Escape Travel has said it is in talks with a number of travel agents as it continues to exploit upheaval in the retail sector and grow its franchise network.
General manager Yela Wilson told Travel Today it was discussing membership options with several retailers that could add 20 shop locations to its franchise ranks.
Most of the talks are with Jetset Travelworld agents – now Helloworld – as they ponder their future, she said.
Escape Travel, wholly-owned by Flight Centre, currently has 148 shops, but only eight are franchises. That will rise to 13 from February 1 when five Harvey World Travel locations, owned by the Pearson family, join the company.
While no targets have apparently been set for the number of franchisees it wants to attract, Wilson said Escape was aiming for 20% annual growth across the network through the addition of company owned or franchise stores.
“We want to keep growing but we have not put any figure on the number of franchisees. But we believe there are opportunities among agents who are not happy with their current group,” she said.
Escape Travel re-launched its franchise model last October after claiming it received enquiries from agents affiliated with rival networks.
Initially created in 2005, the franchise plan was put on hold, officially because Flight Centre switched its priorities to other areas of the business. But the collapse of a couple of Escape franchisees is also understood to have caused a re-think.
Wilson acknowledged it was vital to select the right agent and to do extensive due diligence on prospective members.
“We did have a couple [that collapsed] which is the last thing you want from a brand perspective,” she said.
Agents must now demonstrate three to five years of “good trading” to even be considered by Escape, Wilson explained.
Like other groups, Escape insisted its recruitment would rely on word-of-mouth rather than through a co-ordinated strategy of proactively targeting unsettled agents.
The addition of the Pearsons’ five shops in Kotara, Glendale, Toronto, Mt Hutton and Charlestown has already sparked interest from other Harvey World retailers, Wilson said.
An Escape franchise could also be the next career step for existing Flight Centre shop managers who are ready to take on the challenge of running their own business, she added.
“We see that as a great avenue and a great opportunity to grow the franchise network.”