Revised and updated November 8, 2019.
Although the Internet has made it easy for anyone to book flights and hotel rooms, there is still a surprisingly 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. Entrepreneurs looking to buy into a successful travel-related business concept have a small but solid set of options with these four best travel agency franchises of 2020.
Each company on this list offers a full array of services for making all kinds of travel arrangements, but they’re also all mostly focused on one particular type of vacation: cruises. This makes perfect sense when you realize 30 million people went on cruises in 2019. And the average cost of a cruise is $2,000.
Most people do want help booking a cruise because there are so many options it’s hard to figure out which one is right for them. But perhaps even more importantly are the discounts travel agencies can obtain on cruise bookings, saving consumers an average of $452 per cruise. The good news to franchisees is that these are surprisingly low-cost franchises to purchase.
Here are the 4 best travel agency franchises of 2020:
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 823 in 2009 to the current total of 3,062 (an increase of 301 from the previous year’s total of 2,761), all of which are in the US and only one of which 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 579 in 2009 to the current total of 1,432 (an increase of 101 from the previous year’s total of 1,331), none of which are company-owned and three of which 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 but has been relatively steady in recent years, standing at 367 in 2016 (the last time the company reported location data), of which 24 were company-owned and three were located outside the US. Curiously, the company website claims more than 7,000 locations, but it’s not clear what they’re counting – individual agents or agency locations.
4. Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Expedia CruiseShipCenters, 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 112 in 2009 to the current total of 260 (an increase of 19 from the previous year’s total of 241), of which only one is company-owned and 164 of which 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.