Sightings: Four Expedia CruiseShipCenters Host South Florida Travel Expo

“Bigger, better, stronger together” is how Mary Beth Casey, franchise owner, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Weston, FL, described a four-agency partnership approach to create the first South Florida Travel Expo in Davie, FL on Saturday.

Conducted at the Signature Grand event facility from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., it was a robust consumer show that drew both existing and potential new clients. Travel Agent was on site to see the action.

Besides Casey, the three other leaders from Expedia CruiseShipCenters' agencies in South Florida that were directly involved in planning, marketing and managing the event were: Patty Bell, franchise president, OVC, Fort Lauderdale; Kevin White, franchise owner, Imperial Point, Fort Lauderdale; and Jose Arosemena, franchise partner, Boca Raton.

Throughout the day Saturday, 17 suppliers representing 20-plus brands staffed their companies' booths on the show floor. While many were ocean, yacht, expedition and river cruise lines, several major, land-based travel suppliers also participated.

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This exclusive, invite-only event focused on the luxury travel market brings together world-class travel agency owners and managers with the most opulent, luxury suppliers to cultivate collaboration, share insights, and help carve a path into the future of luxury travel.

In addition, half-hour individual cruise line product presentations were made by Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, AmaWaterways, Silversea Cruises and Celebrity Cruises.

Originally the agencies hoped 200 or so customers would attend, but the group was delighted when many more RSVP’ed “yes." More than 300 consumers attended Saturday’s program.

Strength in Numbers

Headquartered in Vancouver, BC, Expedia CruiseShipCenters has some 255 retail travel agency franchises across the globe, with 90 or so franchise agencies in the United States.

Casey, who opened that agency group’s first U.S. franchise less than a decade ago, said the U.S. franchises are both retail centers and host agencies, and they're very much integrated with Expedia Group, located in Bellevue, WA

What was the impetus for a quartet of individual South Florida agencies to band together to “collectively” launch the expo? 

Certainly, each of the agencies has put on individual agency events, but consideration of a bigger show evolved after the principals tapped into the advice and best practices of fellow Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise agencies in Canada.

Thus, the four South Florida agencies -- principals, travel consultants and other staff -- coordinated, collaborated and worked together on this consumer travel show project. Casey’s take? “Let’s start using that volume to make a bigger dent.”

Greeting clients and potential customers at the expo's registration desk, White told Travel Agent he believes the joint effort will create more name recognition and strengthen the brand.

Multimedia Approach

Initial dialogue about the project began in December 2017, and during May 2018, the strategical and tactical plan developed and marketing was scheduled. 

Consumer advertising for the South Florida Travel Expo began in late August with a newspaper advertisement in the daily Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Plus, consumer advertising ran on social media and online websites, particularly those focusing on South Florida activities and what to do for the weekend.  

A bold red exterior wrap also was added to the Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ special vacation flyer slated for September/October; that flyer focused on a World Explorer Sale promotion. 

Each center also sent an e-blast to all local clients and/or prospects in the agency’s database. Most notably, cruise/vacation consultants picked up the phone to call customers or potential clients individually to invite them to attend the show.

Advisors then followed up asking “Will we see you tomorrow?” From Casey’s perspective: “Customer service is always one of our big philosophies…We believe in a relationship with our clients.”

So, inviting existing clients to the show helped each agency build on those relationships. It was a way for customers to see their travel agency as an authority on cruise and other travel products too. 

Sarah Weber, brand development manager, Holland America Line, chats with consumers.

The four agencies also desired to attract new customers “because we know we do a really good job, once they know who we are,” says Casey.     

Consumers attending the show were entered into a drawing to win a $1,000 travel gift certificate for any of the represented suppliers. In addition, two cruises to the Caribbean including airfare, valued at $4,000 and $7,000 each, will be awarded on October 5 and November 10, respectively.

Handing out collateral and answering consumer questions about cruise and land vacations on the show floor were: AmaWaterways; Carnival Cruise Line; Celebrity Cruises; Crystal Cruises (ocean, river, yacht); Globus, representating Avalon Waterways, Cosmos, Globus Tours and Monograms; GoGo Vacations; Holland America Line and Seabourn Cruise Line; Insight Vacations; MSC Cruises; Norwegian Cruise Line; Oceania Cruises; Princess Cruises and Cunard Line: Regent Seven Seas Cruises; Royal Caribbean International; Sandals and Beaches; Scenic and Emerald Waterways; and Silversea Cruises.

Casey stressed that the jointly produced show also helped suppliers see the four agencies' professionalism and nurtured agency-supplier relationships.

Travel Show Dynamics

Partnerships can be tricky, so how did these four agencies cooperate and yet feel comfortable with the approach? How did they retain their existing client base? And how did they gain new clients in a fair, comfortable way?

Simply put, it was all a matter of colors. Each agency was assigned one color – either white, navy blue, red or royal blue.

At Saturday's show, the principals from the agencies wore shirts with an Expedia CruiseShipCenters logo, but each had a shirt in his or her assigned agency color. For example, Arosemena is shown in his royal blue shirt at right. 

Up to five consultants/advisors of each agency also worked the show. Yes, they too were attired in logo shirts that reflected their agency’s assigned color.

All existing customers of each agency received a name tag that featured the color of that agency. That both protected existing client relationships and helped the travel consultants working the show recognize and assist these clients.

When potential new customers (not clients of any of the agencies) arrived at registration they were simply given badges of alternating colors in a 1-2-3-4- order. So one potential client got red, the next dark blue, the next white and so on. That rotation gave all four agencies the opportunity to gain new clients.

Travel Agent learned that the show resulted in interesting leads/potential bookings. For example, one person has expressed interest in a 58-night Oceania Cruises voyage. In another case, a family of seven is seeking a 10-day Italy tour. 

Both of those could involve sizable revenue for the agency of record. Casey says more discussion is planned this week for those and other leads created during the show for the four participating Expedia CruiseShipCenters in South Florida. 

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