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An Interview with John T. Peters, VP/GM Digital Strategy & Travel of Tripology

 

John T. Peters joined Tripology as President and CEO in June of 2008.  Most recently, John navigated the company into a purchase by Rand McNally and is now the  VP/GM Digital Strategy & Travel. Prior to Tripology, John was Vice President of Business Development & Travel Trade where he led the successful launch of Endless Vacation Rentals by Wyndham Worldwide. Earlier in his career, John founded Zeus Tours & Yacht Cruises, an international yacht cruise/tour and hotel business that grew to over $50 million in sales with over 100 employees in offices in New York, Athens, Rome and Buenos Aires.

TRO: John, tell us about the transition of Tripology from independent company to a subsidiary of Rand McNally. 

JP: Having sold three companies in my career, I can tell you that being acquired isn’t easy. The most perfect plans on paper are actually quite difficult to implement.  In our move to Rand McNally, we were dealing with re-hiring employees, opening new merchant accounts, transferring phone lines, re-writing our customer contracts…the list is a long one and we’re still not done, though we’re getting close.  However, I can tell you the Rand McNally team is on top of its game and everyone is very excited about us being here.  Life is different for sure because now we’re part of something bigger, much bigger and this is very exciting. However, the goal of Tripology is still the same; quality leads for quality travel specialists.

TRO: What resources do you now have as a part of the Rand McNally family that you did not have before?

JP: I love this question…. You name it; an IT team, a stable of designers, analysts and lots of really smart people with fresh ideas anxious to grow Tripology.  Oh yes, and financial resources (a.k.a. money).  How could I forget that one? Clearly however, the biggest “resource” we have now is the benefit of a 154 year-old brand that everyone over 40 knows.  At a startup, you spend the first half of every meeting trying to justify why you should still be there for the second half of the meeting. When you’re calling as Rand McNally, you always get the meeting and you never have to explain who you are. Mention Rand McNally and doors fly open.

TRO: Agents report a wide variety of success with Tripology, from several hundreds of thousands of dollars from your leads to hardly moving the needle.  How do you account for the variance in success?

JP: This is easy; some agents “get” selling to online customers and some don’t.  Tripology isn’t for everyone; you have to be hungry, persistent, professional and truly an expert at something (either  a destination or a trip type).  Here’s the deal;  first, if you’re going to try Tripology, give it 100%.  Don’t expect to buy five leads and have your world change. Tripology is work.  Our best Tripologists are not only great travel specialists, but they’re experts in Tripology. They’re always logged-in and even when they’re out of the office, they’re buying leads from us on their mobile phone. Second, when you do buy a lead, act quickly; get an email out to the consumer immediately as a teaser saying you’re working on the quote and give an indication, with some inside information, showing you really know your stuff. Online consumers aren’t going to sit around waiting for a week for a response. Third, buy leads that are really in your sweet-spot; leads for destinations that you know cold, where you have contacts and where you are truly a specialist. If someone can’t make Tripology work, it doesn’t mean they’re not a good agent, it just might mean they’re not yet adept at selling to online consumers.  The problem is that everyone is an online consumer now. Gone are the days where walk-in travel agency clients were enough to keep travel agents busy.        

TRO: What is the key to success with Tripology, and what mistake do you most often see agents making with the leads?

JP: There are three main keys to success with Tripology; A) engagement; you have to be online, hunting for leads for as many of the 24 hours in a day that you can. Leads come in all day so timing is everything.  Many leads sell out quickly so being engaged gives you better chances. B) Persistence is key.  Our best Tripologists tell us they often close a lead a month or so after they bought the lead and that it took persistence to get the booking.  C) Specialize, specialize, specialize!  According to the latest research, online travelers visit about 20 travel sites before making a booking so they’re bombarded with generic travel information.  They want a specialist to help them. They want specifics from someone with first-hand knowledge. If you can get the online customer to trust you from your first email by using your very obvious knowledge of the destination or trip type in which they’re interested, you’ll get the booking.  If you come off like a generalist, you’ve lost.   These ideas don’t come from me, they come from our Tripologist successes. Read more about them at: http://www.tripology.com/agent/success-stories/

TRO: What differentiates Tripology from other companies that have tried to follow your lead?

JP: Well, a few things.  First; Experience. Tripology’s focus is online travel lead generation, that’s it.  We’re not dabbling in lead generation while we do other things. We’re the market leader because this is all we do.  As such, we have some of the best leads available. Second, we’re a technology company, focused on travel, not a travel company trying to build technology.  Best-in-class technology has allowed us to do this right, modeled after other successful lead-generation companies like Lending Tree or Service Magic.  We obviously have experienced travel people on the team who eat, sleep and dream travel and have for decades, and this rounds out the team. Finally, we’re owned by Rand McNally, the maps and directions giant who is very focused on making us successful as part of its own re-launch.  When agents see the new Rand McNally.com launching soon, they’ll be very pleased.  As far as the companies “following” us, sure, it’s a little annoying when we spend months developing something and testing it and they copy it, but what everyone forgets is they don’t have the quality of leads we do, nor do they have the systems behind the web pages that actually make everything work. We only sell a lead to up to three agents, they sell a lead over and over to as many as will buy. We let agents select the leads they want to purchase (and if they want to purchase at all), they auto-bill for leads agents don’t get to see until after they’ve paid for them. We innovate, they copy.  I could go on all day.

TRO: Early on, all leads cost the same.  Now, some leads are more expensive than others.  Can you explain how this works and what the business logic might be?

JP: First, variable pricing was always part of our plan; I had presented it at our first board meeting. The $5 flat rate was always supposed to be an introductory rate. However, when the recession kicked in, we kept the $5 flat rate longer as a way to subsidize the agents – all this with our investors’ blessing.  In June of 2009, we launched variable pricing.  The agents were a bit upset, but they didn’t realize we were losing money at $5 flat, so it just had to change.  Our acquisition cost for a lead is often more than $5.  So in June 2009, we launched our variable pricing algorithm, with prices ranging from $1 to $25.  The theory is simple (though the algorithm isn’t); the more an agent might make from a lead, the more it costs. So, a lead for two people to go to Williamsburg for the weekend will cost less than a family of four taking a Greek Island cruise.  The pricing is based on about 100 trip attributes including budget, passenger counts, services, etc. as well as, quite honestly, the past performance of the other sold leads.  Think of it like yield management for leads. It’s a very complicated algorithm.   

TRO: What is the Travel Industry Supporter Program (TISP) all about?

JP: The TISP is a wonderful program that allows agents to get free leads.  When agents buy a lead from Tripology and books that customer with select suppliers (from the preferred supplier programs of our biggest accounts like Vacation.com, Ensemble, etc.), those suppliers will reimburse the cost of that lead to the agent.  Over 40 suppliers are participating like Adventures by Disney, Gogo, , Classic Vacations, AMA Waterways, Globus, Avalon and many others. See all the details at www.tripology.com/supplierprogram/.

TRO: Do you see any additional innovations or alterations coming in your business model in the next year?

JP: We’re working on quite a few, but I’m not going to tip my hat.  I will tell you that we’re focused on two areas; the agent dashboard and consumer integration with Rand McNally and everything that goes into each of these.  Our IT Development project list for high priority items is about fifty items long, all to be completed by the end of the year.  We’re busy, very busy.

You can learn more about Tripology at www.tripology.com

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