Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Review: Q&A with Mary Beth Casey

A former advertising executive comes out of retirement to find success as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.

Mary Beth Casey, a former advertising executive, came out of retirement to find success as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.

Mary Beth Casey, a former advertising executive, came out of retirement to find success as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.

Mary Beth Casey, owner of a successful Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® franchise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, never expected to be in the travel business. The wake of the stock market crash in 2008 brought the former CEO of an advertising agency out of retirement and into the business world again. Mary’s success as a franchise owner is a result of her skills in the field of advertising, as well as her ability to nurture talent and accomplish goals.

This is her story.

What were you doing before becoming a Expedia CruiseShipCenters owner?

I was retired for five or six years. Before that, I was in the advertising world as a CEO of one large agency in New York City and chairman of a digital agency, as well. The market crash a few years ago brought me out of retirement. My husband turned to me one evening and said, “I think you have to go back to work.” We had two children in college, and we couldn’t afford to waste a lot of time.

How did you learn about Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and what made you want to open one? What made it stand out?

We had hired a franchise broker because we knew we wanted to invest in a proven entity, but she wasn’t the one that turned us on to Expedia. We found Expedia CruiseShipCenters doing our own research online. We took the idea to the franchise broker, of course, to get her opinion. Expedia is a big name, and that’s what attracted us to start with. Then I met the corporate team in Vancouver, and I was even more impressed. We knew that they weren’t going to let us down. Expedia CruiseShipCenters is so successful. It has a long track record with a proven concept, and it’s very scalable. That sets it apart. We were never interested in a home-based business — it would never give us the kind of volume we were looking for.

What do you enjoy the most about the business?

I really enjoy watching my consultants go from zero to success. My nature is that of a nurturer. When my consultants match my definition of success, that’s the ultimate. My consultants are my customers, and I can say that honestly. I have 80 consultants. I rarely sell these days, and if I do, I sell to customers who are looking for a more meaningful and valuable experience. So I’m very selective. Most of my customers are my friends — I know them, and they know me.

What kinds of customers does Expedia CruiseShipCenters draw?

We draw people who appreciate service and value. We really provide our customers with the value of listening, and I spend a lot of time training my consultants to be better leaders and better listeners. Our consultants should know the true experience that our customers are looking for, and the value we add is in being thoughtful. We know what this vacation will bring to them and their families. Our customers can ask anything from the simplest questions to the most absurd. Then when our customers get off the boat, we do a follow-up: Did we meet their expectations? Where are they going to go next?

How do you recruit travel consultants to support the growth of your business?

Casey’s Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been growing steadily for five years running.

Casey’s Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been growing steadily for five years.

I’m fortunate in that I seem to be a go-to-Google place. I have 1,700 people in my database that I’m continually working. I also incentivize my consultants to get referrals. I give them $100 for every referral that gets certified.

With consultants, the 80/20 rule applies, in that only 20% are really engaged. The other 80% are not as engaged, nor am I very engaged with them. However, if they make a sale, that’s great! I have 25-30 consultants who are very engaged and are doing this job actively.

Investing time in my consultants is a top priority. There’s constant training, with more and more information coming all the time. I have to manage my time effectively and determine what is important. I try to come up with strategies to grow my business.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team support your business?

I think they’re just terrific. They know me, and they know what my goals are. They’re very, very smart. They listen, they’re supportive and they encourage. As franchisees, we have opportunity to have a voice, which I appreciate. Their strategic planning and marketing has been terrific, as well. I trust them.

What are the biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?

There isn’t a typical day. There are a million interruptions, but I try not to interrupt myself unless it’s very important. I set an agenda each week of goals that I want to get accomplished, and then I set about accomplishing them. Of course, I make a lot of time for my consultants.

Managing time is a huge challenge. You never get the satisfaction of getting it all done. I’ve worked in fast-paced environments, and so I’m good at jumping in and jumping out and moving on to the next thing. I miss not being able to really dig into a project, but the world has gotten a lot faster. I don’t think the luxury of time is available to anyone anymore.

What were your goals for your business and how it would impact your life?

My original goal was to do $10 million in the first year, and we didn’t come close to that. We’re just now reaching five years in the business, and we’re seeing much more steady growth. In four to five years, I would like to sell my company and go back to my retirement. I will have a seasoned business by then with a great track record.

We’re in a very affluent community in Fort Lauderdale. We grew 26% from last month and have doubled our sales from last March to this March. Corporate gave us an excellent system where I can see how sales were on any given day during any given year and compare them to where we are now. My mission is to grow the business another 20% by the end of the year, which I think we will do.

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

I golf. I find that it clears my mind of work, which is not easy to do. I hang out with my husband and my stepchildren. I love to cook.

Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters to someone thinking about starting a business and if so, why?

Yes, I would. I seem to be a go-to-person for those who are interested in joining up, and I always tell them the same thing: make sure you’re comfortable in your financials, enough to live on for one or two years, because it takes that long to get these going. We also don’t get paid until a customer travels, so that’s different than other businesses where you get paid at the end of every month. The cash flow with Expedia is a bit different.

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.

Franchise Partner Spotlight: Starting a Family Business

Starting a family business can be tricky, but at Expedia CruiseShipCenters, we like to think that families who travel together can run a business together! There’s nothing like experiencing the rewarding highs and exhilarating unpredictability of travel together to prepare you for the adventure that is owning your own business.

Dan & Brenna Maurer | Summerlin, NV & Henderson, NV

Dan & Brenna Maurer | Summerlin, NV & Henderson, NV

Expedia Franchise Partners from Las Vegas, NV, Dan and Brenna Maurer, are the perfect example of how to start a family franchise. With five children and the drive to build a profitable business that serves their community, they have big dreams for their business. With two Expedia franchises already open and managed by their two talented sons, Morgan and Jaxson, they are well on their way to making that dream a reality. Watch the video below to hear what Dan and Brenna had to say about why they chose Expedia CruiseShipCenters to achieve their family business vision.

Q: What were you doing before you joined Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Dan: Brenna and I started out as industrial contractors before moving into the hotel business as a more streamlined, more relaxed opportunity which we’ve enjoyed. We currently own two hotels in West Yellowstone, Montana near Yellowstone National Park which we’ll continue to keep operational. We felt we’d reached a pinnacle with our hotel properties and were looking for something else to get involved in when we found Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

Q: Why was Expedia CruiseShipCenters the right franchise for your family?

Dan: We looked at many different franchises – food franchises, service franchises – and we saw Expedia CruiseShipCenters. Travel is a passion of ours. We love to travel! Our whole family including all of our kids, Brenna and myself. So we thought why not? We thought it would be an awesome thing to go in every day and share people’s passion and guide them into great cruise vacations. It ranked highly in franchise success so after going through Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ franchise discovery process, we went with it!

Brenna: It really did have a shiny light for us because we love travel. I knew travel agents, but I’d never thought of being one, owning an agency, or wanting one. But the more we discovered, the more we said, that is us! We are travelers. We are passionate about it. We love telling other people and listening to stories about travel. It felt like a natural fit and we feel that when something isn’t forced it works well. This opportunity has flowed for us and not been a forced decision or process in any way.

Q: What’s the best thing about working with your family?

Brenna: There is no better partnership than with my husband of 35 years and our brilliant children. We all generally have the same end goal and same work ethic. There is trust and respect for each other. Our customers also appreciate working with a family business and we have had several positive comments that they enjoy the relationship with a family-run business.

It is also extremely rewarding to watch our sons Morgan and Jaxson manage every aspect of our franchises. They manage with care, intelligence, bravery, and are leaders at a young age. As they learn from the corporate training, both are able to bring the training to the Vacation Consultants in our two Centers with enthusiasm and professionalism. I am amazed and so proud of both of them and can imagine their ability to grow tremendously as business owners and examples to other young professionals.


Q: What are the advantages of buying a franchise vs. an independent business?

Brenna: We’ve been independent business owners for 20 years and I’ve worked together every day with my husband. We understand what it takes to build a business from the bottom up. Sometimes we rush into things which is why the franchise model has been good for us. It’s kept us on track and given us guidelines and a plan. As an independent business, you see the end goal, but you may waiver a bit because you’re trying too hard to do everything yourself. The support to help you get through it all as a franchisee makes it much easier to focus.

Dan: The success rate of franchise operators is very high, and the failure rate very low, of course. The franchisee support is awesome. It’s over the top! We don’t have to figure things out for ourselves. We’re going to achieve success more quickly than if we’d started some other type of business on our own.

Q: What do you love about being your own boss?

Dan: I love that you can set your goals and you can achieve them. And I think that’s especially true for Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisees. Whatever you put into it, you’re going to get back a hundredfold when you follow the program. We’ve talked to many of the other Franchise Partners that have achieved success along the same lines of some of our goals so we know it’s possible. I think that’s the excitement of being a franchisee working for yourself as opposed to day-to-day in a capped salary – the sky’s the limit.


Q: What are the marketing tools like for your franchise?

Dan: With our hotels, we remodeled them, hung our open sign, and nobody came. We learned a hard lesson that you have to be on the Internet, you have to advertise! It’s a lot of work and it’s very expensive. At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, you get a ready-made kit for success.

Brenna: Knowing nothing about marketing when we first started our hotels, we were trying to figure out Google advertising, the Internet, a website. Everything was new to us and it was a struggle because it was so unfamiliar. Now it’s all here for us. It’s ready to go, it’s professionally done. Our website is beautiful. We’re so excited about it that it makes us want to go buy a cruise just looking at it!


Q: What is your family franchise vision?

Brenna: We have big dreams! We have optioned for two additional Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise locations in the Las Vegas area and do plan to grow beyond that. We know the assistance from our family will help us achieve our goals. Once we’ve achieved the revenue and gross sales benchmarks for our first location, we feel we’ll be ready to move on to our second Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise. If we follow the plan and the plan is successful – as we know it will be – we’re confident that we can carry on with our second and third locations.

Q: What are you most excited about for the future of your family business?


Brenna: I’m mostly looking forward to watching our children succeed so that Dan and I can cruise! As entrepreneurs, of course we want the monetary value – money is a motivator for us – but also the freedom to cruise and travel and experience the product. We want to come back and share our experience with our customers and be able to say we’ve been there, we’ve stayed at this hotel, we’ve done that shore excursion. We’re so excited to share our experiences and motivate other travelers with our passion for the product.

Dan: We don’t see a retirement for ourselves really, we would just like some extended time to do more traveling. We have a great family, our kids and a very talented support team that are anxious to come aboard and partake in this business as well. This business is a fun business! People are excited and they’re wanting what you have. It’s a joy to see people smiling and satisfied.

At Expedia CruiseShipCentes, many of our Franchise Partners are couples, siblings, or parents and their children who started a family-run franchise together. It’s an amazing way to leverage the individual strengths of each family member to earn income in the short-term and build wealth for their future.

Learn more

Whether you’re wanting to start a franchise with your family or looking for a solo opportunity, Expedia CruiseShipCenters has opportunities available across North America. 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.

Franchise Partner Spotlight: The First Franchise Partner

Like any business that has been around for nearly three decades, much has happened since Expedia CruiseShipCenters first opened its doors in 1987. In fact, Eric Tan, can still remember the early days of his business when he became the first Franchise Partner to sign a CruiseShipCenters travel franchise in Vancouver, Canada. Now with over 190 locations across North America and part of the #1 brand in travel, Eric recalls the amazing growth the company has seen over that past 28 years and reveals what he anticipates for the future ahead.

Eric Tan | Vancouver, BC

Eric Tan | Vancouver, BC

Q: What were you doing before you became a Franchise Partner?

I was a pharmaceutical representative with a large US medical company, and actually stayed on for another 7 years, after starting this business back in 1987. I soon realized that my passion was in becoming a full-time owner for our travel business and decided to leave the pharmaceutical arena and put greater focus on supporting and growing my team of Vacation Consultants.

Q: Why franchising?

We were very interested in starting our own business. We did some research and felt that franchising was safer with a much lower risk or failure rate than starting something new from scratch. We also liked the idea of following an established business model. We knew that it would be a lot of work, but we were ready to take the leap!

Q: What got you interested in starting a cruise franchise back in the 80’s?

While cruising was still in its infancy during that time, my spouse, Penny was already working in travel and was excited about this new way of vacationing. While it hadn’t caught on for the masses back then, we bought in on the belief that it would be a way of travel that people would embrace in the future – we were right!

Q: Why the cruise industry?

Because cruising was still in its early stage, we wanted to get in on the ground floor. Penny and I really believed that this way of travel or vacationing would catch on and be something everyone would enjoy. Not only for newlyweds and the elderly as many people had perceived the market to be. Cruising was also a form of travel where we saw there was a need for professional expertise to help people find the right cruise for their own personal preferences.


Q: What changes have you seen to the cruise industry?

When we first got into the business, many people felt that cruising was a fad. That it was only for the extremely wealthy or the old and retired. They didn’t think this method of travel would catch on. However, today we can see that cruising definitely is more than a fad. There are 23 million people who will cruise in 2015 alone and 20 new cruise ships that are scheduled to launch this year. That’s in addition to the 167 ships that have entered the market over the past decade! The industry is growing and evolving like never before. Cruise ships continue to grow in capacity and sophistication – the technological and design upgrades now truly make them resorts at sea.

Cruiser demographics are also changing. We are seeing more multi-generational and millennial cruise guests. People who cruised with their parents as kids are now introducing their own families to cruising. It is an exciting time to be in the industry!

Q: What has it been like becoming part of the Expedia brand?

Prior to becoming part of Expedia Group, we took pride in being seen as a technology company. So when Expedia came along it was definitely a good fit. The instant credibility that comes with being part of one of the biggest names in travel provides us with both positive recognition and trust in the industry.

The partnership also gave us access to all of Expedia’s non-cruise product which has allowed us to truly become a full service travel agency with the ability to provide our customers with every vacation possibility including flights, hotels, packaged vacations, tours and more.

Sometimes there is some confusion as we get mixed up with other brands that are also part of Expedia Group but I feel we have really worked to define ourselves amongst these companies and are really enjoying the best of both worlds now. We get the ability to have a retail store, a globally recognized brand name, and earn commission on Expedia.com products.

Q: What changes have you seen in the organization over the past 28 years?

There are too many to list in one sentence, for sure. In addition to becoming part of the Expedia family, the Internet and advanced technology are one of the biggest changes in our company. The implementation of CruiseDesk, our customer relationship management (CRM) system has really revolutionized the way we do business. It helps the franchise owner focus and manage various parts of their business in terms of marketing, finance, bookkeeping and managing clients.

Our people have also changed, as Vacation Consultants have become more professional and customer-service oriented. We have implemented The Navigators Approach sales training that has really allowed our Consultants to provide outstanding service and sell more, even with no sales or travel background. The Franchise Partners joining the organization now are also more business-minded, invested in coaching and supporting a team, and less solely lifestyle motivated.

The fact that Expedia CruiseShipCenters has averaged 20% annual growth for over 27 years is also testament of the strength of the company’s business model. As the industry evolves, our company also evolves to ensure we are up to speed.


Q: Why is the culture among Franchise Partners at Expedia CruiseShipCenters unique?

I believe that we have a unique culture where we view our fellow Franchise Partners as business partners, and not just competitors. Better known as our Stronger.Together culture, we often provide mentorship for each other and discuss best practices that we encounter with our own Centers. Therefore, we do have more co-operation amongst our franchisees, leading to joint promotional ventures and team events. While there is some competition, there is also a lot of collaboration to achieve mutual success. This is something I think sets us apart from many of our industry colleagues who do not provide the same type of comradery or support, even if they belong to the same company or consortium.

Q: Why are you excited about where the industry is headed in the future?

There is much to be excited about. The fact that the cruise lines have all invested heavily, not only in new, but highly innovative hardware (such as the new Quantum of the Seas that many of us just experienced) is just the beginning. The anticipated growth in our key target market of Baby Boomers and multigenerational cruisers in the next ten years also represents a huge opportunity for our business in the future. More people wishing to travel on a selection of more ships, can only be a good thing.

Q: What’s next for you and your franchise?

I still plan to grow and take my business to the next level. I am fortunate that this franchise model still allows me to keep growing, even after 28 years! I want to continue building my team of Vacation Consultants as well as our customer database. I want to ensure my team is properly supported and are having fun providing their clients with spectacular vacation experiences. Of course, I also want to enjoy some of the rewards of this great business myself too and continue to travel and explore the world!


Q: What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Make sure you are adequately capitalized to start, as it will take a little time to develop your business. Franchise Partners have to be ready to go all in. They have to be ready to work hard and become full-time owners and managers of this business. Invest time and energy in coaching and supporting your team and creating a great culture in your store. Your people are the key to your success. In addition, don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Trust and follow the proven Expedia CruiseShipCenters business model that has taken years to develop. There’s a reason it has a track record of success.

Learn more

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.

Franchise Players: How a Newspaper Editor Developed an Entrepreneurial Mindset Through Franchising

Chris Meyer knows the newspaper industry: he has nearly 30 years of experience in it, most recently as a deputy editor at the Orange Country Register. But as the newspaper business became plagued with layoffs, buyouts and bankruptcies, Meyer decided it was time to get out.

Meyer went on to buy an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise. Here’s what this former editor has learned over the last two years in the franchise industry.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 4.25.11 PM

Name: Chris Meyer

Franchise owned: Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Laguna Hills, California

How long have you owned the franchise?

I bought the franchise in June 2011 and opened on January 2, 2012.

Why franchising?

I was looking for a new opportunity as prospects diminished in the newspaper industry, where I had spent nearly 30 years. I was first attracted to the business concept marrying the power of a big online travel agency with personal service in a storefront. The franchise concept made sense for such a format, and I did not want to reinvent the wheel. So, I took the leap as an entrepreneur, knowing that I had a proven system but also a certain amount of freedom to adapt it to my specific market.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I was deputy editor for local and business news for the Orange County Register, one of the largest newspapers in the United States. The newspaper industry was experiencing significant declining revenue and for several years we had been navigating bankruptcy and managing successive rounds of layoffs and buyouts.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

The business concept appealed to me. I was looking for a new opportunity. I had not even considered franchising or the travel business, even though I have a serious case of wanderlust.

I learned about Expedia CruiseShipCenters through a targeted ad on my LinkedIn profile. Here was a company that was developing diverse niches based on travelers’ changing preferences, an internet company that was building a bricks-and-mortar presence to serve a market segment. That was the kind of forward-looking company with which I wanted to affiliate. The fact that it was a franchise was incidental at first, and I began to see it as an advantage as I learned more. The fact that it was in travel was a bonus.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

The total estimated initial investment ranges between $79,500 and $149,500. This includes the following:

  • Initial franchise fee
  • On-site training
  • Premises lease security deposit
  • Utilities and telephone deposit
  • Leasehold improvements
  • Signage (interior and exterior)
  • Computers and software
  • Office furniture, equipment and office supplies
  • Telephone equipment
  • Insurance
  • Professional fees
  • Business license and/or permits
  • Additional funds/ working capital for the first three months

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I had recently finished an executive MBA program with UC Irvine, and leaned heavily on relevant coursework. I also sought the counsel of friends who were longtime entrepreneurs. Additionally, I interviewed many existing franchise partners within the Expedia CruiseShipCenters system to learn about their experiences.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

The biggest one was developing the entrepreneurial mindset. It took me a long time to get comfortable outside of a paycheck-every-other Friday job. I also was surprised at the time commitment necessary. I thought we had long hours in the news business, but this also requires a huge time commitment.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Check your gut. Franchising gives you a system and support, but at the end of the day it’s up to you. You have to have a competitive mindset and an attitude that failure is not an option. The people you attract will make the difference. Focus on building a team of smart, driven people who can play well together. And devote lots of time to recruiting and developing your people.

What’s next for you and your business?

I want to continue the fast growth we have had for our first two and a half years. Recruitment and development of people will be the key. When I reach a certain cash flow position, I will consider how to expand.

Original article found on www.entrepreneur.com

Cruise agency franchiser sees growth potential in South Florida

The cruise industry packs a big economic punch in South Florida, home to two of the world’s busiest cruise ports — PortMiami (No. 1) and Port Everglades (No. 3). And the second-busiest seaport, Port Canaveral, is just a few hours away by car.


Cruising is also the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market, with plenty of untapped potential in the United States. Only about 20 percent of the population has ever cruised, industry specialists say.

As such, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando are seen as prime development markets for cruise agency franchisers, such as Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a Vancouver-based outfit that’s aiming to grow its U.S. footprint.

The Sun Sentinel talked recently with Geraldine Ree, Expedia CruiseShip’s senior vice president sales and marketing, about its business model and growth plans. The company’s annual conference ran Nov. 9-16 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina and at sea aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas.

Interview responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Tell us about Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

A: We began in Canada 26 years ago as CruiseShipCenters and became part of online travel agency Expedia Group in 2007. Today, Expedia CruiseShipCenters books one in every four cruises sold in Canada, and in 2012 did $535 million in sales. Our goal is to have similar market share in the U.S. We made a big push here in 2010 and sold our first U.S. retail franchise in Weston that year, which is operated by Mary Beth Casey.

Q: How many franchises are there?

A: We have 180 in North America, including 43 in the U.S. In Florida we have 10 franchises (six retail and four home-based), including locations in Plantation and Orlando. A Fort Lauderdale franchise is opening soon.

Q: Why Fort Lauderdale for the conference?

A: We’ve held it either in Fort Lauderdale or Miami in the last five years. It’s important for franchisees from other regions to learn about the Florida cruise experience … the hotels, port facilities, shopping, etc. Fort Lauderdale, for example, is an amazing pre-cruise destination.

Q: Tell us about the conference?

A: There are more than 500 participants, with 96 percent of franchisees attending. For them, it’s an opportunity to hear from top cruise line executives, network with peers, share best practices and learn new sales methodology. We talk about our vision, five-year plan and our brand and about growing our presence.

Q: Why is the main conference on a ship?

A: It takes us to our roots and gives franchise partners the opportunity to see the product they’re selling. Not only are new ships debuting, but cruise lines are investing millions to upgrade and refurbish ships, so it’s always important to stay updated.

Q: Why specialize in brick and mortar outlets?

A: Historically, it’s been our core model and works best for us. The physical location is more for the benefit of the inside and outside sales consultants who use it as their home base.

Q: How much is the retail franchise investment?

A: The franchise fee is $29,000, but total start-up costs is about $100,000.

Q: What’s your goal for the U.S.?

A: As navigators of spectacular vacation experiences, we want to have strong presence in the 10 major cruise states. Florida, Texas and California, for example, present growth opportunities for us.

Original article found on www.sun-sentinel.com

Five Minutes with Matthew Eichhorst

HelloWestTravel.com catches up with Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ president in Vancouver

By Amanda Stutt

Matthew Eichhorst, president, Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Matthew Eichhorst, president, Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Vancouver- based Expedia CruiseShipCenters recently celebrated its 25th anniversary onboard the Ruby Princess for the company’s annual national conference at Sea, attended by 600 travel agents. HelloWestTravel.com caught up with company president Matthew Eichhorst upon his return to Vancouver, as he discussed the challenges of the past year, predictions for the upcoming wave season, and the strengthened value of travel agents.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters is based in Vancouver- was the company started here?

Head office is in Vancouver, and it was started out here 25 years ago- we just celebrated our 25th anniversary on the Ruby Princess-next year we’re on the Allure with Royal Caribbean. Our [company] founder was Michael Drever- he started the company as an agent. It became a franchise in its early days. He bought the assets-he was the only franchisee, and he grew it from the ground up. He took an idea and grew it to where we are now- quite a vision. We have almost 4,000 agents across North America over just about 160 locations.

How has the company changed over the years?

I purchased part of the organization about eight years ago and in the last ten years, we’ve grown about 10 times… by growing our distribution channel as well as by growing sales, both on an individual by agent basis, but also per location basis. We’ve quadrupled our number of agents, doubled our number of locations and grown our revenue by [around] ten times. It’s been quite a success for not only the franchisees, but also the agents themselves.

Are Expedia CruiseShipCenters primarily ‘bricks and mortar’, or are there home-based agents as well?

Primarily bricks and mortar. Out of all of our locations, they have agents that are certainly full time, but they work inside the center on a part time basis for the most part. There are varying degrees- and they are independent contractors.

Do you believe the bricks and mortar concept drives the company’s success?

Yeah, it’s been interesting, over the last ten years, as the internet has grown and become what it is today, I think people thought that travel would be going the way of the internet, and there would be no need for the agent, but what’s happened is, anyone who’s taking their few weeks of vacation a year with their family or loved ones, simply put a lot of merit on getting that vacation purchased right. Like a flight, or the right hotel. And the value of the agent, as the internet has grown and there’s so much information out there, has actually started to re-strengthen. There are lots of articles out there that show how the agent helps sift through the complexity of the leisure market, so [clients] know exactly what they’re getting. We’ve seen resurgence, in all of the research that we’ve done, that the value of the agent is actually strengthening. [For example], if you’re going to fly to Europe and spend a couple of weeks in the Baltic, there are a lot more questions than there are answers for the consumer, so they like to have people helping them.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters

600 agents onboard the Ruby Princess for Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ 25th anniversary national conference

What are some highlights from the 25th anniversary cruise?

We have our national conference every year, and we always do it on a ship. What was a little unique about this is that we were celebrating our 25 years, and our theme was ‘building excellence’. I think everyone would agree that the cruise industry, in 2012, had some challenges, not only economically, but also with some of the events that have gone on, so we really focussed on the year of progress, and where we looked at the year of 2012 as an investment year to really dig into some of our core programs. We launched two major initiatives on the ship; one was our ‘promise’, and that was about ‘who does Expedia CruiseShipCenters stand for, and what are we trying to be’? And it’s really about being navigators of spectacular vacation experiences. [It’s] not just about selling the cruise- it’s about selling the entire vacation experience. And we also launched a new training program for agents called ‘The Navigator’s Approach’. And that has five modules that help with sales training and sales effectiveness. It’s not only for people that are brand new, but for people who have been in the business awhile- some of our agents have been with us for 20 plus years- so it’s more of a skills development program. It was really well-received; we got a standing ovation at the end of the conference.

What do you see trending for the 2013 season?

I think it will be better than last year. Coming into wave season, the last couple of months have been quite positive. I don’t think we’ll see a year of even greater deals, because there’s still a lot of value in the pricing of the current marketplace, but you’ll see some additional value-adds, whether it be gratuities, or onboard credits or things like that to entice customers. River cruising is something that has been expanding almost 100 per cent per year for the past five years. This is because, I think people are looking for variety, and people who are long-term cruisers are looking to try something new. And I think people are starting to get a little more adventurous [and want] to get more into the countries, so the concept of a river cruise, where you spend a lot of your time in port, where you get to walk around and see a variety of cities, has really caught on. It’s like- how do you take the cruising market to the tour business? People rave about it. 70 per cent of river cruises in Europe are still down the Danube, but you’re starting to see new markets, like Portugal should be opening next year. And Africa was launched by AMA this year and Vietnam a few years ago, so you’re starting to see it grow into new markets.

Original article found on www.hellowesttravel.com

Franchising the Cruise Industry with Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Franchise Interview on franchising the cruise industry with Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Have you ever thought about owning a travel agency franchise with a strong brand name? We have a great show today. We are meeting with Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and Mary Beth Casey, franchise owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Ft. Lauderdale.

Expedia Group, the one of the biggest online travel companies in the world, has partnered with Expedia CruiseShipCenters to provide travelers a one stop shop for cruises and vacations. Expedia CruiseShipCenters was founded in 1987 and offers the best value in the industry with thousands of Cruise Consultants in several hundred franchise locations throughout North America.

In part 2, we meet with franchise expert Gary Ochiogrosso. Gary discusses the “Three Legged Stool” of franchising on our Great Quotes in Franchising Podcast.

Original article found on www.franchiseinterviews.com