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.
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.