Consumers are calling on travel professionals for advice more than ever. The problem is that some travel agencies did not survive the pandemic, and many that did are having trouble finding enough advisors to fill their ranks.
Expedia Cruises is apparently bucking this trend. According to president Matthew Eichhorst, 15 Expedia Cruises franchises opened in 2020 and nearly 800 new advisors were recruited.
Expedia Cruises doesn’t have its 2021 numbers yet. But Eichhorst said the 2020 success in particular stands out.
“In a year that was obviously quite challenging, as far as ‘Do you want to invest in opening a new retail store?’, we were quite pleased about that,” he said. “It just shows the confidence and the resilience of this industry. I think the cruise industry, if anything, is super-resilient.”
Eichhorst also said existing franchises are reopening or talking about opening additional stores. “It’s quite exciting to see their confidence in the business, as well,” he said.
Expedia’s network currently includes more than 290 independently owned franchise locations and more than 6,100 vacation consultants in the U.S. and Canada. Eichhorst said the brand’s “omnichannel strategy” offers a view of the online and offline worlds, and shows that cruisers definitely want more hand-holding right now.
“Consumers, even repeat cruisers, have more questions,” he said. “We’ve seen customers want to talk to agents more than ever before. And we want to have the most frictionless technology to allow customers to book online, but when they do raise their hand, [we want] to connect them to our distribution channel.”
Eichhorst believes that going forward, consumers who are comfortable buying online will continue to do so, and those looking at more complicated vacations will still look for a personal touch.
“So when they do raise their hand, maybe they’re doing a family reunion and they have 10 cabins, we have people in the local community to help them. If they’re maybe just doing a drive-up market where they’re going out of Florida or Galveston, then they book online,” he said. “The way they want to be served is really our strategy.”
A bright spot, he said, has been consumer interest in cruising.
“We’ve seen more interest than ever,” said Eichhorst, adding that when comparing cruise interest now to 2019, the number of inquiries has tripled.
Phone calls continue to grow, he said, doubling from May to July. “It’s been awesome.”
“At a time where there’s great uncertainty, we just are really, really excited about the future,” he added.
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