Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®: Transforming How Cruisers Buy Vacations

Matthew Eichhorst | President | Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Franchising provides a relative safety net for small business entrepreneurs by providing experience, expertise, and a proven operating system, in exchange for an initial franchise fee and ongoing royalties. Currently, there are close to 800,000 businesses in North America which are franchised – an increase of nearly 2% over last year. According to the International Franchising Association, the Franchising industry in the US had an economic output of $757 billion in 2018, an increase of 6.2% over the previous year.

Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®, North America’s largest retail travel agency franchise, offers its franchisees an opportunity to enjoy very low overhead in their business with no inventory or employees. Franchisees recruit and train “Vacation Consultants” who are “Independent Contractors” and can be either part-time or full-time. The opportunity provides flexibility to work either within the retail center, from home, or a combination of both.

The thriving cruise market, along with consumer trends and the complexity associated with booking cruises, has allowed Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® to have viable, profitable businesses that reflect its owners’ passion for travel. The company is a full-service travel agency franchise that specializes in cruises while offering a full range of travel products. It has over 300 locations across North America, over 6,800 Vacation Consultants, and over a million travelers who have made Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® their cruise agency of choice.

Although founded in 1987, it wasn’t until 2007 when CruiseShipCenters partnered with Expedia Group and became Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®. Leveraging the trusted recognition of Expedia’s global brand, and their $99.7 billion in buying power, Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® Franchisees enjoy the entrepreneurial freedom of independent ownership while being backed by one of the world’s most successful travel names.

Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® is the fastest growing franchise network in the travel industry’s fastest growing sector. With over 30 years of continued growth, and double-digit growth on average each year, the company’s franchise organization continues to grow at a rate that is three times faster than the industry average. Having awarded a record 31 new franchises in 2019 already, the company is on track to have 500 locations in North America over the next several years. They have also driven record Vacation Consultant recruitment numbers which puts them well on their way to over 2200 new Vacation Consultants. A differentiating factor of Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®’ franchise model is that it is extremely scalable. The retail locations allow its travel agency franchisees to build a team of independent travel agents who share knowledge and work together to drive sales, resulting in more commissions for everybody!

Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® is proud of its ability to lead the way with the latest trends, improvements, and advancements in technology. The goal has always been to provide franchisees and Vacation Consultants with efficient and user-friendly platforms and applications that support a full range of travel products. A key contributor to the company’s technological advancements has been the ability to leverage their dedicated cruise focused technology team as well as the larger technology solutions built by Expedia Group. This has allowed the company to raise the bar for offering the best experience for everyone. Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® is a cloud-based application on AWS and was built using some of the most cutting-edge technologies including Haystack – Expedia’s open source tracing and analysis system – making it resilient and scalable. They also utilize Environics to leverage data about travel behaviors and create solutions based on these data-driven insights. Finally, the company is experimenting with immersive video and virtual reality to show customers what a cruise experience feels like while they’re physically inside one of its Centers.

Authenticity, integrity, the ability to inspire others, and a clear vision are what Matthew EichhorstPresident of Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®, considers to be defining qualities of an effective leader. As the leader of the organization, he believes it is important to be authentic, not only for himself, but for every member of the team. Matthew asserts “actions and words need to be congruent with beliefs and values; it’s as simple as being ourselves, not an imitation of what we think we should be or have been told we should be.” This, in return, makes a leader consistent and the team they work with knows what to expect when dealing with situations, both positive and challenging.

When it comes to integrity, Matthew chooses to do what’s right rather than what’s expected. Although this isn’t always the fastest way forward, and often not the most profitable, decisions based on integrity are how leaders are able to inspire those around them. As a leader he recognizes the need for a clear idea of what the organization wants to accomplish, where it is going, and how the team intends to get there. He says, “In my time as a leader I’ve found that it is the ‘why’ that gets everyone more aligned than the ‘where’ because after all, we all want to know why we are doing something versus just being asked to execute.”

Expedia CruiseShipCenters is recognized as a top-ranked franchise year over year as a result of its continued commitment to franchisees, Vacation Consultants, and of course, its customers. Having 13 industry recognized travel awards under their belt so far in 2019, the company’s success can be attributed to the incredible members of its organization, as well as the lessons learned along the way. One lesson that is all encompassing is to ensure that the core business is always healthy by filtering out windfalls and setbacks. For example, when one organization has a great year there may be additional revenue sources that are not typical to standard operations. This may be financial, as in performance overrides from suppliers or an upfront source of revenue from a new relationship, or it might be an industry anomaly when the cruise lines are bringing out more ships than a typical year. So, one filters out these anomalies to ensure the fundamentals of the business are sustainable. This applies just as importantly to set backs. One example is the recent hurricanes and the resulting short-term impact to the business. The company states “In situations like this we ask ourselves if these events are a regular occurrence or a setback that is not part of your typical day-to-day operations. When we think this way, we experience exponentially stronger performance when we have windfalls, and minimal exposure when we have setbacks.”

When it comes to attracting potential franchisees, a strong economy and employment growth can make it a challenge for people to leave comfortable jobs to take the risk of starting a new business. For those who take the risk, there are close to 3,500 different franchise business opportunities in North America that span dozens of industries. Franchisors often find it hard to break through the clutter and get in front of the ideal audience for their business. Which is why Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® learned early on that it’s crucial to differentiate themselves in order to attract good franchisees. At Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®, the advantage of its business opportunity can be summed up by three predominant factors: 32 years of a proven business model that is affordable to start and is extremely scalable; a focus on cruise vacations which makes them a trusted resource in the communities that they serve; and the continued rapid growth of the cruise industry.

Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®’s goal is to continue to grow three times faster than the cruise industry. It aims to do this by investing in technology, marketing, and the operational efficiency of its distribution channel. With a vision that includes transforming the way cruisers buy their vacations, the company sees incredible upside for its franchisees by fully integrating both the Expedia Group platform, which is including all non-cruise technology, as well as further adoption of the Expedia brand. Both initiatives will increase the company’s focus on the customer to service all of their travel needs, whether they want to interact with the agents online, over the phone, or in person. As an organization, Matthew doesn’t believe that any retailer in the cruise industry can match Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®’s investments in technology or better serve the customer in every way they wish to be serviced before, during, and after their vacation.


Before my wife and I purchased our Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® Franchise we evaluated a lot of businesses. We wanted something we could do together and would allow us the freedom to travel and spend time with our children while they are still young. The support here from top to bottom has been spectacular. Our corporate office is friendly, efficient, and highly competent while the other Franchise Owners have never failed to help out during the critical first 18 months with advice, suggestions, or just serving as a sounding board. The genuine way everyone cares about us and our success makes this feel like a family.” — John Frazier, Franchise Owner in Columbus, OH

The biggest reward for me as an Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® Franchisee is that I’m able to surround myself with fellow travel aficionados, both in my own team and at the corporate level. Since there is so much available to us online, we learn from each other constantly which makes our business of planning amazing vacations that much faster and better.” — Audrey Nelson, Franchise Owner in Golf Shores, AL

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