When Expedia first bought interest in Vancouver-based CruiseShipCenters International in 2008, its president Michael Drever said the goal was to grow from 1,500 to 15,000 consultants over the next decade.
Increasing that most important part of the business tenfold was an ambitious goal, but one that Drever felt confident the company could reach with the power of the Expedia brand, which he called “the biggest Internet player in the world.”
Almost six years later, the company has a new name (now officially known as Expedia CruiseShipCenters or ECSC), a new president (Drever moved on and Matthew Eichhorst moved up from COO in 2009), and more than 4,000 consultants working in 200 franchises across the United States and Canada.
Last month, the company celebrated its national conference aboard the Ruby Princess and unveiled yet another plan to further cement itself as the leading cruise travel franchise. Under its 2020 Vision plan, the company expects to grow from 200 franchises today to 500 by 2020.
“We love to say that we do it all—click, call, or come in, we got you covered,” said Geraldine Ree, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Ree said ECSC “tries to make it as easy as possible for (consultants) to do their job” by automating as many steps as possible, including flights, pre- and post-cruise trips, and hotel.
“We want to make it as easy as possible…and that is no easy feat,” she said. “We want to save time so consultants can grow their business rather than managing the administrative work.”
The biggest question Ree got from franchise owners during the week-long cruise, she said, was how to construct a business plan to run a successful franchise. Because every franchise is different, the company arranged for franchise performance coaches to talk to them individually during the conference.
For the company, meanwhile, the franchise system seems to be working. ECSC sells more cruises per location than any other retailer in North America. Sixty-five percent of its business is from the actual cruises; the rest comes from add-ons—air, hotels, and pre- and post-cruise tours.
The company is proving that basing a business just on selling cruises can be profitable. Despite the news that Disney was cutting some commissions to travel agents earlier this year, Ree believes cruise sellers will always have a role, mostly because 70% of cruisers are still buying from a real person.
“It’s always that push-pull,” she said. “Wouldn’t we love to have full commissions…but if I look at the big picture there’s still lots of profit in cruising, and great partnerships require that conversation. At the end of the day you want to make sure you are the best partner.”