Updated April 3, 2019.
As more and more of the business world went online, there were years recently where it looked like the days of traditional travel agencies were numbered. After all, travelers can make many travel arrangements on their own online. And while the travel assistance landscape has changed, entrepreneurs who want to be a part of it have a surprisingly strong, if short, list to examine more closely with these top 4 travel agency franchises of 2019.
It’s important to note at the outset that three of the four companies on this list have achieved rankings on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list, meaning these are solid opportunities. All of them offer full-service travel assistance for all types of travel and vacations, but all of them also have a special focus on cruises – and for good reason. More than 30 million people are expected to go on a cruise in 2019, and they’ll spend an average of at least $2,000 each to do it.
Although just about everybody these days is pretty comfortable with booking their own hotel or rental car online, the same is not true of cruises. A cruise booking is a more complex undertaking, and most people (around 70%) want the assistance of a travel agent to do it. Why? In part, it is because of the average $452 in savings an agent can get them.
And it’s not just aging Baby Boomers who want the help – 30% of Millennials have used a travel agent in the past 12 months.
Here are the 4 best travel agency franchises of 2019:
1. Cruise Planners
Cruise Planners travel advisors are individuals who work from home selling full-service travel packages, including cruises, land-based vacations, travel insurance, car rentals, and completely packaged vacations. In this network of agents, each one acts as an American Express Travel Services Representative.
Customers who are American Express Cardmembers can get exclusive perks such as earning Membership Rewards points by booking travel with an enrolled American Express card, the Pay with Points program that allows customers to pay for part or all of their vacation with accumulated points, and much more for customers who have Platinum or Centurion cards.
This company currently ranks #60 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list (same position as last year) and has been the top-ranked travel franchise on the list for 16 consecutive years. The company has won tons of awards over the years, most recently the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Travel Agency Innovator Award, and an International Franchise Association (IFA) FranTech Award.
Founded in 1994 by Michelle Fee in Coral Springs, Florida and franchising since 1999, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in the past 9 years from 823 in 2009 to the current total of 2,571 (up from 2,564 last year), all of which are in the U.S. and only one of which is company-owned.
2. Dream Vacations
Dream Vacations is the new, refreshed brand of what many people knew as CruiseOne. The company decided to establish this new brand identity because the company offers a whole lot more than just cruises. Customers can shop for destination packages, luxury vacations, river cruises, destination wedding packages, tours and excursions, group cruises, resorts, travel protection, hotels, and more.
Like Cruise Planners, this is a work-from-home (or anywhere for those who want to travel) franchise opportunity where franchisees can themselves travel at greatly reduced rates in order to learn more about the destinations and experiences they sell.
One of the greatest perks of owning a travel franchise is that you will be offered free and significantly discounted travel. Known as FAMiliarization (FAM) trips, these are offered to you so that you can become more familiar with the experiences you sell.
This company currently ranks #101 (up from last year’s position of #138) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1991 and franchising since 1992, the number of locations has grown steadily during the past 9 years from 579 in 2009 to the current total of 1,331 (up from last year’s total of 1,119), none of which are company-owned and three of which are located outside the U.S.
3. Travel Leaders
Travel Leaders represents the merging of several travel companies over the years, some with long histories. Wagonlit Travel was founded in 1872 by Georges Nagelmackers (who created the Orient Express), while Ask Mr. Foster was founded in 1888 by Ward G. Foster. In 1979, Carlson Travel Networks acquired Ask Mr. Foster and in 1997 merged with Wagonlit Travel to form Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Then in 2008, a three-way merger with Carlson Wagonlit, Tzell Travel Group, and Travel Leaders resulted in the Travel Leaders franchising company.
The company prides itself on its agents getting to know each customer’s unique travel interests and aspirations in order to better serve them. Travel Leaders agents will help with everything from dealing with canceled flights to sifting through all the options to find the best vacation package, cruise, shore excursion, restaurant, or anything else a customer wants for traveling, including tips, advice, and insights. Each agent’s expertise in specific areas is developed through their own travel experiences.
Founded in 1888 and franchising since 1984, the number of locations declined for a time but has been relatively level for six years, and stood at 367 in 2016 (the last time the company reported data to Entrepreneur magazine), of which 24 were company-owned and three were located outside the U.S.
4. Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Expedia CruiseShipCenters specializes in cruises but also sells tours, excursions, vacation packages, travel insurance, and more. The company establishes small retail locations that have the advantage of carrying the very recognizable Expedia brand where the company’s independent Vacation Consultants can work their magic. It was in 2007 that Expedia took notice of CruiseShipCenters and decided to invest in franchising the concept.
Cruises are the main focus because they are among the more complex travel experiences to book and most travelers want the help of a travel agent who understands what they want to get the job done.
There are two ways to be involved with this company. The first way is to become an agent (Vacation Consultants who set their own schedule and work both from home and/or their nearest retail location) and the second way is to own a retail location.
This company currently ranks #432 (up from last year’s position of #464) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1987 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations has climbed slowly but steadily during the past 9 years from 112 in 2009 to the current total of 241 (up from last year’s total of 222), of which only one is company-owned and 164 of which are located outside the U.S.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.