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.
John’s last interview left a few issues still to be discussed. This follow-up delves into those agents who have questions about making Tripology work consistently for them.
TRO: Let’s veer over to the Rand McNally side of things just for a moment. How did Tripology fit into their portfolio?
JP: Rand McNally has been around for over 150 years and has a brand that everyone over 40 recognizes. Since the beginning, travelers have consulted Rand McNally for information including the maps and directions products that made them famous, as well as information on destinations, road trips and more. Rand McNally is in many businesses and earlier this year they decided they want to expand their travel offerings. They did not want to become yet another booking engine, but wanted to keep in their theme of providing travel information to consumers planning a trip. Tripology is just that; we connect online consumers, frustrated with online booking engines, an alternative – travel agents. In my opinion, travel specialists are the best option for anyone planning any kind of non-commodity travel.
TRO: John, tell us about the role that the newly launched Rand McNally site is playing vis-a-vis Tripology.
JP: Where do I start? One thing that all travel companies struggle with online is getting traffic to their site. Rand McNally has over one million people a month come to www.RandMcNally.com. We just re-launched the site and I’m so proud to see Tripology integrated on almost every page. When a consumer comes to RandMcNally.com to gather information on destinations (including the exclusive video travel guides on things like where to eat, what to do and what not to miss), consumers will have the very visible option of using Tripology to connect with a travel specialist. The new RandMcNally.com is already giving us 15% of our traffic – and that’s just the first week after launch. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to see our logo all over the Rand McNally site.
TRO: Tripology recently hit an important milestone in its growth. Do you want to tell us about that?
JP: Actually, we hit a few. First, we recently processed our 150,000th trip request. So that means 150,000 high-intent, online travelers decided they would rather work with an offline Tripologist (what we call our registered travel specialists.) It is important to note that not everyone completes a trip request online; the form is made to cater only to serious travelers. Second, we just registered our 15,000th travel specialist. Again, we’re selective about who we approve so we’re very proud to have so many people using us. Finally, we’re just celebrating our third anniversary; in three years we went from a tiny startup to being owned by a 150+ year old company. I can’t tell you how proud we are of these milestones.
TRO: What are some of the biggest advantages to being part of Rand McNally?
JP: Again, where do I start? Clearly, the biggest advantage has to be financial security. Rand McNally is owned by Patriarch Partners, a private equity company with a portfolio of over 70 companies and over $7 billion of assets under management. As a startup, we were funded by a reputable venture capital firm, but not anything like this. There isn’t any other online travel lead company that can match this type of financial backing. Another advantage is the brand; almost everyone knows and trusts Rand McNally. As a startup, we’d spend the first 15 minutes of every meeting trying to gain the trust of those with whom we were meeting. Now I just say “Rand McNally” and there’s instant recognition and trust.
TRO: Can you give us a profile of the typical agent or agency participating with you? What is the size of the agency and do you see an advantage for one type of agency over another?
JP: I can average out all our stats, but that won’t end up meaning anything to answer this question. I can tell you half of our Tripologists are home-based and half are brick and mortar. They both perform equally as well so being home-based vs. brick and mortar doesn’t play into success with Tripology. I will however, tell you what the four most important attributes impact success; first-hand knowledge, specialization, timeliness and diligence. Here’s what I mean:
1) First-hand knowledge: Consumers want to know that you “walk the walk”, i.e. you have been to the destination and have local contacts;
2) Specialization: Online consumers don’t want generalists, they want specialists. Generic, mundane travel information is all over the place on the web. They don’t want that from you. They want to know you specialize in the exact trip they’re looking to take;
3) Timeliness: Online consumers want fast responses. This doesn’t mean they want all the answers quickly, but they do want to hear from you. If you tell them, I’ll call you in an hour but you call them in three hours, you’ve over-promised and under-delivered. Then they start thinking “If this is how it is even before I’ve made a booking, what’s going to happen after I give this person my credit card?” The key is to under-promise and over-deliver – every time;
4) Diligence: Follow up is key. Don’t think because you’ve paid for a lead that you need to try any less. Tripology takes work. Just like for a walk-in customer or referral, organized, planned follow up is key. We hear all the time how successful Tripologists are managing to close business from our leads and the number one reason cited is diligence.
TRO: And there is now a consumer iPhone app?
JP: Actually, there is one, soon to be two (shhhh). First, Tripology has an iPhone ® app right now which enables consumers to put through a Trip Request to Tripology. Visit www.tripology.com/socialmedia for all the details. In addition, we’re launching a Rand McNally app which incorporates the Tripology trip request form in the app. This will be announced and available in a couple of weeks.
TRO: On travel agency forums, I’ve seen agents a few agents saying they just can’t make Tripology work. How do you respond to those people?
JP: I read all the forums, so I’ve seen the posts. If you know me, you also know that I post responses on those forums as well. Some suppliers have mentioned to me that I shouldn’t bother reading them, but I believe people who complain are doing me a favor (I do wish they’d come to me directly, instead of posting often erroneous information on forums, but okay.) The answer is easy; if you’ve tried 5 leads, you’ve haven’t tried enough. Tripology takes some getting used to; about 12 leads on average before you get your FIRST booking (though many agents are elated when they buy the first lead and get a booking right away.) As you work through more and more leads and begin to understand the nuances, you’ll learn more about what leads you should buy and you’ll get better close ratios. If you have tried, say 15 leads or more and you didn’t get a booking, STOP. We’ll take a look at your profile with you, make some suggestions, evaluate your emails and give you advice based on feedback from our most successful Tripologists. Again, Tripology is a tool that requires work. If you buy a lead on Monday, reach out to the customer on Monday! Don’t wait until Thursday to respond or you are just wasting your money. Also, don’t send an email that says “Hi, I’m Fred. Call me!” and expect the consumer to think “Wow, this Fred guy sounds great. I should call him.” We have plenty of documentation and online videos to help you learn more about how to use Tripology, including tips on how to respond to potential customers.
TRO: Tell us about how agents can get free leads from Tripology.
JP: I’m glad you asked. What you are referring to (and what has our Tripologists so excited) is our Travel Industry Supporter Program. Over 35 world-class suppliers like Classic Vacations, GOGO Worldwide Vacations, Pleasant Holidays, Globus and Tauck have signed up and have committed to reimbursing Tripologists for the cost of their leads if bookings are secured with them. Many Tripologists are enjoying the program immensely because it has allowed them to increase their investment budget without cost. The suppliers have seen incremental business from the program, so I think this is a win-win scenario all the way around.
TRO: What do you consider to be one of your most valuable tools for agents?
JP: Our complimentary profile review is, without question, critical to the success of Tripologists. Thankfully, more and more Tripologists are taking us up on this offer. Our team of Relationship Manager schedules one-on-one calls which typically take only 5-10 minutes. In that time, our staff will walk the agents through their Tripology profile, make recommendations on the things consumers see, suggest filter settings (to increase or decrease the flow of leads to their accounts) and offer tips about the program we’ve gathered from successful agents. In most cases, agents will see their success ratios drastically improve after just a few minutes on the phone with one of our pros.
TRO: What’s new on the horizon at Tripology?
JP: This one is easy; a lot! We’re just about to announce a series of program enhancements starting with those being implemented in the first week of September. These mainly deal with our Travel Industry Supporter Program (where agents can get FREE Tripology leads from suppliers) as well as a new testimonial tool (making it easier for agents to communicate with their customers to improve their profile page on Tripology.)
In addition to program enhancements, there are many additional technology enhancements scheduled for Q4 2010, starting in September. These will be rolled out in two week increments over the next few months. I won’t go into it here because we like to only share these things with our Tripologists, but I can tell you we’re focused on two areas; driving consumer traffic to the site and a whole new set of agent tools.