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Couple Open New Travel Agency in Florence

Larry and Chris Dettmer, both veterans of the United States Air Force, had worked for many years in the insurance industry when they decided to seek other professional opportunities outside of the field. They were interested in franchising with a parent company but were not seeking to enter the restaurant world. Since the couple were avid travelers already, the idea came to them to set up a travel agency with a storefront in Florence which opened in early December.

“I came across Expedia because Chris and I have used Expedia in the past to book some of our personal travel and saw that this was an exciting opportunity to get established in the community here in Florence and it also gives up opportunity to build something for the future,” Larry said

The husband and wife pair decided to pursue Expedia CruiseShipCenters. As the first Expedia CruiseShipCenters in the greater Cincinnati area, the Dettmers look to tap into the service gap created over the last 20 years as traditional agencies left the market.

“The thing for us and our goal is to be the most trusted brand name for travel in Northern Kentucky and we plan on doing that by being able to service the community through our travel consultants that we're building here as a team to handle all types of travel,” Larry said. “So while we specialize in cruises, we do all types of travel including any kind of land vacations that people might want.”

Expedia CruiseShipCenters, is owned by the parent company Expedia Inc. which also owns Expedia.com. and Travelocity. What the company decided to do beginning in 2007 was to expand beyond their online experience to have storefronts. They purchased CruiseShipCenters out of Vancouver and it gave Expedia an instant physical presence.

The Dettmers are the fortieth store that has opened with the franchise model and the only one in the Greater Cincinnati area.

“When we signed the contract with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, we had the entire Greater Cincinnati area to choose from,” Larry explained. “They've actually identified the Cincinnati area to handle up to five stores, but as we did our research, Northern Kentucky really rose to the top of the list in terms of the business opportunity for us and the void that exists there.”

The retail store is located in Florence on Mall Road and the couple are the only employees at the moment, but the Dettmers have big plans for their business.

“Our five-year plan is that hopefully in about three years, we will be able to hire a couple of people, maybe a full-time sales manager, a store manager and maybe a part-time administrative support person. Our goal is to eventually have up to forty consultants that would be teamed up with our store also,” said Larry.

The independent travel consultants are a big component to their business model and the store's location alone has attracted numerous consultants already.

“Because we're so close to Mall Road, our store kind of acts as a billboard and allows us to have attraction marketing as people drive by and see it, so it's drawing them into the store which is exactly what one of our goals was for choosing this location,” Larry said. “Our business model really depends on our ability to successfully recruit travel consultants. There are independent travel consultants that are joining our team and we're in the process of growing that right now. We've got a great staff of folks working on an independent basis who spend some time in the center here and we look to add more people between now and forever.”

The couple met and married while enlisted in the Air Force in the 1980's. Larry came out of the service as a Staff Sargent and Chris as a Captain, and they moved to Southgate to raise their family. The couple is excited about the new chapter in their lives and are already busy with the heavy travel season underway.

“The first quarter of the year is considered the high-volume time of the year, it's the middle of winter, people are looking to travel, but we've found that there is a desire to book travel all year around,” Larry said. “I'm sure travel agencies have little peaks and valleys in terms of their booked travel volume, but overall the demand is definitely there.”

One of the best feature customers should know about the service that the Dettmers provide is that it doesn't cost a person any extra for letting them handle travel booking, with rare exception. The service is the ability for the Dettmers to do the leg work of finding the best deals within the many companies in the industry.

“Using a travel agency doesn't cost you more money with the rare exception like if a customer is only going to book airline tickets” Chris explained. “Other than that, there is no extra cost which means we are saving them time because we are doing all of the work for them. There are lots and lots of cruise lines, lots of land companies, lots of hotels, lots of places to go see and we've got information on all of them.”

Many people have questioned the Dettmers about the viability of starting a travel agency in the internet age when people can book their own travel accommodations, but that has not deterred them from moving forward with their plans.

“Expedia.com is all about the transaction and doesn't really get into the customer service and the building relationship that our store provides to the community,” said Larry. “There is a tremendous need still. We've been asked that question a bunch of times as to why we would get into the travel agency business when people can book their own travel online. That's where the service component that we are able to provide can fill that void.”

The married couple invites anyone interested to stop in their store on Mall Road to talk about available travel options for families or businesses and anticipates holding a grand opening in April. They are open now, however, for anyone interested in their services.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo provided