An Interview with John T. Peters, VP/GM Digital Strategy & Travel, Rand McNally | TravelResearchOnline

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An Interview with John T. Peters, VP/GM Digital Strategy & Travel, Rand McNally

 

PictureJohn T. Peters joined Tripology as President and CEO in 2008. Since then, John guided the team at Tripology in hitting critical growth milestones. In early 2010, Tripology processed its 175,000 trip request and has assembled a network of nearly 15,000 Travel Specialists. In March 2010, John sold Tripology.com to Rand McNally. 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.

John is a frequent speaker at trade shows and international meetings including World Travel Market, EyeforTravel, Vacation Home Expo, The New York Times Travel Show, International Cruise-a-thon and others.

TRO: What inspired you to work in the travel industry?

JP: My family has been in the travel industry since the 1940s, in incoming tourism assisting Greeks immigrate to the USA.  We actually brought over a million Greeks to the US and then, over the years, helped them visit the homeland to see family.  However, I realized early on I’d rather work in outbound tourism for tourists versus being involved in an ethnic business, so I started Zeus Tours & Yacht Cruises in the USA with my partner in Greece. The rest, as we say, is history.

TRO: With so much experience in the industry, you must have an intimate knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. What do you think makes Tripology by Rand McNally so successful?

JP: What makes Tripology by Rand McNally so successful is the need we fulfill; people are frustrated by working with a glut of confusing, irrelevant online travel information, complicated booking engines and travel generalists. Consumers are time-starved and they need educated, experienced travel specialists who can answer their questions and assist them in making reservations. Tripology does just that: connects them with up to three travel specialists from which they can choose to work.

TRO: What do you think differentiates Tripology from similar companies?

JP: There are a few “copycats” out there, but honestly, if you look behind the curtain, many are just empty websites with many manual processes.  Tripology has two things the others don’t: complete automation and a network of travel specialists who understand online lead generation.  You can’t appreciate the importance of this until you try to build a clone.  You will quickly realize a few important things. First, Tripology’s vast network of 15,500+ travel specialists is not easily replicated. Just because someone is a good travel agent, it doesn’t mean they’ll be a good travel specialist who can sell to online leads. Also, it takes tens of thousands of lines of code and multiple algorithms for a proper lead-generation engine in the travel industry and, most importantly, web traffic is very expensive and not for the faint of heart.  $1,000 in Google adwords can disappear in an hour.

TRO: You have been working with travel agents for a long time. Please explain the company’s relationships with agents.

JP: In every tourism venture of which I have been a part, I’ve always worked with travel agents, mostly as the exclusive distribution of travel product.  I love the distribution channel and dislike that it always gets overlooked or discounted. Travel agents are the core of our industry, yet they simply don’t have the proper association resources representing or educating them.  At Tripology by Rand McNally, we love our travel specialists – whom we call Tripologists.  Frankly, we couldn’t survive without them.  By the way, these aren’t “agents” per se, but specialists in a destination or trip type who understand the nuances in selling to an online traveler.

TRO: How can travel professionals benefit from working with your company?

JP: Tripology by Rand McNally is one of the best ways for travel specialists to find new business, but it isn’t for everyone. We concentrate on the 28% of online travelers who, according to research, would rather work with an offline travel specialist – if they knew where to find the right one.  This means roughly one in four online travelers would rather work with a human travel agent than fuss with a complicated online booking engine or a useless list of special offers.  They don’t want to work with a travel generalist though; they want to work with someone who specializes in the very destination to which they’re looking to travel.

TRO: What types of educational tools are you offering for agents who wish to partner with Tripology?

JP: We offer a variety of online resources and webinars, covering everything from how to select the right lead to how to write an effective first email to a potential customer.  We also offer complimentary profile reviews by a senior relationship manager – this is the best service we offer that every Tripologist should take advantage of.

TRO: Since Tripology works to plan vacations to so many destinations, you must have a solid understanding of market trends. Are there any now that you would like to share with travel agents?

JP: This might sound obvious, but the luxury market isn’t hurting as much as the rest of the market. We also see strong trends in family travel, specifically multi-generational travel (grandparents, children and grandchildren on the same trip). The honeymoon and destination wedding markets are always strong as well.  That said, no matter what the market, everyone is looking for value.  This isn’t to say they want “cheap” travel, but they do want value.  They want to ensure they are not overpaying. Consumers today are more educated than ever about travel; they read, they research and they no longer just take what a travel generalist says as gospel.  This is why we’re so intent on telling agents they should specialize.  This way, they’ll not only survive, but thrive.  Once a traveler understands the “agent” is a Travel Specialist, they’re more likely to book with them.

TRO: When it comes time for you to take a vacation, where do you like to go?

JP: I have been blessed for sure.  Since I was young, I have been able to travel around the world and experience different cultures. I can basically put all those destinations I have visited into two buckets; beauty and culture. Some places are so amazingly beautiful with breathtaking views, but leave a little to be desired when it comes to culture.  Others have culture and history dating thousands of years but fall a bit short when it comes to beauty.  That said, there are two places on earth I cherish because when I’m there, I feel so relaxed and comfortable.  One of them is Greece.  I’m Greek so I’ve been traveling there all my life.  However Greece, for me, is one of the few places on earth that truly offers the best of beauty and culture.  I always say, you can never go wrong with a trip to the Greek islands.

The other place, I’m afraid, is private.  It’s a very small town with more than a few lakes in upper Wisconsin, with a population of fifty-two.  I can tell you it is about eight hours north of Chicago, by car. There, we relax in the family cabin,  fish on the lake, watch in awe as the bald eagles in the trees swoop down just feet from you to scoop up a fish.  Surrounded by nature (without cell phone coverage or high-speed internet) you quickly fall into a state of calm.  So, as we raise our young children, we are always sure to show them wonderful far-away lands, but also to appreciate the beauty in our own country.

TRO: Are there any destinations on your “bucket list”?

JP: Internationally; while I’ve been to China and traveled around Asia, I never got to see the Great Wall because of a change of plans.  I must return there and stand on that wall before I die.   Other places on my “must see” list include Bora Bora, Myanmar, Norway and Cambodia.

In the US, I really want to get to all the finalist towns on our Best of the Road ® promotion with USA TODAY. Some of the videos look awesome.  I can’t believe I had never even heard of some of these small towns.  Places like Sandpoint, Idaho and Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

TRO: Do you have any advice for travel agents?

JP: Yes.  Specifically you should do three things; A) practice and refine your craft, B) enhance your social media footprint and C) specialize, specialize, specialize.

Remember the fears travel agents had in 1996 about the internet?  They were unfounded then.  Frankly, I think you have more to worry about now.  The internet (and Google) has made travel information (some really good, up-to-date, relevant information) available online, at your fingertips.  In the old days, travel generalists could be heroes just by doing some research.  Today’s travelers don’t want someone simply to do research; they want expert advice from someone with firsthand knowledge and experience.  They want someone who has traveled, many times, to the very destination they are looking to visit. They want someone with personal contacts in that destination and if you speak the local language, that helps as well.  If you’re the type of agent that finds him or herself saying “I can book anything for anyone” I’m sorry, but your days are numbered. Rather, you should be saying something like “I’m a Greece destination specialist” or “I specialize in travel for families with young children” or “I’m a destination wedding specialist.”  Get it?  Generalists, especially in travel, are dinosaurs.

TRO: Is there anything else coming up for Tripology or anything else you would like to share?

JP: I can tell you we’ve signed a deal with and are about to announce an alliance with a very popular media outlet (online, broadcast, etc.)   We’re days away from announcing it.  The alliance gives visitors to the media outlet’s website access to select Tripology travel specialists for assistance in planning their trips.  The move takes the media outlet’s viewers beyond inspiring their food and travel lifestyle dreams by helping connect them with select Tripologists to experience firsthand the destinations they showcase. All of us at Tripology and Rand McNally are very excited and we’ll have much more to say in the coming days and weeks!

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