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Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Kyle Matheson of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

A growing industry, customer-centric culture, and big brand name led this hotel executive to trade land for sea.

A life-long traveler, Kyle Matheson, shares his experience taking over an existing franchise location and reveals what he believes is the key differentiator setting Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors.

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

Kyle: Most recently I was the Director of Sales for the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver, BC, but I’ve always worked in tourism and hospitality. I started in the travel business as a tour guide for my dad’s corporate event company and transitioned into hotels in 2000 and I have spent the last 18 years in sales and marketing for hotels.

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

Kyle: There are a couple of things that led my wife, Tammy, and I to Expedia CruiseShipCenters. I could see the cruise market being an area for growth with every year at least 50,000 more people cruising through the port of Vancouver alone. We initially looked at a couple independent travel agencies, but once we attended Discovery Day for Expedia CruiseShipCenters we were sold. We realized that we could own our own travel agency that specializes in cruise, and get the technology, marketing, and the Expedia brand recognition, it was really a no-brainer for us to go with the travel franchise option.

Originally, we were looking to open a new Expedia franchise, but there weren’t any available in our area so we started looking at existing locations for sale and purchased one of the original 10 Centers ever built.

Why an Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise?

Kyle: The very first thing we noticed about Expedia CruiseShipCenters was the support. Expedia CruiseShipCenters has great technology, customer management systems, good marketing programs as well as a large corporate team that help us. On top of that, we are backed by Expedia, the largest brand in travel which allows us to offer the best deals and our Travel Consultants can earn higher levels of commission.

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

Kyle: It’s really about the service that we offer. Everybody says they have great service but what I like about Expedia CruiseShipCenters is that it’s backed up by the training. We’ve added 10 new Consultants in the past year and to be able to put them through a set of training that formalizes what they’re meant to do — how to take care of a guest, how to look for customers, how to qualify properly, how to match the customer to the right cruise line — all of that is really drilled home through the training and in the end is what benefits the client. It’s all about living the Promise that Expedia CruiseShipCenters puts forward.

How do you find your customers?

Kyle: I think when you buy a franchise you’ve got to jump in with both feet and really work the system. We participate in every one of the flyer mailings, email blasts and Facebook marketing initiatives. For our Center, the secret sauce for finding new customers and hosting an event in conjunction with the 7 core promotions Expedia CruiseShipCenters has each year. Sometimes we’ll hold the event here in the Center and other times at an offsite location like a golf course or a community venue. Partnering with a participating cruise line and holding an event around the promotion provides a reason for people to act on the marketing we’ve sent them and has been a real winner for us.

The other thing I’d say is when you buy a business you need to put work into it. I tell potential new franchise owners on the validation calls, you’ve got to keep recruiting and promoting top of mind and constantly network. I’ve had three leads just from standing in bank line-ups! If the opportunity comes up to have a meaningful conversation and I’ve got my branded Expedia CruiseShipCenters shirt on I jump on it.

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

Kyle:Kyle: I believe it’s important to build strong relationships with our customers to drive repeat business. I’m so lucky to have such a great team of Vacation Consultants who are passionate about travel and love helping customers book memorable vacations. If some issues come arise either before, during or after our customers trip, we can work together and keep their business because we have a good relationship. Creating a deep customer connection allows us to follow up after their vacation and ask if they enjoyed that 75th birthday trip or that 15th wedding anniversary cruise was and if they would like to plan their next vacation.

What aspects of this business do you enjoy the most?

Kyle: For me, it’s the people. I don’t think people get into the hospitality business if they don’t enjoy being part of a team and bringing people together. We get to deal with clients when they are at their happiest. They’re dreaming about their next vacation or their bucket list trip or a special occasion, and that’s just fun to talk about and be in the office for.

Another thing that I didn’t expect is the great community of Franchise Partners. Quite a few of them have taken the time to have a coffee or a meal with me to let me pick their brain and help me get up to speed and improve my business. I’ve found the entire Expedia CruiseShipCenters community has been super helpful and open.

How would you describe the culture at your center?

Kyle and his team celebrating 1million in sales

Kyle: We celebrate birthdays with wine and cheese at our Center! It really has a family feel, which is something that I like and have tried to foster after working in my own dad’s business. This business is very personal to me. My wife and I have made the investment to do this and we involve our 9-year-old daughter as much as we can. I feel like the people in the office really care about each other and their shared success. The previous owners built a Center where people wanted to be and enjoy each other’s company and I’ve worked hard to continue that so that everyone feels that same level of trust. Some of the Consultants even go on vacation together which I think that says a lot about how well they get along.

 

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

Kyle: Since I joined the Expedia family I’m felt consistent support from the corporate team from the very beginning. I felt like the corporate head office truly wanted to get to know me and understand what I was looking for in a franchise. My Franchise Performance Coach is awesome at helping me grow my business in the right direction. She’s encouraging, but also knows I like numbers and benchmarks so she gives me all the information I need. She’s also great at providing the check for blind spots and is always encouraging me to recruit. The proof is in the pudding: halfway through this year we were already over half of our growth and it is from the new Consultants we added last year who are now starting to hit their stride. Without her support and encouragement, we wouldn’t have been as successful.

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

Kyle: Even though we’re an established Center, I’m still in growth mode. When I look at the high performers in the Expedia CruiseShipCenters system they have more Consultants. We have 32 Consultants right now and I’d like to get to 50, while still maintaining our great Center culture. I see us growing over the next 5 years with Tammy ideally joining the business in the next year or two.
In terms of lifestyle changes, I truly have more flexibility now. Working in hotels, especially at the leadership/executive level, it was hard to get away and have family time. The biggest change in my life since buying my Expedia franchise is I have been to every single one of my daughter’s dance recitals and school assemblies because I’m my own boss.

Kyle and his wife Tammy – Korto hike

 

 

Learn More

For more in-depth details on how you can be your own boss and open an Expedia CruiseShipCenters retail travel franchise, fill out the form below.

Meet our Franchise Advisors

Supporting you through the Expedia Franchise Education Process

Expedia CruiseShipCenters continues to expand its full-service retail travel franchises across the continent and our dynamic duo of Franchise Advisors are dedicated to helping potential franchise owners find the business opportunity of their dreams.

Our Franchise Advisors each have extensive experience in franchising and a passion for our proven business model. They’ll help guide you through our seven-step franchise education process and ensure that all your questions are answered along the way.

Jeff Warkentin, Franchise Advisor

Jeff has worn many different hats at Expedia CruiseShipCenters. As a former Franchise Owner turned Franchise Performance Coach with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Jeff has experienced all sides of our brand’s proven system. Prior to joining the Corporate Support team, Jeff purchased an under-performing Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in 2007 and grew it into a top 10 franchise in our system before selling it three years later. Jeff now uses his wealth of knowledge on the Expedia CruiseShipCenters model to excite candidates about how they too can realize their entrepreneurial dreams and build equity in a fun, growing industry, just like he did.

What advice would you give to candidates? My advice to candidates is to choose a business that’s going to align with your lifestyle and long-term plan. If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work again!

What’s your favorite destination you’ve visited? My wife and I took a Paul Gauguin cruise to the Cook Islands and it was like we were traveling undiscovered land, it is truly stunning. I would highly recommend it if you’re looking to explore the South Pacific.

Where is your next dream vacation? I’d really like to see France and do a river cruise through the Bordeaux region. Wine sampling, great food and good company sounds like a dream.

Daniel Meyer, Franchise Advisor

Daniel joined Expedia CruiseShipCenters in 2014 and continues his successful career in franchise development. He combines his Master’s in Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Intercultural Communications with more than 20 years of experience in sales management, and business development. As a previous Franchise Owner and Franchise Development Manager with Tutor Doctor, he has a deep understanding of both franchising and business and has a passion for helping people find the right opportunity to meet their personal and financial goals.

What advice would you give to candidates? I’d tell candidates to choose an industry that encompasses a passion of theirs (i.e. travel or education) and understand that the day to day role is something you can get excited about.

What’s your favorite destination you’ve visited? One of my favorite places I’ve visited is the Moselle River in Germany on a river cruise. There was so much history, architecture and WINE! One afternoon we floated past 35 Castles. I went to Prague on the same trip and it was an amazingly beautiful city.

Where is your next dream vacation? This summer I’m going to Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. I’ve been planning the trip for a while and I’m excited to see each of those cities.

Our Franchise Advisors are here to help educate you on the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity. Jeff and Daniel are both experts in franchise ownership and will guide you through the process of discovering our franchise. If you’re passionate about traveling and enjoy building and leading a team, owning an Expedia Franchise could be perfect for you.

Complete the form below to receive of free franchise report and Jeff or Daniel will reach out shortly! You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our retail travel agency franchise opportunity here.

Travel Agent or Travel Agency Owner

Which travel business opportunity is right for you?

At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, we offer two distinct business opportunities with different investment levels, earning potential and lifestyles. Not sure if you want to be a Travel Consultant or be the owner of your own travel agency? Answer the questions in our handy quiz below to determine which opportunity is right for you!

Travel Agent Opportunity

To learn more about becoming a Vacation Consultant with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and get connected with your nearest Center, submit an inquiry at www.joinecsc.com.

Franchise Owner Opportunity

To learn more about becoming a Franchise Owner with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and begin our discovery process, complete the form below. You’ll gain immediate access to our Franchise Report which contains useful information about our franchise opportunity.

Are you ready to get started but still aren’t sure which opportunity is the right fit for you? Read our detailed comparison of the two opportunities: Travel Agent or Travel Agency Owner

Determining the Best Expedia CruiseShipCenters Opportunity For You!

Comparing our Travel Agent and Franchise Owner opportunity

Expedia CruiseShipCenters offers not just one but two business opportunities! Each offers it’s own earning potential, time commitment, investment level and lifestyle. Continue reading to learn more about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters Travel Agent Opportunity and the Expedia Franchise Owner opportunity to determine which is the best fit for your personal goals!

Do you want to start your own travel business?

If you made your way here, the answer is probably “yes”! Congratulations on coming to the right place to start a travel business. As part of the most recognized brand in travel, Expedia CruiseShipCenters has been providing travel business opportunities for passionate entrepreneurs like yourself for over 30 years!

At Expedia CruiseShipCenters you can choose to become the owner of a retail travel agency franchise in your community, or you can become a Vacation Consultant who is supported by one of our 255+ franchise locations already in existence. The right opportunity for you will depend on a number of factors described in more detail below.

What kind of time commitment are you able to invest in your business?

As a Vacation Consultant with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, you have the flexibility to set your own schedule and come into the Center when and as often as you choose to. You can sell travel on a part-time basis or make it a full-time business. You’ll receive support from your local Franchise Owner, but as an Independent Contractor working on commission only, the hours you put into your business is completely up to you.

As an Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Owner, the demands on your time will be more intense. During the first few years while you’re getting your Center built, your team recruited and trained, and your business to profitability, you’ll be working at least a full-time week, likely more. Franchise Owners at our more mature locations will often hire a manager for the Center to allow them more freedom to travel and enjoy the perks of the business they’ve worked hard to build.

Do you want to spend most of your time organizing vacations for others?

If you love to plan vacations for your family and friends and want to do that all day long, our Vacation Consultant opportunity is likely the best fit for you. Our Consultants are passionate travellers who love to share their experiences with others. We call them Navigators of Spectacular Vacation Experiences because of their commitment to ensuring every client’s trip is nothing short of perfection.

As a Franchise Owner with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, you’ll sell a bit of travel in the beginning while you’re learning the business and training your team, but this will not be the main aspect of your role. Starting a travel agency requires you to wear many hats including recruiter, trainer, coach, marketer, community liaison and sometimes bookkeeper. If you have a business partner, you can trade off responsibilities based on your respective strengths, but in the beginning you should expect to be doing a little bit of everything until your business gets off the ground.

What is your main financial motivator for starting a business?

Many of our Vacation Consultants make a very good living on the commissions they earn selling cruises and vacations; however, the majority of our agents are looking only to earn supplemental income through a business that offers them flexibility and enjoyment. Stay-at-home parents, retirees, or people who simply love to share their passion for travel with others have all chosen to become Navigators of Spectacular Vacation Experiences with us. As part of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, you’ll be paid industry-leading commissions for each cruise you sell on the date your clients depart on their trip.

For our Franchise Owners on the other hand, this business is all about building long-term equity. You’ll earn a portion of your Consultants’ commissions in the short-run, but the real goal is to build up a valuable asset so that you can eventually sell your travel business at a sizable profit. The larger your team, sales and database of loyal customers, the more valuable your business will be. Many of our Franchise Owners who have followed our system have been very successful at building equity in their businesses, including starting, growing and selling multiple locations.

Do you love to lead and coach teams?

Franchise Partners support Vacation Consultants with ongoing training and support.

If you love being part of a team but not necessarily leading it, our Vacation Consultant opportunity is probably a better fit for you. You’ll still enjoy all the perks that come with being part of a fun working culture in a retail Center, including training and mentorship from your local Franchise Partner as well as your fellow Consultants.

The most important aspect of an Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Owner’s role is team leadership. Coaching, motivating and leading a large team of Vacation Consultants to success will be key to building a profitable travel business in your community. Our best Franchise Owners are natural leaders who love to help others achieve their goals. They facilitate team meetings, create a fun and exciting culture in their Center, and work with each individual Vacation Consultant to set sales targets and build a plan to achieve them.

Do you have access to $285,000 to invest in a retail business?

Starting a travel business either as a Vacation Consultant or Franchise Owner offer very different earning potentials and corresponding investment levels. Our Vacation Consultants can get started selling travel for as little as $299 in the US or $499 in Canada.

To become an Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Owner, the financial requirements are more rigid as it takes time and capital to build a successful retail travel business. To fund your Center build-out and cover working capital during your first year of opening, you can expect to spend between $165,000 – $285,000 depending on your market and the space you open in. If you choose to move forward with our franchise discovery process, we’ll talk to you about financing options and ways you can leverage your retirement savings or home equity to fund your business.

Ready to get started?

Now that you’ve determined which travel business opportunity is right for you, it’s time to take the next step in making it happen!

I’d like to learn more about becoming a Travel Agent

To learn more about becoming a Vacation Consultant with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and get connected with your nearest Center, submit an inquiry at www.joinecsc.com.

I’d like to learn more about becoming a Franchise Owner

To learn more about becoming a Franchise Owner with Expedia CruiseShipCenters and begin our discovery process, complete the form below. You’ll gain immediate access to our Franchise Report which contains useful information about our franchise opportunity.

Meet some of our newest Franchise Owners

Set sail with the #1 brand in travel and open your own franchise

Expedia CruiseShipCenters continues to expand throughout North America, gaining more exceptional franchise owners year after year. With over 255 travel franchise locations open or in development, we’re on track for 2018 to be another record year.

Our franchise owners come from a wide range of backgrounds, each with their own unique stories of what led them to choosing franchise ownership. Meet some of our newest franchise owners who officially joined the Expedia CruiseShipCenters family in 2017.

Rene Matt – San Diego, CA

Franchise owner, Rene Matt, grew up in Switzerland and his curiosity and desire to travel was sparked early on in life. His background in computer science led to rewarding career in high-tech sales and owning a small merchant services business in Southern California. He discovered the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity when he was searching for a new challenge where could utilize his skills and be his own boss. Rene and his family enjoy having an active lifestyle as well as exploring the world and looking for new adventures. In June of 2017 Rene opened his Center in sunny San Diego, CA.

Ram Venkat – Plano, TX

Franchise owner, Ram Venkat, and his family moved from Southern California to Texas before opening his Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in Plano, TX. Ram has an impressive background working in the IT industry for over 15 years holding positions as an IT consultant, VP of application development and IT program Manager. Ram’s leadership and management experience led him to pursue a business opportunity that allows him to enjoy new adventures with friends and family and build equity in his business. Ram and his wife Deepa have two sons and they love travelling as a family, cruising is one of their favorite ways to explore new places.

Nickell Beach- Lehi, UT

Franchise owner, Nickell Beach, is a mom of three and has a background in Business Management and Fashion merchandising. Prior to joining the Expedia CruiseShipCenters family, Nickell worked in the mortgage industry for 15 years and gained experience in sales, operations and management. She enjoys an active lifestyle and was looking to own her own business and build equity around one of her passions. Nickell’s tenacity has made her a great leader in her community opening her Center just south of Salt Lake City in Lehi, UT in July 2017.

Eric and Sharon Hickman – Lakeland, GA

Franchise owners, Eric and Sharon Hickman, opened their Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in October 2017 in Lakeland, GA. Eric is a skilled entrepreneur, with a 14-year career working in manufacturing operations and global supply chain as well as operating and selling several smaller businesses along the way. Sharon is an experienced teacher, working in both the public and private school systems. Successfully home-schooling their children and sending the youngest off to University Eric and Sharon were ready to pursue their next entrepreneurial endeavor together as franchise owners. Combining Eric’s skills in building and leading teams and Sharon’s experience as an educator made Expedia CruiseShipCenters the perfect fit. They are both excited to utilize their strengths as they build long-term equity in a business that they own together.

Are you ready for the next chapter in your career?

When you join forces with Expedia CruiseShipCenters no previous travel industry experience is required – just a passion for travel and desire to recruit and lead a team! Our franchise owners come from a wide array of backgrounds and careers each bringing their own unique skills and experience to the job. Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ proven system, paired with industry-leading tools and support, sets our franchise owners up for success from day one. There’s never been a better time to join the Expedia family by opening your own Expedia CruiseShipCenters!

Learn More

Does franchise ownership interest you? For more details about owning your own 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.

Achieving Your Franchise Business Goals

Refranchising made easy with a dedicated support team


When you become an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner you become our partner. Our partnership means we’re in this together, from the moment you sign your franchise agreement to the day you’re ready to sell your Center – for a profit. Beginning with our dedicated Start-Up team to guide you through launching your Center and our knowledgeable Refranchise team specializing in supporting Franchise Partners through the process of selling your business.

Determining your Long-term Goals

At Expedia CruiseShipCenters we begin discussing your long-term plan before you even become a Franchise Partner. When you enter into franchise ownership you’re embarking on an investment that one day you’ll want to sell for a healthy profit! For some it’s a long-term plan, helping them foray into retirement by either developing a trusted Office Manager to operate when they’re vacationing or bringing on their millennial children to purchase the business over time. Some Franchise Partners plan to sell the business in a certain number of years, so their goal is to propel growth faster than others. In this case, they work full time building the business while cultivating their team to produce and hit targets, so the business is attractive to any incoming buyer as it’s on an upward trajectory.

With the growing popularity of entrepreneurship and small business optimism over the last several years, finding a buyer of has become easier. Starting a business from scratch has many commitments and it can sometimes be overwhelming especially for first-time entrepreneurs. However, opening and operating a franchised business can ease this transition with the security of a proven system and reliable support team. Buying an existing franchise that is already in operation can further eliminate any reservations you might have.

Guidance from a Dedicated Support Team

Purchasing an existing franchise business has some significant advantages which can propel growth faster than a startup. An established Expedia CruiseShipCenters has leveraged our proven system and offers a new owner a built-in customer base. Clients know what to expect from your business because they recognize the brand and trust the service they have been provided. Additionally, the support, training and infrastructure are already in place allowing the transition to a new owner to be smoother and more efficient.

When the time comes, you’ll work with our expert team to guide you through our Refranchise Program. The process is designed to both recognize the contributions made by the existing Franchise Partner and to ensure the incoming Franchise Partner is set up for continued success.

Your Refranchise Manager will help to pair you with potential buyers and choose someone who is the right fit for all parties and whom you’re going to enter a negotiation with. From beginning to end of selling your Center your Expedia CruiseShipCenters Refranchise Manager will keep both parties on track, provide relevant documentation and guidance throughout the entire process. Additionally, once the sale is complete we will direct and manage all communication to suppliers while the new owner gets acquainted with your team and works through our Franchise Partner training academy with their dedicated Onboarding Coach.

We’ve seen great success transitioning new Franchise Partners into our proven model, completing over 10 sales with happy sellers and buyers over the past two years alone. Our new Franchise Partners have demonstrated strong year over year growth in what was an already a successful business built up from the previous owner! Buying an Expedia CruiseShipCenters is a fantastic way to build a local asset while being involved in an industry that has a global reach. Whether you’re operating your Center for future expansion or plan to make enough profit to sell in five years, our corporate team of 125+ employees are here to support and guide you every step of the way.

Learn More

Get started building your dream business where you can build equity in a proven system like Expedia CruiseShipCenters by completing the form below! If you’re interested in exploring resale opportunities, visit our Resale Opportunities page and complete the form for more information.

How Contests Drive Revenue For Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchises

Travel franchise owners benefit from our relationships with major cruise lines

How do Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise owners attract new customers? There are many ways, but there’s one that’s gaining traction among our franchise owners is truly fun and exciting — contests!

Caption

Fun and effective – contests help to bolster consultants’ customer base and re-engage with existing contacts.

Contests are a great way for our franchise owners to build a database of prospective customers, especially when they’re first getting started. Thanks to our strong relationships with some of the biggest names in the travel industry, each year Expedia CruiseShipCenters partners with brands like Disney, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International for our annual and promotional contests to serve both the franchise owner and also potential customers. It’s the epitome of a win-win situation, franchisees grow and nurture their contact list while a few lucky individuals embark on the vacation experience of a lifetime!

These contests help you to add hundreds of new subscribers to your databases year round and keep our brand top of mind for travelers. Our dedicated marketing team makes contesting a breeze for our franchise owners by overseeing and promoting all contests. Print and online marketing pieces with consistent messages are prepared, along with in-store messaging. To best support franchise owners and vacation consultants, an in-depth contest guide is also available.

Our Win 1 of 5 Free Cruises Contest with Norwegian Cruise Line is on now until October 31st where five lucky winners will receive a free 7 night Caribbean cruise for two! Contest entrants can earn up to ten additional chances to win by referring their friends and family members. Last year, we received more than 200,000 entries with 80% of entrants subscribed to 1 or more of our email marketing pieces which are personalized to the local franchise. Contests like this provide amazing exposure to travelers who may not know about our services yet and allow franchisees to re-engage with their existing database.

Grow, build and nurture customer relationships

Not only do contests help us attract new contacts and email marketing subscriptions but it also allows travel agents in the Center to connect with their existing contacts and help them to enter the current contest. This point of connection strengthens the relationship and also serves as a great opportunity to check in on travel needs, update contact and marketing subscription information.

Contest entrants’ information is dispersed among our local franchises based on ZIP code to increase their databases of potential customers. Since many people also choose to subscribe to our email newsletters when they enter the contest, our travel franchise owners can keep their services top of mind when those new contacts go to book their next dream vacation.

“Our annual contest is something we look forward to every year because there’s nothing more satisfying to us than providing people with the experience of cruising,” said Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters. “These contests are extremely beneficial to our franchise owners because they provide a deep well of new potential customers to reach out to long after the contest is over.”

Cruising is more popular than ever before

According to Cruise Lines International Association, 100 million people are expected to cruise in the next four years. CLIA reports that the average age of a cruise traveler is 49, with an average income of $114,000. While cruising certainly appeals to the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations, the industry is also experiencing a boom in younger travelers. According to MMGY, travel agent usage has hit a six-year high and one out of three Millennials seek the advice of a trusted travel professional for their travel arrangements. Of those who cruised in 2014, 38% had never cruised before, which bodes well for future growth of our travel franchise.

YaletownRendering

According to Cruise Lines International Association, 70% of cruisers opted to book using a travel agent in 2015.

CLIA, in their 2017 North American Market Profile of the industry, noted 70% of cruisers opted to book their vacations using a travel agent. The thriving cruising market, as well as consumer trends, allows Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise owners to have viable, profitable businesses that reflect their owners’ passion for travel.

We’re growing rapidly, and so are our sales

Expedia CruiseShipCenters launched in 1987 and is one of largest sellers of cruise travel in North America. Our travel agency franchise is rapidly expanding, with more than 265 locations open or under development.

Our sales have grown an average of 20% a year over the past two decades. While the internet had a negative impact on many other retail travel businesses, we have flourished. The reason for our success is simple: cruises, while popular, are not cheap. And choosing from the myriad of available cruise options is not easy. The complicated nature of booking cruises, combined with the force of our brand name, lead an ever-growing number of people to our travel franchise locations.

“The value we add is in being thoughtful,” says Mary Beth Casey, owner of an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We know what this vacation will bring to them and their families. There’s a lot of patience and hand-holding from our side. And then when our customers get off the ship, we do a follow-up: Did we meet their expectations? And where are they going to go next?”

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.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Joyce and Gary Mariner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Owners of New York travel franchise share their insights

Expedia CruiseShipCenter Franchisees Gary and Joyce Mariner are both retired from the New York City Police Department.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchisees Gary and Joyce Mariner are both retired from the New York City Police Department.

When Joyce and Gary Mariner retired after more than two decades of serving the New York City Police Department, they soon realized that retirement wasn’t for them. Throughout their years working for the NYPD, Joyce as a detective in various units and Gary as part of the prestigious mounted horseback unit, they spent their vacation time traveling and planning more travel excursions. Cruising, in particular, kept them grounded, and they have shared more than 40 cruises together. As they researched potential businesses to invest in, they looked to their shared love for travel as the basis for a brand new career. They soon opened the first Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in New York State, and they recently threw a celebration for clients, suppliers and consultants to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their Long Island Center.

This is Joyce and Gary’s story:

Tell us about your career before becoming Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisees?

Joyce: Both of us were New York City police officers. I served 25 years, and over the course of my career I worked in investigative units such as narcotics and robbery, as well as detective squad. I earned the rank of detective first grade, which is the top rank for a detective in New York City. During my last six years I was in the homicide bureau covering the Brooklyn area.

Gary: I retired after 26 years of serving with the mounted unit of the police department, which conducts patrols strictly on horseback. It’s one of the most prestigious units in the police department. I like to tell people that I got paid every day to ride a horse.

What appealed to you about opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location?

Joyce: People say it sounded so different from our previous careers, but it’s still a service-oriented field. We could have retired after 20 years of working with the police department, but we stayed on. Part of the reason we did was because it allowed us to afford to take our vacations, which we love to do! We took two cruises a year during our time with the police department. That kept us grounded and helped us stay sane. When we got back from vacation, we went right back to work. It’s important for people with stressful jobs to get back into the game by taking a vacation.

When I retired, I looked into several things. I tried being a housewife for a couple of months, but that didn’t work out. Being a travel agent was attractive to me because I love to travel, and we’ve all heard the advice that says to do something you love to do. The opportunity with Expedia CruiseShipCenters came up, and I felt that it was right for me at the time. Gary and I were fortunate enough to retire early with the police force and start another entirely new career.

You were both already fans of taking cruises. Tell us a little about that. :

Joyce: Before I started with Expedia CruiseShipCenters we were almost to the 40-cruise mark. That was our passion — cruising.

Gary: We’ve been on land tours to locations such as China, Russia and even Tahiti, but taking cruises is really our passion.

Where is your Expedia CruiseShipCenters located, and why did you feel it would be a good location?

Joyce: We are in the suburbs in Nassau County in Long Island, New York, which is approximately 30 miles from the city. Our location is just two blocks from the Long Island Railroad, which is the commuter train into Midtown Manhattan. We are right in the town of Merrick on the main street, and we are surrounded by local retailers and restaurants — plus we have a big chain supermarket and big chain drugstore right up the street.

Gary: We are definitely centrally located in town in a good, high-traffic area.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

Joyce: Expedia is a brand name that is well known. If we had opened a travel agency with just our last name, although Mariner is a great last name for a travel agency, it’s just not well known — so it’s not as effective. With Expedia, everybody knows the brand. Then to be the first location in New York and all of New York State was a plus.

Gary: The low-risk investment aspect compared to other franchises that we looked at was also appealing. Opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters was more affordable for us.

How do you market your business?

Joyce: We send out brochures to Merrick residents using a direct-mailing service. The brochures coincide with Expedia CruiseShipCenters promotions six to seven times a year. We also rely on social media, and I place ads in our local newspapers.

Once or twice a month we hold informative “cruise nights” at our location. I bring in suppliers from cruise tours and land tours, and they come in to talk with the community. I send email blasts to invite residents to listen and learn. I serve refreshments, and sometimes we have small giveaways at these free events.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Merrick, NY celebrates the Grand Opening of their new travel agency franchise.

What was the reaction from the community when you opened?

Joyce: It was very positive. We have built such a good clientele so far, and as the months and years go by I’m just looking forward to building these relationships. The clients that we have built already from this community are like family. We sell cruises and vacations to residents who come in afterward, and they are so happy to see us. They are also happy to sit down and talk to somebody instead of researching their trip online or on the phone.

What do you look for in a consultant?

Joyce: I want a consultant who is as passionate as I am about travel. Not to say that they travel a lot, but they should be interested in it and have a following or friends and family who love to travel. Bringing those consultants in with their circle of influence helps our business grow. We have 23 Vacation Consultants onboard, and about half of them work from home.

Do you get a lot of referrals?

Joyce: We do have a lot of customer referrals. In fact we recently sold a 10-day Italy highlights trip for four women who were referred to us by another woman who walked in off the street a couple of months ago to buy a hotel and airfare package to Hong Kong. That was a nice referral.

What is your customer demographic like?

Joyce: It varies so much. We have a lot of civil service employees, such as teachers and doctors. They range from young families in this neighborhood to the baby boomers ready to retire. Then we have active seniors who love to travel.

What is rewarding about your business?

Joyce: There is always something to learn about travel. It’s changing every day, and you have to stay on top of it. To be in the business you really have to know what is going on. That is what your customers want; otherwise, they could just go online and do it themselves. I like watching our relationships grow among me, my consultants and our customers. We enjoy it, especially after we plan their trips and they come in and tell us what a great time they had. That is the best satisfaction. Plus, that brings referrals.

You’ve been on almost 40 cruises? Can you still travel with the business?

Joyce: You know what? You have to. We still take that one cruise or other vacation just for us. There is a national conference with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and that’s a cruise. We call it a work cruise, but it’s still a cruise.

In addition to cruises, do you sell land tours?

Joyce: We are a full-service travel agency, so yes. Seventy-seven percent of our business now is cruises, and then land tours would be next — followed by air, then short excursions and car rentals.

How does the main office support you?

Joyce: In the police department we used to say that the Patrol Services Bureau, the guys in the radio cars, were the backbone of the police department. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters is the backbone of our franchisees. They’ve always been responsive to my questions or problems, and if they couldn’t help then they would find the right person who could.

We have two conferences a year with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, which we look forward to. Going to these conferences brings me back to reality and reminds me why we joined and why we bought this business. The camaraderie within Expedia CruiseShipCenters is fantastic. At first I thought it was just for us in New York and our brothers and sisters in blue, but I can see it all throughout this organization.

Do you talk to other franchisees?

Joyce: My counterpart in Staten Island and I do talk if we have ideas or thoughts, or if we run into a problem. Then during our two conferences we get to meet and interact and mingle with franchisees who have been in business for over 20 years or the new ones who are just coming in. There is always a lot of feedback, and every franchisee has opened their arms and told me to call them any time I need help.

What is a typical day as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?

Joyce: I spend six days a week in my business, usually up to nine hours a day. And each day I am managing my back-office duties — doing commissions and bills and accounting, and I’m planning events and my monthly team meeting. I’m training consultants, and then on top of that I’m recruiting new consultants.

It’s a busy day. Some days I come in at 10:30 a.m. and I look up and it’s already 7 o’clock. So I have a full six days. I think it’s so important to be available to clients. If clients want to come to the Center, you need to be open and be there.

Do you have a favorite customer success story?

Joyce: We had an elderly man come in who wanted to go on a cruise leaving from Florida. He was going to drive down, and he wanted hotels in certain spots. Our Vacation Consultant worked with him for a couple of days. She found him the right cruise, and she also found four hotels on I-95 going down and coming back for him. She made a map and plotted it all out for him. And then when he came back from his cruise he stopped by to say hello and brought his dog. He was so impressed with her, and he asked her to plan his next cruise.

Tell me a little bit about training that franchisees receive when they come onboard.

Joyce: As a new franchisee, there is initial training online with the Expedia CruiseShipsCenter learning center through our CruiseDesk. There are a lot of courses that help. Right before opening, we spent the week at headquarters for cruise management training. That was fantastic. And there is constant training. There are webinars to keep us up to date on new promotions, how to plan our team meetings — anything that could help a franchisee in their business is provided by corporate. Knowledge is power, and it’s easier to sell the product if you know the product.

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.

After a Banner Year for the Cruise Industry, Expedia CruiseShipCenters Ramps Up for Explosive Growth in 2016

As the cruise industry continues its phenomenal rise, the time to open your Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise is now

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Expedia CruiseShipCenters has big plans for expansion in the United States and other nations around the world.

When cruisers were first counted in 1980, they numbered only 1 million. Today, cruising is a global phenomenon — spurred by decades of innovation and cultural awareness. Thirty-five years after the first annual cruising population was tallied, Cruise Lines International Association reports that 23 million people will have cruised in 2015. Better still, CLIA reports that in 2016, the number of cruisers will grow by nearly 1 million more.

As the cruise industry races to keep up with the rapidly growing demand for cruise travel, significant investments are being made to further the popularity of the lifestyle. CLIA reports that 30 new river ships will set sail for the first time in 2016, while 57 new ocean ships will come online by 2022, expanding the capacity for cruisers by more than 9 million overall. The influx of new ships will likewise extend what the cruise industry can offer to its customers, in terms of luxurious comfort and new destinations and adventurous day trips.

How the cruise industry is evolving

With nearly 24 million expected to cruise in 2016, the lifestyle is no longer dominated by seniors. CLIA’s recently published “2016 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook” speaks volumes about the universal appeal of the cruising lifestyle. The vastly important Millennial demographic is cruising more than seniors for the first time, which speaks to the long-term growth potential of the industry. The good news doesn’t stop there: All demographics are cruising in larger numbers.

Cruise Lines International Association reports that 70% of travelers prefer to book their cruises through a travel agent.

Cruise Lines International Association reports that 70% of travelers prefer to book their cruises through a travel agent.

And why wouldn’t they? With more ships going to more destinations than ever before, cruisers can customize trips to create their dream vacations. Customer segments are likewise blurring: contemporary cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International are now offering luxury accommodation as a premium experience, while luxury lines such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Crystal Cruises have begun offering family packages.

The trends reported above signify that the golden age of cruising is yet to come. As the cruising population continues to grow by the millions, Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise is the only brand with the name recognition, the proven business model and the industry relationships to capture a significant share of a booming industry. That’s why our sales have been growing at an average rate of 20% each year for more than two decades.

The time is now to launch your Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise

The seemingly limitless vacation options that cruisers have to choose from has made expert travel franchise owners a hot commodity. In fact, CLIA reports that 70% of cruisers prefer to book their vacations through a travel agent, and that number is likely to rise as the options for cruising expand.

Given that the wide majority of cruisers prefer to book their cruises with a travel agent, it is of added importance that our trusted brand is visible in their communities. This is why our franchise owners operate out of brick-and mortar-retail locations. Our retail locations give us increased visibility with our customers and also provide an office environment where we can host events — and where our independent Vacation Consultants can share knowledge and work together.

“You don’t have to explain who you are when Expedia is part of your name — our brand gives our travel franchise owners instant credibility,” says Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, who has helped us achieve double-digit sales growth since 2003. “Also, Expedia has more than 200,000 hotels in their system and access to a ton of air travel. We bolt that supply and data into a traditional travel agency franchise, and it provides a huge advantage.”

The new year will find our brand rapidly expanding across America

As large as the cruising industry has become, Expedia CruiseShipCenters has grown at three times the rate of the cruise industry overall, enjoying an average sales growth of 20% annually since we launched our brand more than two decades ago.

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Expedia CruiseShipCenters generates 10 times the average sales of competing franchise Cruise Planners, and 15 times more average sales (sales per unit) than Cruise One, according to the 2015 Power List in Travel Weekly. There are a lot of reasons for those figures, but perhaps the biggest is our business model — Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisees sign up to become travel sales leaders, not travel agents.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters has more than 200 travel franchise locations open or under development in North America and has plans to open dozens more travel franchise locations over the next three years.

“Our vision is to be the largest cruise retail network in North America who is the trusted brand for cruisers in their communities,” Matthew says. “In the year 2020, I see 500 Expedia CruiseShipCenters, with 300 of those stores in the United States.”

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters family franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Chris Meyer of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Owner of fast-growing travel franchise shares his insights, lessons

When Chris Meyer of Orange County, California, decided to leave the newspaper industry after 30 years as a professional journalist, he began looking for an opportunity that would improve the quality of his life. He found it as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner in Orange County. Meyer’s location broke sales records during his first three years in business. This is his story.

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Susan and Chris Meyer sailed out of New York City on the Norwegian Breakaway for Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ annual conference.

What did you do before you became an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner?

I started in journalism when I was in junior high school by creating a sports page for our teams.  I continued newspaper work in high school and college and then spent 30 years as a professional. I was running the Orange County Register’s local news and business news coverage until I left in 2011. At one point, I was interested in moving into upper management, so I returned to college to earn an MBA. While I was in that program, the bottom really fell out of the newspaper industry. When I came up for air at the end of the program, I figured that rather than manage the long decline of a newspaper, I should do something else. I saw a targeted ad on my LinkedIn profile and started investigating.

I had not been planning to become an entrepreneur, but I was impressed by the business plan — the idea of a big digital company also doing brick-and-mortar locations to appeal to every segment of the market.  I thought it was very forward-looking compared to what was happening in the newspaper industry.

What was the process like, learning about the company?

There were many web pages, webinars and learning modules. I could see how the company was structured. I placed many phone calls to the folks at corporate, as well as to franchise owners.

What made you want to open an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location?

I had covered business in my area for a long time, so I knew about Orange County’s economy. I also knew who in the county would be likely travelers. I knew the location I wanted was near a huge senior citizen community. I crunched numbers to figure out how many vacations I would need to sell each year to survive and how many I would need to sell to do really well. The numbers didn’t seem unfathomable, and I decided to roll the dice. I’m a risk-averse person, but I was again facing the task of laying off several members of my staff.

What was your startup like?

We opened at the beginning of 2012. We’ve done well — significantly better than the average. I had looked at the averages and decided that I wouldn’t be happy with that. I started talking to people about what I would need to do to beat the average significantly, and I convinced myself that it was possible. In the first four years, we have significantly exceeded the averages.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

I think the Expedia name is huge. It is a household name that has instant familiarity and instant credibility. The headquarters team is focused on continuous improvement. Most of our competitors don’t have a big brand for people to connect with. Some of our competitors are affiliated with American Express, and we all remember travelers’ checks. But that seems a little yesteryear. Expedia is now. Our folks are committed to technology. It is at our core, and that gives us a competitive edge. Our online software, CruiseDesk, has a very good CRM that saves administrative steps and enables us to be more efficient.

What have you done to get off to such a strong start?

Like anything else, there are multiple pieces to success. People are always important in any business, so attracting, motivating, and retaining the right Vacation Consultants is critical. Having the right macro-location and micro-location is important. We are next to a Trader Joe’s and a senior citizen community of 18,000 people — a community of people with the time and money to travel. Then, it is mostly training and motivating my people.

How do you win over customers?

Expedia does a lot of web marketing that includes contests to win a free trip and encourages people sign up to receive our free e-newsletters. These develop customers. We also reach out into the community to make sure people know about us. I encourage consultants to develop simple business plans.

You get best of both worlds with the power of brand to attract customers and the buying power of the brand to put together great travel packages. And since we work with all the major cruise lines and land-based travel companies, we are able to help customers get the vacation they want at the price they can afford.

We’re a like a travel version of the Apple store. When you go in, you already know that you want a computer, but you don’t know how much RAM you need, or how big your screen should be. It’s a big purchase, so you want to be able to ask an expert three or four questions. Similarly, many people know the type of vacation they want to take, in general terms, and come in to talk about exactly what is available. Customers may learn about a trip offered by one cruise line, and we help them understand the options available from competitors.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

I enjoy talking about travel. I enjoy it when customers return from their vacation grinning, telling stories and hugging their travel agent. And we all get to go on vacations from time to time.

How often do you get out for a cruise?

I travel three to four times a year. It’s not always cruises. Cruises account for about 60 percent of our sales. We also book many land packages to Hawaii and land tours in Europe. I try to travel strategically to visit new places and experience new cruise lines, tour companies and vacation styles. Each trip gives me new insights to share with consultants and clients. I was not a cruise enthusiast when I started with Expedia. I had been on a couple of cruises, but I also had backpacked Hawaii and driven through Europe. I have now cruised on a variety of ships from the South Pacific to Alaska to the Mediterranean. I love variety!

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Their mantra is that the franchisees are their customers. My mantra is that the Vacation Consultants are my customers, and the travelers are the consultants’ customers. I’m focused on helping others succeed, which helps me. Expedia has the same attitude. They provide systems and support that give me the ability to be more successful.

Do you talk with other franchisees?

I communicate with a core group of colleagues regularly. Some are veterans, others a few years ahead of me and others joined at the same time as me. We share good ideas and troubleshoot problems as we all try to grow our businesses. I catch up with a wider group at our two annual conferences.

What does a typical day look like in the business?

It’s essentially a management job. I focus on working with consultants, working with our travel partners and working on marketing. A big role is business development.

What kind of people do you hire as consultants?

Our Vacation Consultants are independent contractors. Some are committed to it as a full-time job and want to travel to the ends of the earth. Others are hobbyists — they get their aunt and uncle on a cruise. My goal is to invest in the hard chargers and not let the hobbyists take up too much of my time.

What sort of training do you get?

I have received lots of sales training. When you are searching for a storefront for your business and going through the process of negotiating a lease, you have time to take advantage of a lot of training.

Has the business met your goals so far?

My goals were pretty lofty. I always like to stretch myself, and I am pretty satisfied with where we are going.

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

I like the outdoors. I like to work out. I like to have experiences. I do lots of things. I  enjoy time with my grandkids.

What are some of your favorite customer stories?

A customer agonized for a long time about the cost of the Alaska cruise she was taking with her sister. The cruise offered a wide range of excursions and wide range of prices. For example, on the low end for the Alaskan cruise, you can go to a U.S. Forest Service center and look at a glacier. On the high end, you can take a helicopter to the top of the glacier and walk on it. This woman came in multiple times,  discussing whether to go big or go small. She finally decided to go big, because “I’ll probably never get back to Alaska.” After the trip, she brought in a photo with her sister on top of the glacier. She told me that going big was the best decision she made.

Another time, a woman in her late 20s came in to plan her honeymoon. She previously had horrible experiences with a travel agency near her home; she couldn’t get her questions answered. She Googled us after deciding to give the travel agent experience one more shot and wound up booking her honeymoon with us. She wanted to go around the island of Britain with her fiancé to see the big scotch distilleries. Very few people want to do this, and very few brides on their honeymoons want to do this, but one of our consultants designed a custom trip complete with car rentals and tours of distilleries. This woman wrote a very complimentary Yelp review about how this trip worked out perfectly, and how she never would have been able to plan it out on her own.

Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise?

For a person who finds travel interesting, it’s a  relatively low investment, which is attractive. You need to be willing to follow the system while integrating your own special qualities into it.  You need to work hard with a must-win attitude.

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.