Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Erica Tulloch of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Passion, customer service, and drive are the fast-track ingredients to building a successful center

Fresh to the travel industry, new Franchise Partner Erica Tulloch reflects on owning her own Expedia Franchise, and the joys of recruiting and leading a team.

Here’s Erica’s story:

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

Erica: I used to work for Alberta Health Services as an administrative assistant Prior to that I worked in the home and auto insurance industry as an insurance agent. This role was very people-oriented; however, the product was not very exciting. I was passionate about helping people, but people were not passionate about paying their insurance but now my clients are excited about visiting my Center and booking their next adventure.

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

Erica: I was familiar with the franchise business model as my sister owns a successful bakery franchise. I saw how hard she worked and decided that I wanted to own my own franchise, and I wanted to do something that I am passionate about. My family and I are always on the go and really love to travel so I did my research and Expedia came up as the number one brand in travel. I learned about all the awesome support, training, and systems offered by Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and it seemed like a great fit for me with and blueprints to success provided.

Why is your community ideal for an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise?

Erica: I thought the east end of Edmonton was underserviced and would be perfect for an Expedia CruiseShipCenters since the area needed more retail services. There is some shopping in the area, but no specialty shops, and I was able to secure a very good location, right across from a McDonald’s, and next to a subway. We get lots of foot traffic from both restaurants. It helps to have a retail location where people can come and book travel.

Erica’s Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Edmonton

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

Erica: At Expedia CruiseShipCenters having exceptional customer service is important for us. We really care about our clients and our relationships with them. We ask our clients about their dream travel destinations, and then match our products to their desires.
We provide a retail travel agency location that allows customers to drop by and book travel with our expert Travel Consultants. We have such strong relationships with our customers that they come back to our center after their vacation to tell us all about it!

How do you find your customers?

Erica: I start by simply following the system and doing my due diligence. We utilize our personal network to let as many people know where the center is and that we’re open for business. We also take advantage of the Expedia CruiseShipCenters flyer and marketing program. During our promotion seasons, I send out about 10,000 flyers to people in our designated market area. When people get our flyers and learn about our retail location they are happy to know they can come into our center, sit down, and talk to a real person who will take care of all their travel needs.
I also use email and Facebook marketing, that is coordinated through the corporate office. For example, when a big promotion is happening, the corporate team will send out an email to everyone in our database and run Facebook ads on behalf of our center. It’s great to have the help from the corporate team!

What has your experience been like recruiting and leading a team of vacation consultants?

Erica: It’s been a lot of fun! Everyone I’ve brought on board is passionate about travel and the work they are doing. They are always looking for other ways to promote the business. My consultants really enjoy working at the center, and I have enjoyed recruiting and leading them too. I’m passionate about my team, helping customers, and planning vacations. I see it less of me leading my team, but more as collaborating and brainstorming with my consultants on ideas for how to grow the center and get involved with the community.

Are there specific qualities that you look for in a vacation consultant?

Erica: I look for someone who is very customer service oriented first and foremost. Having passion and willingness to go the extra mile to service our customers is very important. We want our customers to leave here feeling like they’ve been helped, and they can come back anytime to book another vacation with us.

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

Erica: We ask a lot of questions when they first come in here. We had a couple walk into our center the other day, who were going to Australia. They had already booked their flights and hotels but were looking for a car rental. So, we booked them a car, but we were curious and asked them about where they wanted to go next after Australia. They shared their dreams of visiting Dubai and taking a cruise on the new Princess ship. By the time they left the center, we were already preparing the booking for their Dubai trip and they would be back in to complete the booking when they returned from Australia.
We are personable and really care about our customers making sure their vacations are everything they dreamed of.

What aspects of this business do you enjoy the most?

Erica: I really enjoy leading my team of consultants and being in the office. I like researching new ships and learning about clients dream destinations. Whether it’s interviewing, recruiting new consultants, or meeting new customers I love the people aspect of this industry.

How would you describe the culture at your center?

Erica: It’s super fun and positive. We are welcoming to new Vacation Consultants and new customers. When customers come into our center my team is great at them feel comfortable and leaving with a positive impression.

How has the Expedia CruiseShipCenters corporate support team helped you launch and grow your business since you started?

Erica: They have done a tremendous job. The coaching has been one of the major assets to the franchisee training program. Throughout the initial training and setting up my center the corporate team has helped me through the entire process. When we first opened our doors, my Franchise Performance Coach was there to make sure everything went smoothly and is always available for support via email or and phone.

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

Erica: I’d like to focus on growing and nurturing my center, and potentially open a second center in my designated area. In five years I hope I’ll be able to travel more to new places. Expedia CruiseShipCenters has great business model and in the future, I hope I can hire an Office Manager, which will allow me to take more time to be with my family and do my own travel. I am happy I was able to build a business around travel because being passionate about it makes it that much more enjoyable.

Learn More

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.

In the News: Expedia CruiseShipCenters Rides Innovation Wave, Projects Significant 2018 Growth in Franchises

This story appeared in the February 2018 edition of PRNewswire.

BELLEVUE, Wash., Feb. 12, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — The top cruise travel agency franchise in North America, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, announced today a milestone-heavy year for the growing brand. The brick and mortar travel agency achieved 20 percent year-over-year growth, opened 25 new franchise locations and welcomed a record-breaking 1,773 new Vacation Consultants to its network. Looking forward to 2018, the brand expects another high performing year with 35 new franchise openings projected.

Adding to the several notable growth achievements over the past year, Expedia CruiseShipCenters broke into Entrepreneur Magazine’s annual Franchise 500 ranking. The prestigious ranking is a testament to the brand’s ability to grow its footprint across North America while continuing to provide unparalleled franchisee support and customer service. Riding this wave of success, the leading travel company has announced plans to develop new and established markets across the United States in 2018, with particular focus on Florida, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Washington and Arizona.

“2017 was a terrific year, and it has provided us with insight on what we’ll be capable of achieving in 2018,” said Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters. “As the industry continues to thrive, with fleets expanding and new lines being introduced to the waters, we’re eager to play an integral part of this booming business while continuing to welcome new Franchise Partners and Vacation Consultants to our expanding network.”

Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ growth is in part driven by the continued expansion of the cruising industry. As noted in the recent Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) report, cruise travel is expected to rise in 2018, boosting the global economy. An estimated 27.2M passengers are expected to cruise (demand has increased 20.5 percent in last five years). Additionally, 27 new ocean, river and specialty ships are scheduled to debut. After years of stagnant performance, the cruise industry is coming back with a vengeance, contributing more than $126B in total output worldwide.

In addition to stimulating growth of the brand’s internal assets and franchise development, Expedia CruiseShipCenters was recognized by several industry leaders, receiving the President’s Award for Overall Achievement from Royal Caribbean International, Chairman’s Award from Carnival Cruise Line, 2017 Canadian Retail Partner of the Year from MSC Cruises, Travel Agency Partner West (awarded to Expedia CruiseShipCenters Port Coquitlam) and Travel Agency Partner Quebec (awarded to Expedia CruiseShipCenters Quebec) from Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Canada Region Strategic Market Account of the Year from Celebrity Cruises (Awarded to Expedia CruiseShipCenters Oakville South). Each honor provided further example of how Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ franchisees set the industry standard in quality and service, pushing the brand forward as a top competitor in the travel agency space.

Click here to read this article on prnewswire.com

 

Continue Learning About Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about owning a business with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our retail travel agency franchise opportunity here.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Reid and Christy Trego of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Franchise owners Christy and Reid at their Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Roswell, GA.

Partners in life and business, Reid and Christy Trego share their experience in their first year of owning their Center, and how they feel like they couldn’t have done it without their team, or each other.

Here’s Reid and Christy’s story:

What were you doing before becoming Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise partners?

Reid: We both worked for corporate America when we were newly married. We then owned a franchise tutoring business for 11 years. After we sold the tutoring business, we spent some time relaxing, and it gave us a lot of opportunities to travel and have fun. We started looking for something that we could do together, and that’s how we stumbled into the Expedia CruiseShipCenters opportunity.

Having previously owned a franchise, why did you decide that a travel franchise was best for you both?

Christy: The flexibility of being a business owner allowed us to travel more as a family. When we began thinking about our next chapter, and what kind of business we wanted, we liked the idea of owning a business in an industry that we love. We believe that travelling with friends and family is what bonds people together, and to have a business in that vein was really appealing to both of us.

Trego Family Vacation in St.Maarten

How has working together as partners served you as you navigate this new industry together? What is your working dynamic like?

Christy: Overall, we have a very good personal and working relationship. We have defined roles that play to our individual strengths. Reid likes to say that I am a “rows and columns” kind of person, and he’s more “squiggly lines”. Reid is in charge of advertising, marketing, and building relationships with suppliers. He’s great at that! Where I’m more interested in managing our customer’s bookings, and understanding all of the ins and outs of the different cruise lines so that I can spend time training our consultants.

We are fortunate enough to be life partners as well as business partners living happily together.

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

Reid: We have high quality people on our team, and I really enjoy working with them. It’s fun to see our consultants come in and dive right into the work. It’s much easier to steer them in the right direction as long as they’re moving forward. We discuss what their individual goals are and we work together to help them achieve them and in turn we achieve our Center goals as a team.

How would you describe the culture at your Center?

Reid: We knew that having a really positive and fun environment was critical to both of us when creating our team. We try really hard to create a personal relationship with each person, so each of them feel like they have a unique relationship with us. It keeps our consultants loyal, encouraged, and vested in the success of the Center.

Christy: We talk about being part of the “ECSC Roswell Rock Star Team” and how important it is to be supportive of one another all the time. We emphasize how important it is to take care of each customer when greeting them at the door or on the phone – even if they’re someone else’s client. Everyone is willing to pitch in. We have a good balance of motivation and cooperation in our Center.

Franchise owners, Reid and Christy Celebrating $1M in sales with their team.

Why is your community ideal for an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise?

Christy: Roswell, GA is a pretty affluent area. There are a number of neighborhoods around us that have the means and time to travel. It’s also nice that we can drive to a lot of ports. It’s an easy drive for a family who wants to go somewhere exotic without having to book plane tickets.

Reid: Our location is nice because we have a mix of mature and young families in the community. We also used our contacts from our previous business, and community activities, who refer their friends to us. Plus, we coach our travel consultants, to build their book of business by leveraging their own personal and social networks.

You’ve mentioned walk-ins and referrals, but how else do you find your customers?

Reid: We host several events a year in our area and we advertise upcoming promotions in local newspapers and magazines. Having a promotional calendar that is created for us by the corporate team is critical. Those promotions make it easier to talk to prospective customers. You’re not just calling and asking out of the blue to see if they want to book a vacation, but you can use an upcoming promotion as a lead-in to the conversation.

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

Christy: At least in our area, there isn’t any other travel agency option that combines a retail location and big brand recognition like Expedia. As much as people like to use the Internet to do their research and read reviews, it’s rare that a person will look at a $2000-$4000 price tag online and simply click “buy now”. That’s a scary thing to do.  Having a local retail business, and a trusted travel professional nearby is comforting to our customers.

How has the Expedia CruiseShipCenters Corporate Support team helped you launch and grow your business since you started?

Reid: Our experience with the corporate office has exceeded our expectations.  They are incredibly encouraging and responsive to our questions and concerns.  We came into this venture with a solid business background, but we had no travel industry experience, and in under two years, Christy has become a true travel professional and we’ve got a team of professionals who can offer advice that our clients can trust.

Christy: Just as we view our consultants as our clients, I feel that corporate views their Franchise Partners as their clients. When I have an issue or a problem, they are very responsive, helpful, and nice.

What aspects of this business do you enjoy the most?

Christy: I love when I have a client who is excited about a trip, and I can help bring their dream vacation to life. It’s really fun to partner with them and build an amazing vacation experience.

Where do you see your business in 5 years? How do you see your lifestyle changing as a result of your business growth?

Reid: We’re still new but I want to exceed benchmarks year after year. The future looks great for us and I hope we’ll generate enough sales activity where we can hire an office manager. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters will be a household name in Atlanta and the top place to speak with rock star travel consultants in the city.

Christy: Over the next couple of years, I want to continue to develop skills and capabilities of our team members.  I’ve spent the first couple years learning the industry for myself, so I want to get to the point where I can fully dedicate myself to training and supporting our consultants so that each of them is the best travel resource to their own clients and prospects.

What do you love about cruising? Any memorable trips you have taken?

Christy: I think it’s a great way to see a lot of places with minimal effort. Plus, cruising is a great way to travel with a group of friends or family. When you have a large multi-generational family, everyone has different interests but each person can still have their own version of a fun vacation, and still experience it together. My favorite so far was last spring break when we cruised the western Caribbean with our family.

Reid: I love cruising for the same reasons Christy does, but I’m really excited to experience different ships. My favorite trip was one we took to Italy with our kids. It was great trip and we made so many memories with the family.

The Trego family enjoying the Silent Disco on their cruise vacation!

Learn More

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.

In the News: Interview with Matthew Eichhorst, President at Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Matthew Eichhorst, speaks candidly about his role overseeing one of the largest retail travel agency franchises, and the business advice he would give to a younger version of himself

This story appeared in the January 2018 edition of USA Weekly.

Starting a business is a big achievement for many entrepreneurs, but maintaining one is the larger challenge. There are many standard challenges that face every business whether they are large or small. It is not easy running a company, especially in a fast-paced, ever-changing business world. Technology advances, new hiring strategies, and now, political changes coming with the new administration, all add to the existing business challenges that entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives have to deal with.

Maximizing profits, minimizing expenses and finding talented staff to keep things moving seem to be top challenges for both SMBs and large corporations. We have been interviewing companies from around the world to discover what challenges they are facing in their businesses. We also asked each company to share business advice they would give to a younger version of themselves.

What does your company do?
Expedia CruiseShipCenters is a retail travel agency franchise with over 30 years of success specializing in cruise vacations. Our more than 250 independently owned locations across North America and our network of over 5,000 sellers of travel serve their local communities by navigating spectacular vacation experiences. Although we are the experts in cruise, we are a full-service agency that sells all travel-related products associated with a cruise or standalone non-cruise vacations. As a Franchiser, we provide a proven, turn key system to execute industry leading marketing on a common technology platform backed by our parent company, Expedia Group. We’re recognized as a top-ranked franchise each year as a result of our continued success and the support we provide to our franchise owners.

What is your role? What do you enjoy most about your role?
I am the Global Leader for the cruise line of business for all Expedia companies, and the President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters. In my role, I provide day-to-day and long-term strategy to grow our overall business and the success of our individual franchisees. I love being an integral part of this fast-paced and exciting industry for a few reasons. Being in the cruise business, it’s incredibly rewarding being able to bring Expedia CruiseShipCenters to new communities and inspiring others to explore our world. And, with the cruise industry constantly growing and evolving, I’m presented with lots of opportunities to think creatively, act innovatively, and to grow and evolve myself.

What are the biggest challenges in your business right now?
The current challenge is really focusing on the vast opportunities that lie ahead for the cruise industry in the next several years. With over 94 ships on order, the market is growing at an unprecedented rate and we truly are entering the Golden Age of Cruising. Our goal is to grow three times faster than the industry, and given how much the industry is accelerating, this could be a true challenge. We aim to do this by investing in our technology, digital marketing, and the operational efficiency of our distribution channel.

If you could go back in time, what business advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
If I could go back in time and give my younger self a piece of business advice, it would have been to be more open to taking risks. Although being very calculated with our decisions, there were many indicators that showed the cruise business was going to accelerate and become more mainstream. Taking risks allows for various learning opportunities and personal growth and development. The lessons one learns from taking risks helps them evolve into a leadership position.

Continue Learning About Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about owning a business with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our retail travel agency franchise opportunity here.

In the News: Expedia CFO, Mark Okerstrom Featured in Business In Vancouver

Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom addresses his company’s annual conference in Las Vegas earlier this month | Expedia

Expedia makes Vancouver the hub for all cruise sales

Travel giant consolidates platforms to be ‘a more strategic partner for the cruise lines’

This story appeared in the December 2017 edition of Business In Vancouver.

Expedia Group’s move to consolidate the cruise-sales side of its business highlights Vancouver’s growing role within the global travel-industry conglomerate.

The Bellevue, Washington-based owner (Nasdaq:EXPE) of brands such as Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Trivago, Travelocity, Orbitz and Ebookers, among other online travel sites, is starting to do for the cruise industry what it has already done for the hotel sector, CEO Mark Okerstrom told Business in Vancouver earlier this month at Expedia’s annual partner conference in Las Vegas.

“In the hotel business we’re very differentiated from a lot of other players in the market,” he said.

“We have one team that goes out. With one conversation, one contract, you get access to distribution on the whole Expedia portfolio…. That’s where we’re going to be going with cruise.”

Cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE:RCL), previously had to deal separately with various Expedia teams whenever they wanted to merchandise a cruise package on multiple Expedia brands.

There was no one-stop shop where, for example, the cruise line could promote its Vancouver-to-Alaska route on all Expedia properties.

Substantial investments in technology during the past year have changed this situation, with the result being that all of Expedia’s cruise business is run out of Vancouver.

The city has been the headquarters for Expedia Cruise-ShipCenters since 2007, when Expedia bought Vancouver’s CruiseShipCenters International Inc. for an undisclosed amount, rebranded and started to rapidly increase the division’s number of franchised cruise-oriented travel agencies.

That part of Expedia now has 247 franchises, which each have owners who have paid tens of thousands of dollars in one-time fees and pay ongoing royalties to Expedia for the right to operate an Expedia CruiseShipCenters operation in a territory.

Steady growth prompted Expedia CruiseShipCenters two years ago to move its headquarters to a 28,000-square-foot office in the Oceanic Plaza building at 1066 West Hastings Street, nearly triple the 10,000 square feet that it had occupied at the Guinness Tower across the street.

The division is increasing its staff count and has about 180 employees, up from 143 workers two years ago.

The Vancouver-based president of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Matthew Eichhorst, has been promoted to supervise all cruise operations within Expedia.

“The transition is great for cruise ship lines such as Royal Caribbean,” said Eichhorst, who is a past BIV Forty Under 40 winner.

“It’s also great for Expedia because of the volume of our brands collectively. We’ve become a more strategic partner for the cruise lines,” Eichhorst said.

Matthew Eichhorst, president of Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

BIV asked Okerstrom why Expedia has waited many years to to integrate all of its cruise operations for suppliers.

“I’d rather do fewer things better and faster than lots of things in parallel but not so well,” said Bellevue-based Okerstrom, 44, who grew up in Coquitlam and has degrees from both Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.

“We started our innovation, really, in the hotel business. We’ve expanded that out into air and car and activities and now cruise. We can’t do everything all at once – even with US$1.3 billion in [annual] technology spending.”

Okerstrom became Expedia’s CEO in August, when former CEO Dara Khosrowshahi left Expedia to become CEO of Uber. Khosrowshahi also has ties to Vancouver. His uncle, Future Shop founder, Persis Holdings Ltd. owner and billionaire Hassan Khosrowshahi, lives in the region. •

Click here to read this article on Business in Vancouver

Continue Learning About Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about owning a business with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our retail travel agency franchise opportunity here.

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 Benzinga.com

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.”

Click here to read this article on Benzinga.com

Continue Learning About Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about owning a business with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our retail travel agency franchise opportunity here.

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 Forbes.com

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

Click here to read this article on Forbes.com

Continue Learning About Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about owning a business with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our retail travel agency franchise opportunity here.

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.

Learn More

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.

TraceyCoddTeam

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

TraceyCoddFamily

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.

Learn More

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.