California-based tour wholesaler Pleasant Holidays and its luxury brand Journese launched upgraded travel agent websites earlier this month, touting the redesigned booking portals’ enhanced functionality and significantly enriched content.
Jack Richards, Pleasant’s president and CEO, said completing a complicated and expensive effort to directly connect electronically with many of the packager’s major hotel partners, both globally and in Hawaii, was a crucial precursor for the agent site upgrades.
“The key point for us was getting the hotels electronically connected,” he said. “So from day one, when the [agent] site launched, we would be able to present agents with a very robust, broad selection of real-time rates and inventory, [and] the conversion rate is already starting to increase, particularly for those hotels on direct connect.”
Many of Pleasant’s Hawaii hotel partners are relatively new additions to the wholesaler’s direct-connect platform, but Richards expects a large majority of the company’s Aloha State accommodation options to be electronically linked with the new agent sites by the end of 2015. Richards noted, meanwhile, that non-Hawaii properties, linked into the Pleasant direct-connect system for some time now, are seeing a substantial improvement in sales.
“When we look back and measure those hotels, they’re up high double digits in terms of room sales and room night growth,” Richards said. “And we expect to see the same thing for Hawaii properties.”
Along with real-time hotel rates and comprehensive inventory details, Richards said the electronic direct-connect technology has enabled Pleasant and Journese to include information about last-room availability along with special promotions and discounts on the wholesaler’s new agent sites.
“We also greatly expanded the search and filter options so that when travel agents come on the site to look for a hotel, you can now search by name, price, star rating,” he explained. “And we added Google maps, letting agents pinpoint the exact location of the hotel, what’s next to it and so forth.”
Agents will now also be able to view hotel videos and virtual tours on the Journese and Pleasant booking portals, offering 360-degree virtual access to available room categories. Travel pros helped beta test the upgraded booking portals, offering all sorts of suggestions and advice, according to Richards, and the new websites now also feature streamlined tools for arranging car rentals, adding activities options and booking air tickets.
“Now you have the ability to select your outbound and return flights individually, which is huge,” Richards explained. “Agents can book a red-eye out of Seattle but then have clients return at 1 p.m. on their flight back. That functionality change has really been a big one. We’re already seeing a lot of people do the individual flight match.”
Additionally, Richards was upbeat about Pleasant’s business to Hawaii for the rest of 2015, noting that August bookings had been solid.
“Actually September, October, November and December are not looking bad,” he said, adding that he expects an increase of 2% to 4% year over year in business to the Islands this fall. “December is showing a nice uptick in holiday traffic, [and] we feel even better about 2016. We’re starting to see a significant uptick in business for next year.”
Richards attributed some of Pleasant’s fall Hawaii growth to short-term airfare discounts, particularly on flights between Hawaii and West Coast gateways.
“The airlines really haven’t put a lot of major sales into the market place,” he said. “They’ve been tending to put flash sales in — good for seven to 10 days. And we’ve seen a lot of pickup once they do that.”
Richards added that booking windows have shrunk quite a bit for the fall as a result of the airlines’ short sales bursts.
“People are deciding today [Wednesday] to leave Saturday,” he reported. “It’s somewhat unpredictable, [but] the last-room availability through our direct connectivity [partnerships] has helped us.”
Pleasant is offering a range of giveaways and prizes to agents who book on the wholesaler’s upgraded online portals through Sept. 20, with each booking serving as an entry into drawings for a variety of rewards, including 100,000 trip points good for personal travel. For full details visit PleasantAgent.com.