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 Inc. 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