In the News: Expedia CruiseShipCenters President Featured in Benzinga

Cruise Industry Embarks On ‘The Golden Age Of Cruising’

This story appeared in the August 2017 edition of

After a rough 2016, the major players in the cruise industry have experienced a dramatic comeback in 2017, as the “golden age of cruising” sails into industry experts’ view.

Three of the major industry players have turned in sizeable gains so far this year: Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd shares are up 34 percent year to date, Carnival Corp shares are up 30 percent and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd has turned in a 46 percent gain.

Rapid Growth Expectations

“Just in the next 10 years, we look to go from 25 million cruisers to 38 million by 2027,” said Expedia CruiseShipCenters President Matthew Eichhorst. “Cruising has moved from being a North American product to a more global product, in Europe and Asia particularly.”

Expedia CruiseShipCenters has capitalized on the optimism surrounding the industry by adding 1,000 agents this year.

“We have had a year of very positive growth numbers. A year prior there was global uncertainty, but now we see no signs of the recovery slowing down. Cruising isn’t for just retirees any more; the product has dramatically changed,” Eichhorst told Benzinga.

Several of the big cruise liners are capitalizing on the industry growth by adding new ships. Walt Disney Co is expected to nearly double its fleet by building three new ships in the coming years.

Virgin Enters The Market

Another exciting entrant into the market is Virgin Voyages, expected to open for business in 2021. Virgin’s disruptive approach when entering new markets could help push the industry forward as a whole to improve the product and experience. Eichhorst predicts the company headquarters will be in Miami.

“It’s exciting because when Richard Branson enters a market, it is going to create a lot of noise in the industry,” he said.

“Virgin has tried to enter the market in the past. Branson has a way of doing things his own unique way — instead of doing a partnership, he is going to go all in a product that people are going to find very compelling and exciting.”

New Panama Canal

Another key catalyst driving the cruise industry’s growth is the widening of the Panama Canal, which opened up in the first half of 2017. Two new sets of locks were added, part of a nine-year canal expansion project that will enable not only bigger cargo ships, but allows many of the world’s biggest cruise ships to pass through, cutting off the extra 8,000 miles it would take to sail around Cape Horn.

“Historically, you could not get these big ships to the West Coast. With the New Panama Canal, you will see West Coast cruising ships expand and we will are going to see a lot of new cruise travel to Mexico,” Eichhorst said.

Given macroeconomic and industry trends, it appears to be smooth sailing for an industry on the rebound, he said.

“I am more excited about the next 10 years than I ever have about the business. Cruising is going to become mainstream.”

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In the News: Merrick Franchise Owner Featured in Forbes

From Cop To Cruise Franchisee: Joyce Mariner Turns A Passion Into A Second Career

This story appeared in the July 2017 edition of

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Merrick, Franchise Partner, Joyce Mariner.

As a career coach, I hear from a lot of aspiring career changers, as well as people looking to turn a passion into a career. Joyce Mariner has done both. Mariner started at the NYPD in 1988 and worked various units – Patrol, Narcotics, Robbery, Precinct Detective Squad –culminating with six years in Homicide as a 1st Grade Detective. Her husband, Gary Mariner, also worked for the NYPD as part of the prestigious mounted horseback unit. When they retired from the force in 2013, they didn’t want to retire from work altogether, so researched different businesses to start. Having taken more than 40 cruises together, the Mariners decided on an Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel agency franchise and opened their Center in 2015. They have seen continuous growth in the first two years, with 66% growth last year! I connected with Joyce about her and Gary’s impressive second act, and here were my favorite takeaways:

Look to your interests and priorities

“I tried being a housewife for a couple of months, but found that this was not one of my greatest strengths! My love for travel and the desire to visit all the places on my bucket list were the reasons I had to find something in my next career that allowed me to pursue my passion.” – Joyce Mariner

Photo credit: JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images

Mariner had a bucket list and picked her next career to suit that life. How can you incorporate your life priorities into your career choices?

Build on your skills

“People say it sounded so different from my previous career, but it’s still a service-oriented field…. At first, the thought of becoming a travel agent seemed to be a great career change – I had training and experience of interviewing people, as long as I remembered to separate my interviewing and interrogating skills.” – Joyce Mariner

That Mariner can tap into years of working narcotics and murder cases and translate that into fulfilling people’s vacation dreams is proof positive that all careers have translatable skills, and you can make extreme switches in industry. It could be service orientation and interviewing skills, as Mariner mentioned. Attention to detail and exhaustive research (formerly looking for case clues and now looking for travel deals) are other skills I can see that translate well. How can you break down your day-to-day skills so they fit another, very different industry?

Put in the time

“One of the great opportunities of working in the Police Department was that it afforded us more than five weeks of vacation time a year – this is what allowed my passion for travel to blossom. My husband and I took two cruises a year during our time with the NYPD, traveling to exotic destinations like the South Pacific, China, Europe, Baltics, Caribbean, and the Panama Canal.” – Joyce Mariner

Notice that the time the Mariners put in towards their second career in the cruise industry included vacation time while in their first career. How can you use your free time – evenings, weekends, vacations – to focus on your next career?

Find support systems

“The franchise industry allowed me to go into business for myself but not by myself – by following Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ proven system and leaning on my interviewing skills to excel in customer service, I knew I’d find success as a travel agency business owner.” – Joyce Mariner

Franchising is how the Mariners got support for their business. Specifically, Joyce Mariner pointed to the Expedia brand name in travel and the training, ongoing support, collective buying power (along with the other franchises), use of an established business model and marketing and advertising support as key benefits. I have seen career changers use numerous other support structures – for example, a training or certification program as a way to build and test skills; volunteer experience to get firsthand experience; or a side hustle in a field they already know as a way to practice entrepreneurship. What support structure can you use to start your career change journey?

Find supportive people

“It took a lot of self-reflection, but when I knew I was ready to make the career change, I found most value in speaking with other small business owners within the travel agency sphere. This allowed me to dig deeper into the challenges, opportunities, day-to-day responsibilities, and of course words of wisdom and advice. Collecting all this background information made me feel confident in my decision to make the career change and helped me build a network of support to guide me on this journey.” – Joyce Mariner

That Mariner surrounded herself with other business owners and particularly travel agency owners shows how changing your network can help change your career. Mariner points to the information and support benefits. I also find that career changers who immerse themselves in a new network of people already doing what they want to do get constant reinforcement that their new career goal is doable. How can you expand your relationships to support your career change?

Put in the work

“I spend six days a week in my business, usually up to nine hours a day. Each day, I am managing my back-office duties – doing commissions and bills and accounting, and I’m planning events and monthly team meetings. I’m training consultants, and then on top of that I’m recruiting new consultants. I enjoy being very hands-on and involved in constantly updating the whole team on any news and checking in on their progress with leads and new bookings. Being so engrained in the business and helping every consultant achieve their full-potential has significantly contributed to our Center’s ongoing success.” – Joyce Mariner

Every job, even the “fun” ones like travel agent, comes with grunt work. Getting involved in the nitty gritty is a good way to see if your hobby is indeed a viable business or better off as a hobby. How can you take on more in your target career?

Just do it

“The most important thing I’ve learned during my career in law enforcement is that life is too short – if you have a vision and see something you want, go for it . I always want to be remembered as the woman who never said, “would have, could have, should have.” Discover your passion, build your skills, find a support system, stay determined.” – Joyce Mariner

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Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Shawn Friesen of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

With 10 years under his belt as a Franchise Partner, Shawn Friesen wouldn’t trade a single minute

Expedia CruiseShipCenters multi-unit franchise owner, Shawn Friesen and his wife Tammy on holiday in Budapest.

From the day he got his first contract to sign, Shawn knew his life was going to change forever. Now with four locations, and over 100 Vacation Consultants, and plans to keep growing, he hasn’t once looked back.

What were you doing before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner?

Shawn: For 20 years I was a front-store manager with Shoppers Drug Mart. My store was a 24 hour store, 365 days a year, and after many years of chasing down shoplifters, or getting robbed, I decided I needed a change. I decided on the travel industry, as it’s very nice, and the clientele is wonderful to work with.

What lead you to consider franchise ownership? In particular, why a travel franchise?

Shawn: When I was looking to make a move, I bought the Canadian Franchise Association booklet. Inside there was a travel section, and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t that be cool, to run a travel agency!” Plus, building your travel clientele is just like building a prescription clientele as it is very relationship-based. Whether it’s prescriptions or travel, when you leave your customer feeling well taken care of they come back and buy from you again and again.

Having worked for Shoppers Drug Mart, which is the number one drug-retailer in Canada, I knew I wanted to join a best-of-class company, and Expedia CruiseShipCenters was exactly what I was looking for.

What lead to your decision to open multiple Expedia CruiseShipCenters locations?

Shawn: There are some similarities across the different towns in northern Ontario, and I noticed that it was very underdeveloped cruise-wise. After opening up Thunder Bay, I began looking at the Sudbury market as it was larger and made sense geographically to open a Center there. Plus I believe that size gives you more advantages. There are economies of scale in this business. Whether you are paying your accountant to take care of one center or four, it’s the same price. I am a sales-driven guy, and I believe that bigger is better.

Looking back, do you remember what the experience was like opening up your first center?

Shawn: Not coming from a travel background was a little bit intimidating. So I focused on following the system that Expedia CruiseShipCenters lays out for you, and I tried to figure out the best way to get the absolute most out of it.

Shawn Friesen and his team at the opening of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Sault Ste. Marie, ON.

Now comparing that experience with opening your fourth center, how is it different?

Shawn: By the fourth center, I had our systems and procedures down. I now have the knowledge of the suppliers, the destinations, and the cruise lines. We are getting better and better at starting up each new Center and can do a better job because we know what we are doing.

With Centers in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Woodstock, and Sault Ste. Marie, is there anything in particular about these communities that you identified as being ideal for your Expedia CruiseShipCenters locations?

Shawn: In the northern Ontario market, there’s only enough space for  four Centers – Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and North Bay. Those were basically the only choices that I had for northern Ontario. One thing about Northern Ontario, people vacation. Vacation is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and so people will always find a way to travel.

I purchased the Woodstock Center as a re-sale. I saw an opportunity to purchase an existing location that was struggling and then turn it around to make it profitable.

How do you find your customers?

Shawn: We do a number of things: Follow the system, send out flyers, build our 7SEAS Database, attend tradeshows, and host cruise nights, to name a few. But I think the most important and powerful way to find customers is by building your consultant team because they bring family, friends, and friends of friends, to your agency that doesn’t cost you anything. As our team grows, our client list grows because our consultants talk to people. Travel is one of those topics that is very easy to talk about, and because we are Canada’s largest cruise retailer, it’s easy to encourage others to come and talk to us before they book or go on a trip. It’s important for us to remember that we can’t just live off our past passengers, so our team is constantly growing our client base.

What do you do to drive repeat business and Customers For Life?

Shawn: What we’re really working on right now is never being more than 120 days without contact. Our clients may only travel once every 24 months, and they will make a buying decision once during that period. So if my consultants are not in constant contact during that time, they won’t be top of mind when their clients go to book their next trip. Setting up the next call date is probably the most important way for getting repeat business.

What has your experience been like recruiting and leading a team of Vacation Consultants?

Shawn: I love it. My team is so varied. We have part-timers, full-timers, brand new moms, retirees, and professionals. I even have a lawyer but she sells travel because she loves it and has a passion for travel. One of the biggest joys that I get is being able to let people be travel agents who would probably never get a chance to do it without joining my team.

Franchise owner, Shawn Friesen and his team on a familiarization trip.

We totaled it up, and my team have personally gone on over 1000 cruises. I really believe that we are the most knowledgeable travel team in northern Ontario and Woodstock. We have likely cruised on every cruise line, been on every ship, and been to almost every destination. They know what their clients are looking for, they want you to make their trip better. We know things you can’t get from Rick Steves, or Cruise Critic, just from having been there and having that first-hand knowledge.

How would you describe the culture at your Centers?

Shawn: My number one rule is that everybody has to play nice in the sandbox, and there is lots of sand for everybody. This has to be a fun place to work because we’re not selling Tupperware or funeral plots, we’re selling travel, which is fun! One of my consultants just booked a 26 passenger group on Disney for a grandfather who is gifting this trip to his family. It’s a $100,000 sale. That’s a fun sale because that client is going to create memories for the grandkids, and the kids, and they are going to have that for the rest of their lives.

Flexibility is also really important. Northern Ontario is big, and I have 25 consultants who do not live close to one of my Centers, so I have lots of remote consultants. With my local ones, some of them will work full time from the center, or part time, and some will only pop in to work on files or to meet with a client. Even though we’re spread out, we are still extremely supportive of one another, and have a private Facebook group where the consultants can post pictures, ask questions, share travel stories, and give recommendations to each other.

What do you believe sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors, including travel websites?

Shawn: First, there’s the Expedia name. They are the world’s largest travel company, and with that comes tools that nobody else can offer like our CRM system, CruiseDesk, and the groups program. Plus, with a franchise, you have a local owner, who is invested in the community, and who develops a team that brings real passion to the business. I like to think back to our first year in business. We had a client come in and inquire about booking a trip to Alaska. We walked them through all of the options. They went away, and after three days they came back and said, “We want to book with you. We talked to Sears. We talked to Marlin Travel. You were the only one who seemed excited about our trip.” That’s when I realized that if you have that passion, and excitement for your customers, price doesn’t matter. We have so many great things going for us, but I think the fact that we care about your trip and want to make it better is probably the biggest advantage.

How would you say that Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Shawn: There is nothing that I have needed or asked for, that headquarters has come back and said no to. For example, I have a lot of consultants, and I was struggling to find a way to collect all the information about them in one centralized location. So, I asked corporate for a consultant database, and about 9 months later there was a brand new tool! They are very responsive to good ideas, and they listen to their Franchise Partners.

What aspects of this business do you enjoy the most?

Shawn: I love working with my consultants, and I love my clients too. One of my favorite bookings of all time was a couple that came in with their two small kids. They had a dream of taking their family to Disney World. They didn’t have a lot of money, so we booked them the very cheapest package. They would come in once every two months or so, with $5 bills, and wrapped loonies. They were scraping dollar by dollar just to be able to go. They went and had amazing time, and were so thankful. It was a very low-price booking, but priceless to be able to help a family fulfill their dream.

Where do you see your business in 5 years, or possibly 10 years? And how do you see your lifestyle changing as a result of your business growth?

Shawn: In the next 5 years, I plan to acquire 3-4 more Centers. I feel like in the first 10 years of my business, I put in the time and work to build an amazing travel company, and now it’s time to build the support team, and size gives you the ability to do that. I would eventually bring on a general manager, who would watch over the company and a person to handle all of the marketing for each of the Centers. Plus, I would start to bring on program specialists, like a person who deals only in flights, or someone who specializes in groups or hosted cruises. Building up my support team would allow me to work on the entire company, while also not needing to work so hard.

What do you love about cruising? Any memorable trips you’ve taken?

Shawn and Tammy Friesen in Bora Bora.

Shawn: Cruising, to me, is a slice of heaven. I sleep so well at sea. I love how a ship is a floating resort that will take you to places that you would probably never get to by land. My favorite trips, well I’ve gone to Tahiti twice. Talk about heaven! It’s like the Caribbean, but not as crowded.

One of my funnest trips was on a cruise through the Mediterranean where I spent 4 nights in Israel. I got to go to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Galilee, all the places you learn about in Sunday school. St. Petersburg, Russia, was amazing, as I got to experience a radically different culture. And then there’s Venice! Everybody needs to sail into Venice once in their lifetime.

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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.

Transitioning From Travel Agent to Travel Agency Owner

How one veteran travel agent took her business to a new level by making the leap from agent to agency owner.


Tracey and her team of Vacation Consultants celebrate travel agent appreciation day with Carnival Cruise Line.

With over 24 years of experience in the travel industry and a willingness to learn something new every day, Tracey has a passion for people and a drive for results that allowed her to open three travel agency franchises in her first year. Tracey shares her experience transitioning from agent to owner and what it’s like when work doesn’t feel like work.

Here’s Tracey’s story:

What were you doing before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner?

CoddLorenz_Tracey-ClearwaterTracey: Prior to my entry into the travel business I was a school teacher where I taught kindergarten and tutored 8th grade algebra. Though I loved shaping young minds, the call to the travel industry was strong for me.

In late 1992 I took my very first cruise where I met the man who would turn out to be my first boss in the travel industry. He and his wife had a small travel agency in Englewood, FL and after a brief conversation, their passion for the industry was clear.  Although I didn’t admit it at first, I knew that I would go to work with them.  Everything fell into place and I joined their team in January 1993. It’s amazing to sit back and look at 24 years in the industry, where I’ve held many positions (each more challenging than the previous) and I still get up in the morning and want to go to work!  I’ve  I almost feel guilty when I go to work, because it doesn’t really feel like work to me!

What inspired you to make the transition from agent to owner, to franchise owner?

Tracey: In 2005 I decided to open my own independent cruise travel agency in Port Charlotte, FL after a large merger resulted in the closing of the agency in Englewood, FL where I had worked for 12 years. I phoned an old friend and industry veteran with my idea and within 3 months we were open and I was running my own location.

About 5 years after we opened, we connected with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and started to think about transitioning our independent agency over to an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise. At first I was reluctant having experienced a corporate merger however the challenges of recruitment and technology were heavy for us and were preventing us from growing the way we wanted to. We decided to take our list of challenges (that had grown to about 25 items in length) and fly to Vancouver to meet with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and see the potential of their answers to our challenges.

By the end of the meeting, I had gone from sitting back arms folded to leaning over the table. I was immediately in. It became almost instantly clear that Expedia CruiseShipCenters was the solution for not one or two, but every single one of our 25 challenges. We needed the support of the corporate office, access to the technology, and we saw the opportunity to leverage the Expedia brand.

Eventually the partnership with my old colleague dissolved and we went in different directions. I knew it was time to start off on my own. I found a retail space in Venice, FL and I converted it to my very own Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

Can you tell us about your experience building and leading your team of Vacation Consultants?

Tracey: I am always recruiting. My team says I have a “vibe” – I’m sizing up everyone I come in contact with. You could say that I live the brand and the business. Then there’s the recruitment marketing that Expedia CruiseShipCenters offers on my behalf that generates recruitment leads for me! Even my Consultants are out there promoting and recruiting for us, they believe in the brand and our team. Your vibe attracts your tribe right?

With each of my Consultants, I always start by asking them “what do you want to get from this business”? First we get clear on what their goals are. Then, I work with them to map out a plan to get them there in a realistic and manageable time frame. I’m very honest with them about what I think they need to do. Once they help me understand what their goals are, we make a plan of engagement and I tell them, “If you use and follow the system, you will be successful. In fact I guarantee it.” 
My team is a great mix of Consultants that have previous experience in the travel industry, and those who are brand new to it. Having both in the Center is fantastic because they each bring different things to the role, and they feed off of each other. We are a family.

How would you describe the culture at your Centers?

Tracey: Fun and rewarding. We love to celebrate everything, including every holiday and the Consultants love it! One morning after dropping my children off at school (it was pajama day) I arrive at the office to find the entire team dressed in pajamas. I loved it!  We recognize that we are together more than we are home at times, so working together to keep that vibe strong is important. We respect each other, and we loooove to have fun.

We love adding the extra to the ordinary; recognizing and rewarding. I believe the little things that are important to my Consultants are–and should be–important to me. In the same way that we build relationships with our customers, I continue to build and strengthen relationships with my Consultants. I do my best to help them remember what we’re here to do and to have fun. If we’re not having fun in this business, then something is wrong!

What do you believe sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from our competitors, including travel websites?

Tracey: Where do I begin? When you become a Franchise Owner, you are buying a system that works – I am living proof! You are backed by a powerful brand. Who hasn’t heard of Expedia? We have customers who come into a Centers simply because they’ve seen the sign outside and recognize the name. It’s also powerful in helping us build relationships with our suppliers as they see Expedia CruiseShipCenters and they know that the company has integrity and that we’re here to build relationships and do business.Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 3.15.44 PM

The CruiseDesk technology that comes with the system  is second to none. To have your CRM and booking engine all in one is just amazing. We have a strong relationship-building culture in our office, and the technology allows us to excel in a very organized fashion at that. Our Consultants are able to use their 7SEAS customer database, to support them in strengthening their consumer relationships with special personal touches. For example, we can send reminders to customer if their passports are expiring, or phone them to wish them a bon voyage or welcome home from their vacation. All the information to support that relationship is right there at the click of a mouse. CruiseDesk allows our Consultants to show their customers what it means to be a navigator of spectacular vacation experiences!

The Expedia CruiseShipCenters system is what’s going to support a brand new person as a Franchise Owner in this industry and help them be successful. With the support you get from the corporate team, you can truly work on the business and focus on growing your sales – and still have time to make your kids’ field trips or plays at school


Expedia CruiseShipCenters allows Tracey the flexibility to enjoy a successful business, and a great lifestyle.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Tracey: “With you every step of the way” is part of the Expedia CruiseShipCenters Promise, and it starts from the top with the Corporate Support Team. I honestly don’t know if  the Technical Support team members sleep, because they are amazing! One of them even returned my support call from the elliptical trainer at the gym – on a Saturday! This might not have been a big deal to them, but it meant so much to me.

How do you find your customers?

Tracey: As a company and a team, we strongly believe in relationship marketing. Our 7SEAS database grows daily either because someone walked into a Center, or they call in on the phone because they have received some of our direct marketing, or someone signs up online to receive information from us. When that happens, either myself or one of my Consultants picks up the phone and gives them a call. A simple “thanks for signing up” is an opportunity to tell them a bit more about us and to start building that relationship. Providing that personal touch really makes a difference. The customer wants to hear from you. They want to chat, hear about promotions, and have their questions answered by a real person.

Referrals, recommendations, participating in promotions – each aspect of the Expedia CruiseShipCenters brand and system attracts new customers. From there, the ongoing marketing and CRM technology supports our Consultants in keeping those Customers For Life.

What do you do to drive repeat business?

Tracey: As a team, we constantly reflect on everything we do and what we could have potentially done better. We like to ask our Vacation Consultants, “what can we do today to make our customers know that we love them?”, and they come up with some amazing feedback! One of the things I love most about this business is that I am always learning from our customers, Consultants and fellow Franchise Partners. In fact, I was at an Expedia event the other day, and another Franchise Partner shared that when he has a customer who sets sail for 21 or more days, he sends them a personal, home cooked meal when they return from their trip. What a great personal touch!

What lead to your decision to open multiple Expedia CruiseShipCenters locations?

Tracey: It wasn’t a difficult decision for me and I’m not done expanding. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters system allows you to easily manage multiple locations remotely, so spreading our passion throughout multiple locations is fun!

We opened our second Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in Punta Gorda, FL, which has been my hometown since 1979 and more recently announced our official third location to open soon in the Villages, FL.  The community and demographics of The Villages area are amazing. There is plenty of business up there for multiple travel agencies.

What would you say makes a community an ideal fit for an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise?

Tracey: I’d have to answer that by saying “If you build it they will come”. I love unique locations, where there’s plenty of character, or it has something scenic about it. I believe that once you build your database of prospects and customers, it doesn’t matter where your location is. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters brand attracts customers of all ages – from a retirement community, to a large city, or even a rural area with a storefront that has decent walk-by traffic – these are all great options. As long as you’re participating in the national promotions offered by corporate and the systems that Expedia CruiseShipCenters offers, you’re marketing to your people, and they know where you are.

We had an event in January, and we had over 1,000 people attend that day. Considering this is our first year, and our Center in Punta Gorda, FL, had just opened, that kind of turnout and our cruise bookings that followed, were amazing! Our customers come to us – they make it like a field trip for themselves

What do you love about cruising? Any memorable trips you’ve taken?

Tracey: I love cruising and believe it is the absolute best way to vacation – multiple destinations, no packing and unpacking, being pampered, and doing everything or nothing at all! Honestly, what more could you ask for?

cruisers are among the highest users of travel professionals with 82% of them saying they tend to book through an agent according to CLIA’s 2017 Cruise Travel Report

I’d have to say one of the most memorable cruises was with my family, shortly before my mother passed away. To have family from across the country come together and make happy memories prior to such a loss gave us all strength to face what was to come.

Then there was the first time I took my three adopted children on a cruise. WOW! Talk about getting a whole different view of cruising. Who knew you could sail on the exact same ship two separate times, and have completely different, fantastic experiences? We focus a lot on family travel at our locations, because no matter where in the world that you are traveling to, it’s always better with friends and family.

Where do you see your business in 5 to 10 years?

Tracey: My goal has always been to have 5 centers. I love this industry and I would love to find key personnel who are as passionate about this business as I am. I would love to place them at 4 of my Centers where they can love it like it’s their own and let it be their own. Then I can work with them and develop them into leaders.

I do not see myself retiring, but “rewiring” and doing something different. What do you do when you retire? You travel and spend time with family… but I do that now!

Learn more about starting your own travel agency franchise

Expedia CruiseShipCenters is a retail travel agency franchise backed by the largest travel brand in the world with more than 230 retail locations open or under development across North America. As the cruise industry grows larger each year, customers are seeking the expert advice of a travel agent who can create customized travel plans and provide personal service.

Whether you’re an industry veteran like Tracey, or brand new to travel, we can help you leverage our proven system to build a successful business doing something you love. If you’re ready to learn more, we invite you to continue exploring the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity by downloading our Free Franchise Report by completing the form below.

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

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Shingle Creek franchise owner, Michael Decker.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Shingle Creek franchise owner, Michael Decker.

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.

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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.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Carole Peterson and Gina Holvick of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Longtime owners of two successful Vancouver locations share their insights

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Travel Franchise Review

Expedia CruiseShipCenters multi-unit franchisees and longtime friends Gina Holvick and Carole Peterson

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!
RCI_Navigator_ExteriorLand_2 Travel Franchise Review

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.

Learn more

Are you ready to begin the Expedia franchise discovery process? To continue exploring the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Larry Mahan of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Former IT entrepreneur shares insights on joining the booming travel industry

Delaware Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee Larry Mahan and his team, including his wife and business partner, Lois.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Delaware Franchise Partner, Larry Mahan and his team, including his wife and business partner, Lois.

Experienced entrepreneur Larry Mahan wanted a career change and found the perfect fit in the travel industry with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. He and his wife are in their third year of ownership of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Bear, Delaware.

This is Larry’s story:

How did you hear about Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Larry: I launched a couple of businesses in the 10 years prior to getting involved with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. I was looking for a new opportunity, and my wife and I went to a travel franchise expo in summer 2013 in New York. I was standing in the aisle, and Franchise Development Manager Jeff Warkentin tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Have you ever thought about opening a retail travel agency?” I said, “Doesn’t everyone do that all online?” I gravitated toward the business opportunity and was excited about it.

Why were you excited about joining the Expedia CruiseShipCenters family of franchises?

Larry: One, it’s just a great product. Almost everyone loves cruising, and if they don’t love cruising, they have a passion for travel. Most people work 50 weeks a year so they can have a great vacation. It’s a happy conversation that adds quality to their lives.

I was intrigued by the fact that Expedia, which everyone knows as an online travel agent and technology company, was serious about putting brick-and-mortar neighborhood travel agencies back into business in a big way. Expedia knows the travel industry, and it meant a lot that they saw this as a concept the market needed.

Then there was the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new franchise backed by a company with nearly 30 years of proven success.

Tell us about your career before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?

Larry: I have a master’s degree from Princeton University in computer engineering. I worked in R&D with computers and software for a few big companies, and then in 1998 I left with a couple partners to start up an IT company. I sold the second company in 2012 and stayed on to help with international business development. I loved traveling, and pretty much every place I visited I thought, “Wow, I’ve got to get back here for vacation.” Once I sold that business I was looking for something new. I’d started a few businesses from scratch, and I wanted to do something different. The franchise concept made sense; you can launch a business without a steep learning curve.

What was appealing to you about opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Larry: There were a lot of things at the emotional level that I really liked about the opportunity, but at the end of the day I am an engineer. I ran the numbers, and it looked like a solid business model.

Why did you feel your location would be ideal for an Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Larry: We are just south of Newark, Delaware, which is home to the University of Delaware, in a relatively large population area. We are in the northern part of the state, just 10 miles from Wilmington and 35 miles south of Philadelphia.

I think any area is a good area for this business, so long as there is enough population. Expedia has a lot of understanding of what types of demographics and populations are sufficient to support the business. I really didn’t want to move. I live here and have roots in the community going back 30 years. All that is positive when you are starting a retail business.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors in the travel planning industry?

Larry: Firstly, I don’t know of any other company that is establishing retail travel agencies. There are probably a dozen or more franchise operations, but none are opening retail centers as part of their business model. I like what this says about Expedia’s commitment to having a physical presence in the community. We’re not going to be here today and gone tomorrow.

Secondly, the Expedia brand name sets us apart. There is no other travel brand that I would have spent money on, because no other travel brands have the consumer value or brand power that Expedia has. That is a huge differentiator.

We also have the best technology tools and systems. Expedia’s technology is completely superior to anything I saw while I was doing my due diligence. I looked at other travel opportunities, but they didn’t have the brand name, the physical presence or the crispness of the marketing Expedia offers.

How does technology set Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

Larry: The back-end technology makes us more efficient and effective, benefitting our customer, but it’s not in the foreground like on Our business is a people business, and it’s about relationships. The technology is all for naught if the travel agent doesn’t do the people part and create relationships. We have so many fantastic tools for franchisees, such as our Customer Relationship System.

How do you market your business?

Larry: We do a lot of direct mail, such as postcards and coupon books, as well as a lot of neighborhood customer promotions. We are very active in community events. If there is a festival, a bridal show or a home and garden show, we’re there. People see us, and it’s their opportunity to have a conversation with us — we do a lot of that personal networking. We do email blasts, web banners and popup advertising and some newspaper advertising. We try to hit everything that is affordable and makes sense to ensure people know who we are, what we are and where we are.

Do you get a lot of customer referrals? What about repeat customers?

Larry: That’s the way this business grows, organically. We’re still fairly new, but we are seeing last year’s customers come back – and they bring their family and friends.

What is your customer demographic like?

Larry: Our customer demographics essentially mirror the general industry demographics. It used to be mostly about boomers and empty nesters and retirees, but we are really starting to see a shift as millennials become a major force in the marketplace. People are starting to cruise with families, and multigenerational cruising is increasing in popularity – especially as our suppliers make cruising such a great experience for parents and kids. Our demographic is kind of across the board, from ages 35 to 80, and we are located in a family neighborhood environment – so we see everything from young families on up to the boomers and retirees.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

Larry: I enjoy getting to travel more. It’s fun. I also get to meet a lot of new people and make a lot of new friends within Expedia CruiseShipCenters. The Franchise Partner network is very close; we talk to each other by email or Facebook or phone or in person weekly.

How often do you get out for a cruise?

Larry: We cruise about three times a year. A few places were new to me, such as Alaska. I’m kind of a beach-and-island guy, so Alaska wasn’t on the top of my list – but after my first trip to Alaska, I totally get it. It’s so beautiful and so different. I also got a chance to cruise off the West Coast down to some of the Mexican locations, such as Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Larry: I can’t imagine getting better support. It’s support that is there when you need it, but when you don’t need it they aren’t taking up any of your time. I’ve been very happy with it. Because of my background in owning businesses with other partners, I felt like when you go into a franchise, the franchisor is your partner, and it’s important to feel that chemistry. When I was doing my research, I asked myself, “Are these the kind of people I can see myself working with?” I certainly felt that they were when I went to Discovery Day in Vancouver. The technology is great. The marketing is great. And then of course Expedia CruiseShipCenters fosters and maintains very strong industry relations with our suppliers, which really works to our benefit.

Our mantra is that we’re Stronger.Together and it is evident that it’s a great partnership. The corporate folks supply everything that we need at the local level to run the travel businesses, and they rely on us to do a great job of running the travel business locally – that way we all continue to do well.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Delaware franchise team members.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Delaware attends a team meeting held at the Center.

Do you speak regularly with other franchisees?

Larry: We have two franchisee meetings a year, which are required for franchisees to attend. One is a cruise. The highlight of the cruise is the chance to talk in-depth and network with other franchisees and learn about their experiences and how they handle things. We also have Facebook channels and an online community where we can post questions.

What kind of people are you looking for as consultants?

Larry: We look for people who are experienced cruisers and love to travel. We are consultants. If you don’t have travel experience, it’s really hard to quickly get enough of that to be of value to our clients. Secondly, a passion and excitement for travel is so important to being a good travel consultant. That’s first of all what I’m looking for; I’ve found that most good travel agents are people who like to help people. Then because of their being independent consultants, they need initiative, a reason to want to do this and problem-solving skills. We have tons of opportunities and travel options, but sometimes it’s not possible to give customers exactly what they want, due to time or budget constraints. Then it comes down to options, and having a problem-solver mentality is beneficial.

What are some of your favorite customer success stories?

Larry: What mostly sticks out are the people who come in and ask, “Can you meet this price?” I love our ability to surprise them by helping them get a better price — or giving them an even better experience and deal. It’s great seeing the lightbulbs go on as customers realize they should be using a travel agency. Being able to delight people with that kind of service is what I like to see.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Joyce and Gary Mariner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Owners of New York travel franchise share their insights

Expedia CruiseShipCenter Franchisees Gary and Joyce Mariner are both retired from the New York City Police Department.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchisees Gary and Joyce Mariner are both retired from the New York City Police Department.

When Joyce and Gary Mariner retired after more than two decades of serving the New York City Police Department, they soon realized that retirement wasn’t for them. Throughout their years working for the NYPD, Joyce as a detective in various units and Gary as part of the prestigious mounted horseback unit, they spent their vacation time traveling and planning more travel excursions. Cruising, in particular, kept them grounded, and they have shared more than 40 cruises together. As they researched potential businesses to invest in, they looked to their shared love for travel as the basis for a brand new career. They soon opened the first Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in New York State, and they recently threw a celebration for clients, suppliers and consultants to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their Long Island Center.

This is Joyce and Gary’s story:

Tell us about your career before becoming Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisees?

Joyce: Both of us were New York City police officers. I served 25 years, and over the course of my career I worked in investigative units such as narcotics and robbery, as well as detective squad. I earned the rank of detective first grade, which is the top rank for a detective in New York City. During my last six years I was in the homicide bureau covering the Brooklyn area.

Gary: I retired after 26 years of serving with the mounted unit of the police department, which conducts patrols strictly on horseback. It’s one of the most prestigious units in the police department. I like to tell people that I got paid every day to ride a horse.

What appealed to you about opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location?

Joyce: People say it sounded so different from our previous careers, but it’s still a service-oriented field. We could have retired after 20 years of working with the police department, but we stayed on. Part of the reason we did was because it allowed us to afford to take our vacations, which we love to do! We took two cruises a year during our time with the police department. That kept us grounded and helped us stay sane. When we got back from vacation, we went right back to work. It’s important for people with stressful jobs to get back into the game by taking a vacation.

When I retired, I looked into several things. I tried being a housewife for a couple of months, but that didn’t work out. Being a travel agent was attractive to me because I love to travel, and we’ve all heard the advice that says to do something you love to do. The opportunity with Expedia CruiseShipCenters came up, and I felt that it was right for me at the time. Gary and I were fortunate enough to retire early with the police force and start another entirely new career.

You were both already fans of taking cruises. Tell us a little about that. :

Joyce: Before I started with Expedia CruiseShipCenters we were almost to the 40-cruise mark. That was our passion — cruising.

Gary: We’ve been on land tours to locations such as China, Russia and even Tahiti, but taking cruises is really our passion.

Where is your Expedia CruiseShipCenters located, and why did you feel it would be a good location?

Joyce: We are in the suburbs in Nassau County in Long Island, New York, which is approximately 30 miles from the city. Our location is just two blocks from the Long Island Railroad, which is the commuter train into Midtown Manhattan. We are right in the town of Merrick on the main street, and we are surrounded by local retailers and restaurants — plus we have a big chain supermarket and big chain drugstore right up the street.

Gary: We are definitely centrally located in town in a good, high-traffic area.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

Joyce: Expedia is a brand name that is well known. If we had opened a travel agency with just our last name, although Mariner is a great last name for a travel agency, it’s just not well known — so it’s not as effective. With Expedia, everybody knows the brand. Then to be the first location in New York and all of New York State was a plus.

Gary: The low-risk investment aspect compared to other franchises that we looked at was also appealing. Opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters was more affordable for us.

How do you market your business?

Joyce: We send out brochures to Merrick residents using a direct-mailing service. The brochures coincide with Expedia CruiseShipCenters promotions six to seven times a year. We also rely on social media, and I place ads in our local newspapers.

Once or twice a month we hold informative “cruise nights” at our location. I bring in suppliers from cruise tours and land tours, and they come in to talk with the community. I send email blasts to invite residents to listen and learn. I serve refreshments, and sometimes we have small giveaways at these free events.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Merrick, NY celebrates the Grand Opening of their new travel agency franchise.

What was the reaction from the community when you opened?

Joyce: It was very positive. We have built such a good clientele so far, and as the months and years go by I’m just looking forward to building these relationships. The clients that we have built already from this community are like family. We sell cruises and vacations to residents who come in afterward, and they are so happy to see us. They are also happy to sit down and talk to somebody instead of researching their trip online or on the phone.

What do you look for in a consultant?

Joyce: I want a consultant who is as passionate as I am about travel. Not to say that they travel a lot, but they should be interested in it and have a following or friends and family who love to travel. Bringing those consultants in with their circle of influence helps our business grow. We have 23 Vacation Consultants onboard, and about half of them work from home.

Do you get a lot of referrals?

Joyce: We do have a lot of customer referrals. In fact we recently sold a 10-day Italy highlights trip for four women who were referred to us by another woman who walked in off the street a couple of months ago to buy a hotel and airfare package to Hong Kong. That was a nice referral.

What is your customer demographic like?

Joyce: It varies so much. We have a lot of civil service employees, such as teachers and doctors. They range from young families in this neighborhood to the baby boomers ready to retire. Then we have active seniors who love to travel.

What is rewarding about your business?

Joyce: There is always something to learn about travel. It’s changing every day, and you have to stay on top of it. To be in the business you really have to know what is going on. That is what your customers want; otherwise, they could just go online and do it themselves. I like watching our relationships grow among me, my consultants and our customers. We enjoy it, especially after we plan their trips and they come in and tell us what a great time they had. That is the best satisfaction. Plus, that brings referrals.

You’ve been on almost 40 cruises? Can you still travel with the business?

Joyce: You know what? You have to. We still take that one cruise or other vacation just for us. There is a national conference with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and that’s a cruise. We call it a work cruise, but it’s still a cruise.

In addition to cruises, do you sell land tours?

Joyce: We are a full-service travel agency, so yes. Seventy-seven percent of our business now is cruises, and then land tours would be next — followed by air, then short excursions and car rentals.

How does the main office support you?

Joyce: In the police department we used to say that the Patrol Services Bureau, the guys in the radio cars, were the backbone of the police department. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters is the backbone of our franchisees. They’ve always been responsive to my questions or problems, and if they couldn’t help then they would find the right person who could.

We have two conferences a year with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, which we look forward to. Going to these conferences brings me back to reality and reminds me why we joined and why we bought this business. The camaraderie within Expedia CruiseShipCenters is fantastic. At first I thought it was just for us in New York and our brothers and sisters in blue, but I can see it all throughout this organization.

Do you talk to other franchisees?

Joyce: My counterpart in Staten Island and I do talk if we have ideas or thoughts, or if we run into a problem. Then during our two conferences we get to meet and interact and mingle with franchisees who have been in business for over 20 years or the new ones who are just coming in. There is always a lot of feedback, and every franchisee has opened their arms and told me to call them any time I need help.

What is a typical day as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?

Joyce: I spend six days a week in my business, usually up to nine hours a day. And each day I am managing my back-office duties — doing commissions and bills and accounting, and I’m planning events and my monthly team meeting. I’m training consultants, and then on top of that I’m recruiting new consultants.

It’s a busy day. Some days I come in at 10:30 a.m. and I look up and it’s already 7 o’clock. So I have a full six days. I think it’s so important to be available to clients. If clients want to come to the Center, you need to be open and be there.

Do you have a favorite customer success story?

Joyce: We had an elderly man come in who wanted to go on a cruise leaving from Florida. He was going to drive down, and he wanted hotels in certain spots. Our Vacation Consultant worked with him for a couple of days. She found him the right cruise, and she also found four hotels on I-95 going down and coming back for him. She made a map and plotted it all out for him. And then when he came back from his cruise he stopped by to say hello and brought his dog. He was so impressed with her, and he asked her to plan his next cruise.

Tell me a little bit about training that franchisees receive when they come onboard.

Joyce: As a new franchisee, there is initial training online with the Expedia CruiseShipsCenter learning center through our CruiseDesk. There are a lot of courses that help. Right before opening, we spent the week at headquarters for cruise management training. That was fantastic. And there is constant training. There are webinars to keep us up to date on new promotions, how to plan our team meetings — anything that could help a franchisee in their business is provided by corporate. Knowledge is power, and it’s easier to sell the product if you know the product.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Chris Meyer of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Owner of fast-growing travel franchise shares his insights, lessons

When Chris Meyer of Orange County, California, decided to leave the newspaper industry after 30 years as a professional journalist, he began looking for an opportunity that would improve the quality of his life. He found it as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner in Orange County. Meyer’s location broke sales records during his first three years in business. This is his story.


Susan and Chris Meyer sailed out of New York City on the Norwegian Breakaway for Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ annual conference.

What did you do before you became an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner?

I started in journalism when I was in junior high school by creating a sports page for our teams.  I continued newspaper work in high school and college and then spent 30 years as a professional. I was running the Orange County Register’s local news and business news coverage until I left in 2011. At one point, I was interested in moving into upper management, so I returned to college to earn an MBA. While I was in that program, the bottom really fell out of the newspaper industry. When I came up for air at the end of the program, I figured that rather than manage the long decline of a newspaper, I should do something else. I saw a targeted ad on my LinkedIn profile and started investigating.

I had not been planning to become an entrepreneur, but I was impressed by the business plan — the idea of a big digital company also doing brick-and-mortar locations to appeal to every segment of the market.  I thought it was very forward-looking compared to what was happening in the newspaper industry.

What was the process like, learning about the company?

There were many web pages, webinars and learning modules. I could see how the company was structured. I placed many phone calls to the folks at corporate, as well as to franchise owners.

What made you want to open an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location?

I had covered business in my area for a long time, so I knew about Orange County’s economy. I also knew who in the county would be likely travelers. I knew the location I wanted was near a huge senior citizen community. I crunched numbers to figure out how many vacations I would need to sell each year to survive and how many I would need to sell to do really well. The numbers didn’t seem unfathomable, and I decided to roll the dice. I’m a risk-averse person, but I was again facing the task of laying off several members of my staff.

What was your startup like?

We opened at the beginning of 2012. We’ve done well — significantly better than the average. I had looked at the averages and decided that I wouldn’t be happy with that. I started talking to people about what I would need to do to beat the average significantly, and I convinced myself that it was possible. In the first four years, we have significantly exceeded the averages.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

I think the Expedia name is huge. It is a household name that has instant familiarity and instant credibility. The headquarters team is focused on continuous improvement. Most of our competitors don’t have a big brand for people to connect with. Some of our competitors are affiliated with American Express, and we all remember travelers’ checks. But that seems a little yesteryear. Expedia is now. Our folks are committed to technology. It is at our core, and that gives us a competitive edge. Our online software, CruiseDesk, has a very good CRM that saves administrative steps and enables us to be more efficient.

What have you done to get off to such a strong start?

Like anything else, there are multiple pieces to success. People are always important in any business, so attracting, motivating, and retaining the right Vacation Consultants is critical. Having the right macro-location and micro-location is important. We are next to a Trader Joe’s and a senior citizen community of 18,000 people — a community of people with the time and money to travel. Then, it is mostly training and motivating my people.

How do you win over customers?

Expedia does a lot of web marketing that includes contests to win a free trip and encourages people sign up to receive our free e-newsletters. These develop customers. We also reach out into the community to make sure people know about us. I encourage consultants to develop simple business plans.

You get best of both worlds with the power of brand to attract customers and the buying power of the brand to put together great travel packages. And since we work with all the major cruise lines and land-based travel companies, we are able to help customers get the vacation they want at the price they can afford.

We’re a like a travel version of the Apple store. When you go in, you already know that you want a computer, but you don’t know how much RAM you need, or how big your screen should be. It’s a big purchase, so you want to be able to ask an expert three or four questions. Similarly, many people know the type of vacation they want to take, in general terms, and come in to talk about exactly what is available. Customers may learn about a trip offered by one cruise line, and we help them understand the options available from competitors.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

I enjoy talking about travel. I enjoy it when customers return from their vacation grinning, telling stories and hugging their travel agent. And we all get to go on vacations from time to time.

How often do you get out for a cruise?

I travel three to four times a year. It’s not always cruises. Cruises account for about 60 percent of our sales. We also book many land packages to Hawaii and land tours in Europe. I try to travel strategically to visit new places and experience new cruise lines, tour companies and vacation styles. Each trip gives me new insights to share with consultants and clients. I was not a cruise enthusiast when I started with Expedia. I had been on a couple of cruises, but I also had backpacked Hawaii and driven through Europe. I have now cruised on a variety of ships from the South Pacific to Alaska to the Mediterranean. I love variety!

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Their mantra is that the franchisees are their customers. My mantra is that the Vacation Consultants are my customers, and the travelers are the consultants’ customers. I’m focused on helping others succeed, which helps me. Expedia has the same attitude. They provide systems and support that give me the ability to be more successful.

Do you talk with other franchisees?

I communicate with a core group of colleagues regularly. Some are veterans, others a few years ahead of me and others joined at the same time as me. We share good ideas and troubleshoot problems as we all try to grow our businesses. I catch up with a wider group at our two annual conferences.

What does a typical day look like in the business?

It’s essentially a management job. I focus on working with consultants, working with our travel partners and working on marketing. A big role is business development.

What kind of people do you hire as consultants?

Our Vacation Consultants are independent contractors. Some are committed to it as a full-time job and want to travel to the ends of the earth. Others are hobbyists — they get their aunt and uncle on a cruise. My goal is to invest in the hard chargers and not let the hobbyists take up too much of my time.

What sort of training do you get?

I have received lots of sales training. When you are searching for a storefront for your business and going through the process of negotiating a lease, you have time to take advantage of a lot of training.

Has the business met your goals so far?

My goals were pretty lofty. I always like to stretch myself, and I am pretty satisfied with where we are going.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I like the outdoors. I like to work out. I like to have experiences. I do lots of things. I  enjoy time with my grandkids.

What are some of your favorite customer stories?

A customer agonized for a long time about the cost of the Alaska cruise she was taking with her sister. The cruise offered a wide range of excursions and wide range of prices. For example, on the low end for the Alaskan cruise, you can go to a U.S. Forest Service center and look at a glacier. On the high end, you can take a helicopter to the top of the glacier and walk on it. This woman came in multiple times,  discussing whether to go big or go small. She finally decided to go big, because “I’ll probably never get back to Alaska.” After the trip, she brought in a photo with her sister on top of the glacier. She told me that going big was the best decision she made.

Another time, a woman in her late 20s came in to plan her honeymoon. She previously had horrible experiences with a travel agency near her home; she couldn’t get her questions answered. She Googled us after deciding to give the travel agent experience one more shot and wound up booking her honeymoon with us. She wanted to go around the island of Britain with her fiancé to see the big scotch distilleries. Very few people want to do this, and very few brides on their honeymoons want to do this, but one of our consultants designed a custom trip complete with car rentals and tours of distilleries. This woman wrote a very complimentary Yelp review about how this trip worked out perfectly, and how she never would have been able to plan it out on her own.

Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise?

For a person who finds travel interesting, it’s a  relatively low investment, which is attractive. You need to be willing to follow the system while integrating your own special qualities into it.  You need to work hard with a must-win attitude.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise President Matthew Eichhorst on Why They’re Expanding

How the President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters is ushering in a new era of expansion for the travel franchise


Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise.

The Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® travel franchise is one of the largest sellers of cruises in North America. Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, is leading our rapid expansion as we continue to increase our foothold across the country.

After high-profile positions in global companies such as General Electric, Matthew has been with Expedia CruiseShipCenters for more than a decade. As President of the travel franchise, Matthew is shepherding the company from being the prominent travel franchise in Canada to becoming the prominent travel franchise in North America. With more than 200 locations open or under development, Matthew’s vision is rapidly becoming reality.

This is Matthew’s story:

Describe your background and how you came to be President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

I’ve always considered myself an entrepreneur. I started my first business when I was 14; it was a pool service business. By the time I graduated high school, I was installing pools. That is how I paid for college, where I got my degree in business and computer science.

I saw technology as a way to really improve customer service. I opened a tech company while I was in college, and we sold and helped companies integrate Lotus Notes. We ended up having 85% market share in British Columbia, and I ended up selling that company to General Electric. I stayed as an executive with General Electric for three and half years, until I decided that I wanted to do turnaround work.

General Electric was great corporate training — it gave me a lot of structure. I joined a wireless technology company during the dot-com era, and CruiseShipCenters (this was before Expedia invested in the brand) was a customer of ours. I saw that CruiseShipCenters had a lot of untapped opportunity, so I decided to join the company. Soon after, we negotiated a deal with Expedia, and we’ve been growing ever since. I have been here since 2003.

How have you been able to grow a retail travel agency in the internet age?

One of the things the internet did was give us amazing access to information. People feel like it’s easy to become experts on any subject because we can find things online. But it turns out, when it comes to booking travel, the internet has become one of the most overwhelming experiences you can have. There is such a thing as too much information.

People want someone to help with their decisions in booking their vacations, especially with cruises, where you’re not just going to one destination — you are stopping at multiple ports and have the potential for a lot of different adventures on a single trip. According to Cruise Lines International Association, 70% of cruises are booked through travel agents, and it is the complexity of the product that creates a demand for our services. For instance, with Royal Caribbean, the difference between the oldest ship and the newest ship is so different that it can be like cruising with two different companies. There are a lot of cruise lines, hundreds of ships, thousands of staterooms and an endless combination of potential itineraries. People want to know where they are going, what they are getting and how the experience will meet their expectations.

What happened to independent travel agencies is that they couldn’t stay relevant. If you did not have a big brand, you had a hard time competing in a world of online travel. People associate big brands with great pricing and service. That’s why Expedia CruiseShipCenters has a great advantage. We have an incredible brand name, as well as the personal service component, which is what people want when booking a cruise. They want Sally to be their travel agent and to be able to get Sally’s expert advice and assistance, but they also want to know the company behind Sally is very trustworthy. Expedia is one of the biggest travel brands in the world and has great leverage and supply chains, which creates huge advantages for our franchise owners.


Expedia CruiseShipCenters launched in 1987 and is one of the largest sellers of cruises in North America. With more than 200 locations open or in development, the travel franchise is expanding across the United States.

What is the difference between using Expedia CruiseShipCenters and booking a vacation online?

When you’re booking a cruise vacation online, you don’t get the expertise we have to determine whether what you’re getting is the ideal trip for you. Someone may want to go on a cruise, but they don’t want big buffet lines. Maybe they want something more quiet and intimate. It can be easy to miss that distinction when booking a trip online, but it can have a huge impact on how much you enjoy your trip. Are you the type of person who likes to stay at a Best Western or at the Four Seasons? We can ask our customers: “What are you looking for? What do you want to do when you are on vacation?” We can dial into their personality and their expectations to make better recommendations and get our customers on the right cruise for them. The difference between Expedia CruiseShipCenters and a website is that instead of simply selling a cruise, we’re navigating a spectacular vacation experience.

Why is now a great time to get involved with the cruise industry?

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, cruising started to become popular in a really big way. A lot of the cruisers back then were retirees, but they would sometimes bring their children or grandchildren along. Those younger generations grew up loving cruising, and as they have all become adults, cruises have become much more common as multigenerational family vacations. Cruise lines are innovating their ships, and the product has changed to appeal to a broader range of people, and the industry is actively going after that younger market. Baby Boomers have enough population for the industry to continue to do well, but having the additional draw from younger cruisers is amazing. Research shows that the Millennial bubble will affect the cruise industry in a positive way in the coming years.


What is attracting younger franchisees to Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

I find that a young person who is entrepreneurial doesn’t just want to make money, they want to be in control of their own destiny. Someone who wants to own their own business is motivated by freedom at least as much as by financial gain. We provide a platform they can use to build a very strong business capable of accomplishing both goals.

Explain the benefit of the Expedia brand name.

There are two huge things — the name recognition and the business model. You don’t have to explain who you are when Expedia is part of your name — our brand gives our travel franchise owners instant credibility. Also, Expedia has about 230,000 hotels in their inventory and access to a ton of non-cruise products that travelers are looking for like flights, car rentals, vacation packages and more. We bolt that supply and data into a traditional travel agency franchise, and it provides a huge advantage in their local community. They’re able to provide the personal service along with Expedia prices.

What makes your business model special?

One of the reasons Expedia invested in us is because of the strength of our business model.

We are a large organization, but all of our stores are franchises who support teams of agents — Vacation Consultants — doing business as independent contractors. Our model is special because it’s so scalable. Franchisees don’t have the overhead of paid employees because consultants are paid only by commission for what they sell. There’s no limit on team size, so franchise partners can build a substantial business through a single location.

Our marketing and sales programs are also our key pillars. All of our marketing materials go out through our travel franchise owners, but they’re developed by our corporate team and are of a higher quality that an individual agent could achieve on their own. They’re very sophisticated and have a direct impact on driving sales back to their businesses. We spend a lot of money on technology every year, with our CruiseDesk® CRM platform. Year after year we are told we have the best technology in the business — whether it is the technology our agents use in searching and booking cruises, or the business analysis and team leadership dashboards our franchise owners use to continuously boost their profitability. We also have a sales program we call The Navigators Approach — it’s a process to help agents explore what customers want and then move them through the stages of designing and purchasing a spectacular vacation, which earns franchisees a higher-than-normal repeat customer rate.

Why does Expedia CruiseShipCenters stress having a retail location?

People may say, “I don’t go to travel agents to buy cruises anymore,” but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, according to Cruise Lines International Association, 70% of people prefer to book their cruise vacations with a travel agent. Having a retail stores is essential to our model because they serve as a landing pad for the franchise owner’s team. When we look for Vacation Consultants, we look for people who want to be agents — people who want to be part of a bigger brand and have a place to go when they need help. Our customers do not always go into the store to buy their cruise, but they want to know you are in the community. It’s about establishing trust and credibility. Our customers want the ability to call a local number and speak to an agent who lives in their community.

What is your vision for Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Our vision is to be the largest cruise retail network in North America that is the trusted brand for cruisers in their communities. I want our customers to say, “I know Expedia is online, but I want to talk to somebody that I can trust, and there is an Expedia CruiseShipCenters right on Main Street.” The credibility of being in the community has been even more beneficial than we thought. The walk-in traffic a good location can generate is key for both consumer sales and also recruiting of agents.

Who makes a good franchise partner?

Our franchisees range from stay-at-home moms to former teachers to ex-corporate managers to retired military. The behavioral trait that our partners must have is a genuine love for people. We look for people who like coaching a winning team more than being the best player on the field. We’re not looking for franchisees who want to sell travel themselves. Our best franchise partners really try to make their Vacation Consultants as successful as possible; they have nurturing personalities. People who are committed to a high level of customer service and support their team members do very, very well. They are passionate. They like people. We obviously want people who are travelers and get excited about destinations, too!

Our model is not for an entrepreneur who wants to be an absentee owner. That being said, it is common to have at least two locations. In fact, 40% of our franchise partners own multiple stores. Our largest travel franchise owner has five stores. Another couple owns four stores, and in order to further expand and continue supporting their agents, they will need to empower a Cruise Sales Manager and a trainer. Those who can do that can do really, really well.

How do you set earning expectations for your franchise partners?

In the first year or two we focus a lot on top-line revenue. Right now 65% of sales volume comes from cruises, and 23% of sales volume comes from booking hotels for a customer who needs help with the land aspect of their trip.

We help our franchise owners build their store sales, and once they hit enough volume we start working on improving their profitability. Of course, some owners are more successful than others, so the numbers can fluctuate. The Item 19 in our Franchise Disclosure Document provides a good overview of potential earnings for a franchise partner.


Where is the industry headed? How will you grow with it?

The future of cruising is very bright. There is a growing audience that wants to buy cruises with nearly a quarter of all cruisers falling in the 30-39 age group. The cruise lines are investing billions with 57 new ocean cruise ships coming out over the next seven years, so there is more product for us to sell. The product itself is being enhanced, too, which improves yield. A $1,000 cruise in five years may be worth $1,500, so that raises the amount of the commission going to our franchise partners and consultants. Our internal goal is to grow at a rate that is triple the growth rate of the industry. We have been able to do that every year for more than two decades — when the industry grows by 7%, we grow by 21%.

In the year 2020, I see 500 Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise locations in North America, with 300 stores in the United States — which is really exciting. At our National Conference last month, our theme was “20/20 Vision: Bigger, Better, Stronger, Together.” We’re growing quickly, but we never stop thinking about improving current systems to help existing stores be more profitable, too. After all, we’re not successful unless they’re successful.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.