Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Carole Peterson and Gina Holvick of Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Longtime owners of two successful Vancouver locations share their insights
Longtime friends and business partners Carole Peterson and Gina Holvick put their work ethic, energy and love for helping people into their Expedia CruiseShipCenters location near Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, 25 years later, the duo owns two successful Expedia CruiseShipCenters. They have seen the company grow to 220 locations since opening their first location, the sixth in the company, and they have helped shape that growth as members of the company’s Advisory Board. Here is their story:
What were your careers before becoming franchise owners?
Carole: We worked for the same bank in the consumer lending department for more than 20 years. When we left the bank we decided to find something different and fun, and both of us knew people in the travel industry. Both of us are hard workers, and we put in that extra mile for our Expedia CruiseShipCenters customers.
Gina: We have the same work ethic, which is why we have remained partners so long. We’ve been friends for about 35 years, and the only thing we argue about is the temperature of the office. When we were looking for opportunities, Carole knew somebody with the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise and was aware that the nearby location was for sale. So we pursued it.
What appealed to you about the Expedia Franchise opportunity?
Gina: We were drawn to the business concept and were attracted to helping people. We realized that after years of working at the bank we could put that energy and time into our business, which would lead to success. When we opened our first location, the cruise industry was just starting to boom. There was lots of potential for Expedia CruiseShipCenters.
What makes your locations ideal for Expedia CruiseShipCenters?
Gina: Our first location is in a bedroom community, close to the international airport. We are on a big island with a population of 250,000.
We opened a second office five years ago, a little further outside of the city. Although the locations are only 15 minutes apart, they are very different communities. We split our time between the two locations and have approximately 22 consultants at each location.
Why did you open that second location?
Carole: We chose to open our second location in a different community further outside of the city because we saw the potential. There was a demand for it, plus our first location could not expand without increasing our premises. We would have had to double our overhead, while still having the same market share.
Two of our longtime consultants who have huge sales numbers also live in the area so they immediately transferred there.
What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters ahead of competitors in the travel planning industry?
Gina: The technology support we have in place is excellent. When we first opened our doors in 1992, computers were not around. Everything was handwritten, including our travel orders.
I also think our personal integrity and professionalism sets us apart in the industry. Our consultants are all professionally dressed and deal with the public on a regular basis. We’re not in a huge call center with many people. There is a difference.
Carole: Our consultants are navigators of spectacular vacations. We treat them well, we respect them and we have fun. We have a lot of team events – from golf tournaments to car rallies. For example, at our Princess Cruises sale promotion we wore tiaras on our heads and sold until midnight. Work hard, play hard. That is our motto!
How do you market your business?
Carole: We rely more on email marketing than newspaper advertising, but each office is different. In our second location market everyone reads the local paper, so we advertise there. We also belong to the local chamber of commerce. We do a lot of charity fundraising for breast cancer, raising $20,000 last year for breast cancer research. We also believe in community involvement. Our second location won the award for best travel agency in the area, and prior to that we were second runner-up for our first location, which is very interesting because the city has 81 travel agencies. A lot of agencies simply don’t provide the customer service that we do.
Gina: We host two events with the cruise lines about twice a year, which is part of the CruiseShipCenters marketing plan. We have always followed the Expedia CruiseShipCenters marketing plan because that makes it much easier for us to succeed.
Do you get a lot of customer referrals or repeat customers?
Gina: Yes. That’s the basis of the business. We care about our clients and make sure that they are getting the best value and what they want.
Carole: One of the reasons we have been successful is because people are happy with our service. We bend over backwards to fulfill their dreams.
What is your customer demographic like?
Carole: It’s pretty broad. More young people are starting to see the value of cruising; it’s destination-driven and gives people the opportunity to see different points of interest in the world at a lower cost. In Europe, especially, the hotels can be incredibly expensive, and a cup of coffee can be $10 or $20. With cruises, meals are all included, as well as your accommodations and transportation.
Gina: More young people are realizing that cruising is a great value. We are also seeing a lot of multi-generational cruises with families.
What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?
Gina: I enjoy making people happy. Our consultants are also happy about putting that dream vacation together for clients. We enjoy the one-on-one interaction with our customers, such as printing out their documents and reviewing them with them and not asking them to print them out themselves. Having special touches and working on special short excursions is an added value. We strive to add value to the whole experience. We sell the complete vacation, and that separates us from the rest of the travel planning industry.
Carole: Not all of us have traveled the whole world, but there is always someone on staff who has been to each of the various ports. We get to share that information, where with an online booking company customers don’t get that personalized attention and service.
Do you enjoy cruising? What are your favorite destinations?
Carole: We have traveled extensively, and it kind of gets in your blood. You experience these destinations, and you realize there is so much more to the world. Some of our favorite destinations are the Baltics and the Mediterranean, South Pacific, Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Gina: And we love the Caribbean and Mexico.
How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?
Carole: They are there for us all the time. They treat us like their customers, so if we have any questions or any problems they respond right away.
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