Expedia's Brown on Offline Plans
With the opening of the first Expedia CruiseShipCenter (Expedia CSC) franchise location this month, Travel Trade associate editor Dori Saltzman discussed the online giant's expansion plans to offline channels with Paul Brown, president of Expedia North American and Expedia Partner Services Group.
Travel Trade: Why is Expedia expanding from a strictly online structure to include brick-and-mortar agencies?
Paul Brown: Expedia is committed to offering the best and broadest selection of travel products, tools and features to consumers in the way they prefer - whether online, by phone or in person, and this investment and co-branded effort expands our offline presence in the strong and growing cruise market.
Travel Trade: What is the importance of adding high-touch service to Expedia´s offerings?
Brown: As online travel has evolved, so too has the ability for consumers to gather rich and deep information online about their travel options. But there are certain trip types for which travelers appreciate the ability to engage with an expert in an offline environment.
Because a cruise vacation typically encompasses a more complex itinerary than a more direct flight-plus-hotel combination, the Expedia CSC partnership brings the best of Expedia´s unmatched travel selection and technology leadership, together with CSC´s cruising expertise, proprietary CruiseDesk technology and high-touch, knowledgeable agents.
Travel Trade: Did Expedia look at partnering with any US agencies while also looking at Canada´s CruiseShipCenters?
Brown: Cruise is the fastest growing market segment in travel, and we believe that the franchise model will play an important part in the future of the cruise industry. We chose to partner with CSC because it is a pioneer and leader in the franchise cruise market.
Travel Trade: Will CruiseShipCenters be the only Expedia branded brick-and-mortar travel agencies or is Expedia looking to partner with other agencies?
Brown: In addition to the Expedia CSC locations, we have had physical locations via our Expedia Local Expert (ELE) desks. ELE offers face-to-face personalized recommendations and assistance in booking events, activities, tours, attractions and other services that travelers seek in their destinations.
Initially launched in 2003, ELE currently operates more than 100 concierge and activity desks in hotels and other retail locations across Hawaii; in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Orlando; and in the major resorts of Mexico. Beyond that I can´t comment on future partnership or investment developments.
Travel Trade: What are Expedia´s next plans with CruiseShipCenters? How many stores does the company envision operating over the next five years?
Brown: As we announced, our first store will open in Bellevue, WA this month. We are currently signing up Home Based independent contractors (agents) throughout the US and our Home Based franchise opportunity will be available in most states this month and all states by the end of February. As we build a base of agents and US-based franchisees, we will continue to expand into other regions of the US. We don´t have a specific number to announce now, but expect to see franchise partners begin to grow their business much like they did in Canada.