Agency technology company Passport Online has recently seen a jump in consumer activity on the travel agency websites and social media channels it powers. Newly promoted president Jeanne Colombo said she believes that is evidence that travel’s rebound from the coronavirus crisis continues apace. As a result of increased demand on the 6,000 agency websites and 1,600 Facebook pages that Passport Online powers, the company recently restructured to better meet that demand. Senior editor Jamie Biesiada spoke to Colombo and Randy Goodrich — who co-founded Passport Online in 1995 and who has returned to the company as senior vice president — about Goodrich’s return, search trends and more.
Q: Randy, what brings you back to Passport Online?
Goodrich: I’m coming back because I see the growth. The last year has been devastating for everybody, but more than anybody else, for travel agents. They’ve basically lost the whole year without any income. It’s a tough deal. So I think we need to do everything we can to support them and help them get back on their feet, and help them market, any way we can do that.
Colombo: There are countless things we don’t know about regarding what travel is going to look like today or next year. We know there’s a high demand for travel. So what we have at Passport Online is the data — we know what people are searching for [on agency websites], and then we know when they’re clicking through on the data. It’s caused us to sit back and restructure not only our organization but how we’re going to present the data.
Some of the things I heard, for example, were, “I want private tours.” “I want small group travel.” “I want to get back out there, but I want to travel a little bit differently.” Well, that allows us to pivot and say, you know what, we can help agents create offer groups focusing on preferred suppliers but also recognize that the people who [they] work with want private tours.
Q:Consumer search activity on the agency websites you power is increasing. In April, detailed offer views — when a customer clicks through to a supplier offer on a website — were up 53% compared with March. What are the drivers behind that?
Colombo: One of the things we can look at is what people are searching for. In the past, we used to see Italy No. 1. Europe No. 1, always. Caribbean, super high. But now, when you take away European travel and you take away the ships that were out of the water, different things started to bubble up. That’s where we saw the big surge in, “What do you have in the United States?” Or, as countries are opening up and people hear, “Oh, is Italy open for business?” “Is Greece open?” “What else is open?”
We saw a change in those searches but also in the type of travel. If people weren’t cruising, all of a sudden you saw this search for land. But people wanted to stay in their cohesive family units. They wanted to create their own bubbles. So more group bookings, more private tours. A surge in domestic leisure, and Hawaii went off the scales.
2021 is good, and it’s coming up, but it looks flat. The 2022 bookings are huge, 2023 is super strong. Also, we aggregate content from almost 100 different suppliers. We are getting all of their information on every itinerary that they have. They used to only give us, like, a year in advance. All of a sudden, they were giving us 2023 data.
Q: Based on the activity you’ve seen recently, do you think it’s safe to say that the rebound of travel is underway?
Colombo: Absolutely. Like I said, I think 2021 is going to be relatively flat, but with an upward curve. But, man, 2022 skyrockets, and so does 2023. So it’s back.
Goodrich: The big thing is opening up cruising and opening up Europe. Those are the two big areas that the majority of agents focus on and where their clients want to go. With those opening up, everything else is going to follow.
Colombo: I think everybody’s eager to get back. It’s a great time to travel. I think the experiences are richer. People are grateful for what they’ve maybe once taken for granted. Now they really want to make sure that when they travel, it’s just going to be the best, and they do those things that make those lasting memories and impressions.
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