Christopher Loughlin, Travelzoo

By Michael Fabey

Christopher LoughlinChristopher Loughlin will take the reins of Travelzoo as CEO on July 1. Loughlin joined the company in 2001 and rose to the position of executive vice president of Europe before being tapped as chief executive. He was interviewed by aviation editor Michael Fabey about the state of the travel industry.

Q: How's the recovery faring?

A: What I see in North America, we are indeed recovering. We are seeing strong demand. Consumers want to travel.

In Europe, it's been a little different and more challenging. There was the volcanic ash. We had the [British Airways] strike. Lufthansa was threatening to strike. In the U.K., they announced fiscal budgeting. It's all knocked the stuffing out of some agencies.

The European market is clearly not out of the woods. It may take a few more years. There's definitely pent-up demand in Europe. But most people think it's not likely they'll ever get back to the levels they saw at the peaks. It was not sustainable.

Q: How about Europe as a destination market?

A: Europe is extremely cheap for Americans now. When you walk the streets of Paris and Barcelona, you hear American voices. There's a significantly larger number of Americans who are getting ready to travel to Europe than there have been in other years.

Q: Are there other positive industry trends you see right now?

A: The Q1 numbers show a surge in demand for advertisers. There are opportunities to influence consumers. Many companies can grow during this time.

Q: What's your take on ancillary fees and the demand to capture the true costs of travel at the earliest point in the booking process?

A: From our perspective, we always want to be absolutely clear with consumers about what the actual price is. The price you see is the price you should get. We advertise putting the honest-to-goodness price in there. We make it clear this is what you get for that price.

Q: Is there a technological barrier preventing airlines and other travel companies from providing the true, all-in costs early on in the booking process?

A: I don't think there is a technological barrier. It's rather a lack of willingness in general.

Q: Is there any part of the industry that does concern you?

A: What I do worry about is, as companies get larger, how they are engaging with all of this new technology, how they are engaging with customers, how they keep their philosophy. As companies grow larger, they move farther and farther away from customers. We all dream about travel. Larger companies lose sight of that personal satisfaction.

Q: Why do companies lose that personal touch?

A: We live in an online world. We're very reliant on third parties and all sorts of vendors, particularly technology companies. Look at how our industry has changed, how we used to do things. Even 15 years ago, we used mostly phones. Telephones were all the same, and we knew how to use them.

Now, there are thousands of booking engines. You succeed or fail based on that booking engine.

Q: How can companies make sure their booking engines are successful?

A: How many managers have tried their own booking engines? You want to test it, going step by step to make sure the customer gets what you say he can get.

Otherwise, it's like being the head of Macy's without ever setting foot in a Macy's store.

This column appeared in the June 28 issue of Travel Weekly.

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