Cruise Travel Agency Betting on Brick and Mortar
This story appeared on www.dailybusinessreview.com
At a time when retailers are shrinking brick and mortar operations, a Canadian cruise franchise is doing the opposite.
Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a full-service travel agency specializing in cruises, has plans to open 10 Florida stores over the next three to five years. At least three of those stores will be located in South Florida, said company president Matthew Eichhorst.
“Florida is a huge cruise market,” Eichhorst said. The Sunshine State is home to two of the nation’s busiest ports, Port Miami and Port Everglades. In 2014, Florida’s ports handled 62 percent of all passenger embarkations in the U.S., with cruise activity in Miami leading the way, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, an organization that tracks the industry.
Vancouver-based Expedia CruiseShipCenters, a subsidiary of Expedia Group, aims to double its Florida storefronts. Its target expansion plan includes five locations in the tri-county area, three locations in the greater Orlando area and three in the Tampa Bay area, in addition to an opening in Boca Raton later this year.
The expansion is part of an ambitious goal to have 500 stores in North America over the next five years. There are currently 166 in Canada and 59 in the U.S.
Eichhorst said the Expedia brand helps boost the franchise’s position within the travel agency marketplace.
“We’re generally way ahead in that space just because the smaller travel agency can’t make the same investment on all the tools” and technology the company uses, he said.
The stores are generally 800 to 1,000 square feet in size, while the largest locations may reach up to 2,000 square feet. Each store is operated by about 25 agents.
Travel agent usage hit a six-year high in 2016, with a third of millennial travelers reportedly booking trips through an agent, according to a recent study by MMGY Global. Other studies show that over 70 percent of cruises are actually booked through an agent rather than online—a rosy statistic for cruise travel agencies operating in a dot-com era.
“Having a storefront and customer service is a big advantage when people don’t have time to sift through the internet to plan a vacation, especially if they are looking for something that is tailored to them,” said Jennifer White, who operates a franchise store in Fort Lauderdale.
“I like to think it’s the complexity of the product itself,” Eichhorst said, adding that amenities and destinations differ greatly among the numerous ship offerings. “We strongly believe that Florida’s thriving cruise market combined with passionate franchisees has great potential to bring continued success to our growing brand.”
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