Expedia site adds bells, whistles for independents

By Donna Tunney

Insight logoExpedia CruiseShipCenters, Expedia's cruise booking site that offers franchises and host agency services, appears to be putting more muscle behind the technology its independent contractors use.

The independent agents who use the Expedia site as their host agency each have personal, micro-sites tied to the consumer booking site, and new technology streamlines commission payments and sends reminders for follow-up tasks, such as pitching travel insurance coverage and booking shore excursions.

"Customers are showing incredible confidence in the system," said Expedia CruiseShipCenters President Matthew Eichhorst. "With bookings averaging around $3,000, we're already seeing the difference it makes for a customer to know that their own personal cruise consultant is overseeing their booking and available to call anytime."

When a customer makes a booking on their agent's micro-site, the system alerts the consultant via email that an online booking has been made, and it assigns commission to the agent. The customer invoice and activity reminders for insurance, excursions, final payment date, bon voyage and welcome-home calls are automatically populated into the agent's CruiseDesk customer relationship management system.

"The Internet doesn't have to be a travel agent's enemy," said Eichhorst.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters also is playing a top-level role in the Professional Association of Travel Hosts. Its representative, Dan Chappelle, a veteran in the retail cruise industry who now is vice president of U.S. operations, was elected board director at PATH and this year will co-chair its supplier relations committee.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters offers three vehicles for entry into the retail cruise market: as a brick-and-mortar franchise, as a brick-and-mortar cruise consultant and as a home-based independent.

It was Expedia's investment in Canadian franchisor CruiseShipCenters in 2007 that signaled the online mega-agency's foray into a brick-and-mortar travel business. A partnership between the two later that year led to the combined brand and the opening of a retail center in Bellevue, Wash., It now has 116 retail centers in North America. With its growth came greater opportunities for at-home retailers, who now number nearly 400.

According to its website, home-based independents pay an initial fee of $299, then $29 per month for the micro-site and a menu of email marketing products.

A spokeswoman for Expedia CruiseShipCenters said agent commissions vary depending on whether the agent is working at home or in one of its retail centers.

Agents can learn more at www.cruiseshipcenters.com.

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