expedia Franchise opportunity?
Michael: The Expedia brand attracts customers. I’ll go against anybody in the industry. We win based on value and service. What we provide is second to none. Our people are not travel agents; they are travel professionals. They must have two passions: first they must have a passion to serve and a love for helping people. Second they must have a passion for travel.
What is the difference between a travel agent and a travel professional?
Michael: A travel agent is an employee person who works 9 to 5. A travel professional lives, eats and breathes the business. When a person joins our team, they start out as a travel person. Then they move up to a travel consultant level, and their ultimate goal is to get to travel professional level – that person who offers the concierge-level travel service and takes care of anything, door-to-door. It’s not that you are a know-it-all, but that you work under the tenet that a customer is going to be your customer for life. You want them to have that remarkable vacation so they come back and tell all of their friends. We currently have about 40 travel consultants – about half of which are home-based.
What made your location ideal for a retail travel agency?
Michael: We looked at a lot of locations and ultimately hit the sweet spot. Our location is on the edge of an area that is a mix of tourist destinations and older homes – it was about to really take off. We’re close to the interstate and on the way to the airport and Cape Canaveral. About eight months after we opened, developers began constructing a condo development across the street. We’ve got the best spot in Orlando, and it is less than two miles from one of the busiest convention centers in the nation.
How do you market your business?
Michael: There is a lot of competition in the industry, as well as high turnover. I’m not saying there are not good agencies out there; I’m saying we do it better. I’d rather have high service that builds slower than to have high volume with an emphasis on closing a quick sale. At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, we’re focused on customers for life. We want people who are not only customers, but also friends. Our customers love coming in and talking about travel, and because of that they refer their friends and family to us. We do some local community communications, and occasionally we’ll invest in print ads. Weekend open houses are also big draws for customers, and we are on track to do six this year.
How are you supported by the team at corporate office?
Michael: Expedia has a system that guides you through the process of launching your business, which is invaluable in helping you secure the ideal retail location, from looking for the right GM to overseeing construction to advising you on how to source your office furniture. Expedia CruiseShipCenters truly has a family culture that says, “We believe in you.” Most franchisors don’t provide that level of care.
The difference between a great franchisor and an average one is that a great franchisor believes in you. They help you grow, help you have value and help you get to a point where you are going to be proud of what is happening down the road. The franchise plan is a plan for a reason. We have a good model, and it keeps getting better.
What is one of your favorite customer success stories?
Michael: I have a lot of stories so it’s hard to pick just one, but a recent success story involved last-minute arrangements for a longtime cruising fan. He was previously loyal to another brand and made the switch to Expedia CruiseShipCenters – and now he is closing in on his 10th trip through us. On a recent trip, I received an emergency text from his son and had to change his travel plans abruptly. I went into action to change his flights and rearrange his transfers. When he returned from his trip, he texted me to say: “I can’t say enough how much I appreciate you. You’re the best. That’s why we come here.” To me that’s the story: the promise that we are always there. We are travel professionals, not just travel agents.
What kind of attributes does a franchise owner need?
Michael: It’s a great place to be if you love travel and love helping people. You have got to be the person engaged in the process, however. It’s important that at least one of the owners is engaged in the process and in the office daily.
For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our franchise opportunity here.