The travel industry’s conventional wisdom has gone like this: As sites like Travelocity and Kayak made it easier for people to book vacations themselves, travel agencies withered and died. But that’s not actually true. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, after a steep drop-off in the 1990s, revenues from travel agencies have more than doubled since 2002 -- which is why people like Rob Steinfeld and Dean Hanson have been so eager to set up a franchise and join this unexpected boom. Last year, the married couple set up an Expedia CruiseShipCenters unit in Tampa. The bricks-and-mortar offshoot of the website specializes in cruises and is fueled mainly by baby-boomer customers. Business is growing month by month, and Steinfeld thinks they can break Expedia’s sales record for a first-year franchisee.
Why a cruise agency? What is the appeal?
Rob: Dean and I met on a cruise way back in 1995, and it’s always been a big passion of ours. We’ve cruised at least once every year since then. And because they’ve been special for us personally, we decided to expand that to make them part of our professional life as well.
Dean: We feel there’s a great value in this particular travel niche. We’ve got skin in the game and truly believe in the product.
How is it working together as a married couple?
Rob: It’s good that Dean and I had been in business together before. We had a corporate headhunting business a few years ago and didn’t do so well in a shared space. This time we have clearly defined roles: Dean’s passion is behind the scenes, and mine is growing sales. I’m here every day, and he takes care of things like insurance and pest control from home, and fixes things when they’re broken. When I come home at the end of the day and we have dinner, we actually have different things to talk about!
How have you been able to grow your business so quickly?
Dean: We’re out there more than anyone else in town. We’re kind of comarketing ourselves. Yes, we’re Expedia, but we really want to market ourselves as the local hometown agency.
Rob: We live the brand. People know us as “the cruise guys.” There’s never a time we’re not wearing an Expedia shirt or an awesome T-shirt that says ask me how to win a cruise! Down the line, when someone starts to get ready for a vacation, we want them to think of us first. No one comes in here without being signed up on our database.
You must be cleaning up on the free cruises and trips for travel agents.
Rob: The perks are there; we just haven’t had time to go anywhere!
Dean: It’s like that saying about the cobbler’s kids not having any shoes.