This annual list of the best travel agency franchises was revised and updated on March 24, 2021.
Although the internet has made it easy for anyone to book flights and hotel rooms, there is still a large market for travel agencies, mostly focused on booking full vacation packages for people who don’t have the time or inclination to figure out all the details. By taking over the planning for travelers, agencies add value, reduce hassle, and draw in business. This is why cruise and travel agency franchises are worth $2.9 billion per year.
These businesses grew an impressive 6.9% per year on average from 2015 to 2020, as high consumer spending boosted travel and franchise agencies moved in to take a share of the market. Online agencies in particular benefited from lower costs that allowed them to offer better deals and make better profits. At the start of 2020, the industry employed 16,000 people in 8,000 businesses.
Cruises play a large part in the business of travel agency franchises. This fits the model of these agencies, as cruises provide an all-in-one holiday package, the sort of thing that travelers go to agencies for. They’re also relatively high value holidays that 28.5 million travelers indulged in just in 2018. There are so many options, even within the cruise industry, that it’s often hard for customers to figure out which one is right for them, and an agency can help with this. Travel agencies can obtain discounts on cruise bookings thanks to their relationships with the cruise companies, saving consumers hundreds of dollars per cruise.
The tourism industry was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Strict controls on both international and domestic travel, fears about the virus, and horror stories about outbreaks on cruise ships combined to kill a huge portion of the tourist trade. Travel spending saw an unprecedented decline of 42% in a single year. Though vaccines will make travel within the US more plausible by the end of 2021, the uneven global distribution of vaccines will create huge challenges for international tourism.
The economic impact of the virus means that, while people are keen to get traveling again as soon as they can, many will be less able to afford to travel, while a reduction in the number of business travelers will push up the cost of tourist flights. Travel franchises, having taken a serious financial hit in 2020, are expected to grow by only 0.5% in 2021. That having been said, more than half of American consumers put money away in 2020 to spend on things they’ve missed during the crisis, and tourism is likely to be a big part of that.
Given all of this, the immediate future for travel agency franchises is very uncertain. Is now a great time to get started, with a post-COVID spending boom on the horizon? Is it a terrible time because of international restrictions and a struggling airline industry? At this point, it’s impossible to say.
These are surprisingly low-cost franchises to purchase. The cost of entry is low, with little expenditure on equipment and training. This means that there’s also plenty of competition, which can create both challenges and opportunities. In current circumstances, this is an accessible, high-risk option for a franchise, but one that holds potential for strong long-term profits if the tourism industry recovers to its pre-COVID strength.
The Top Travel Agency Franchises of 2021
1. Cruise Planners
Cruise Planners is a work-from-home franchise concept in which its Travel Advisors sell all kinds of vacation travel packages, but with a special focus on cruises. This company is owned by American Express Travel Representative, and American Express credit card holders can get all kinds of special perks when they use their Amex card to pay.
Cruise Planners as a company has become a recognized master of micro-targeted email marketing along with its other high-tech, big-data-driven marketing tactics and technologies that give Travel Advisors the edge they need to succeed. In fact, its chief information officer, Brian Shultz, was recently named CIO of the Year at South Florida Business Journal’s Annual Technology Awards.
Founded in 1994 by Michelle Fee in Coral Springs, Florida and franchising since 1999, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in recent years from 994 in 2011 to the current total of 3,151 (up from the previously reported total of 3,062), of which all are located in the US and only one is company-owned.
2. Dream Vacations
Dream Vacations is a spin-off from CruiseOne in order to make sure people knew they did more than just book cruises. Both travel franchise concepts are owned and operated by World Travel Holdings. The cost for a new franchisee without travel agent experience is just under $10,000, while those with a medium level of experience get a 67% discount and more experienced travel agents can buy in at a 95% discount.
Franchisees can literally work from anywhere with an Internet connection, and are encouraged to travel as much as possible themselves to keep their own knowledge and travel experiences up-to-date to improve their customer service. And franchisees also get to do their own travel at deeply discounted rates.
Founded in 1991 and franchising since 1992, the number of locations has grown steadily during recent years from 739 in 2011 to the current total of 1,553 (up from the previously reported total of 1,432), of which none are company-owned and two are located outside the US.
3. Travel Leaders
Travel Leaders has a long history dating back to the 1800s. Wagonlit Travel was founded in 1872 by Georges Nagelmackers (who created the Orient Express) while Ask Mr. Foster was a travel agency 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 franchise.
The company is known for going the extra mile in customer service – not only getting to know customer preferences, but also helping them through any and all issues or challenges that may arise during travel.
Founded in 1888 and franchising since 1984, the number of locations declined for a time and the last known reported total was 367 in 2016, of which 24 were company-owned and three were located outside the US. The company website claims more than 7,000 “travel agency locations,” but it’s not clear what their counting – individual agents or agency locations.
4. Expedia Cruises
Expedia Cruises, as its name implies, has a special focus on selling cruises, but also offers a full array of other travel services and vacation packages of all types. This company has the distinct advantage of carrying the well-recognized Expedia brand name. Expedia purchased CruiseShipCenters International in 2007 and eventually decided franchising was the way to expand it.
Franchisees can get involved as individual travel agents (Vacation Consultants) who can work from home or at the nearest retail location, or can select to run a retail location.
Founded in 1987 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations has climbed slowly but steadily in recent years from 140 in 2011 to the current total of 269 (up from the previously reported total of 260), of which only one is company-owned and 166 are located outside the US.
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.