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Exclusive Interview: The Rise and Rise of Travelzoo

by on December 13, 2013



In October 1998, Ralph Bartel, a former print and television journalist, launched Travelzoo.com with an initial investment of $10,000. In September 2000, Travelzoo published its first Top 20 and e-mailed one million U.S. subscribers. All deals were researched, evaluated and tested by Travelzoo Deal Experts. In December 2003, Travelzoo became publicly traded on the NASDAQ SmallCap Market under the ticker symbol “TZOO”. As of March 2012, Travelzoo had over 25 million subscribers and 25 offices in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific. Brand Weekly decided to catch up with Head of Communications for Travelzoo, Louise Hodges to find out how Travelzoo became one of the largest publisher of travel, entertainment and local deals.



Welcome to Brand Weekly. How are you?

I’m very well thank you.

Fantastic. So, Travelzoo was launched in 2008. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Travelzoo and what you provide in terms of products and services?

My role is Head of Communications in Europe. I look after the brands communications and relations. Firstly, Travelzoo was launched in 1998 in America. We launched in the UK in 2005. We are the UK’s top Travel and Entertainments deal provider. We search for the very best deals each week and the deals are all related to either travel or going out. It could be anything from a 5 star luxury cruise, to theatre tickets.

It appears things have been going from strength to strength as Travelzoo won the British Travel Awards last year (2012) as the Best Travel Deals Provider and you are in contention to win again this year. What makes you stand out from your competition?

Well, we also won that award again this year and we have just found out 2 days ago that we won the World Travel Award for Best Travel Deal Website. We must be doing something right!

Congratulations all around. Another fantastic reason to celebrate. So, what makes you stand out from the rest ?
I think the difference and the thing that lots of people don’t realise is that our deal experts spend hours researching and testing deals. If I give you an example: If they are looking for a 2 week holiday deal to Malaysia, they would actually find the best deal they can on the market and then they will act like a mystery shopper and call the travel company armed with loads of questions to make sure all the information about the deal is correct and that there are no hidden charges which is something you won’t find with a lot of other deal companies and websites where they just put together travel deals. We actually have real people making phone calls and mystery shopping, so I think that makes us stand out. The other thing is that after 15 years in this business we needed to review what makes a great deal and what makes an average deal and we publish the best we can find.

That leads quite nicely into my next question: How do you define a ‘Recommended deal’?

A recommended deal is a deal we feel is the very best for that week. So we do a publication called the Top 20, which is exactly what it says on the tin – It is the 20 best deals of that week. It goes out every Wednesday at eleven o’clock, and they give you a range of deals from all budgets. All the deals would have gone through our production team who have thoroughly tested and checked it, and it cannot be beaten for a similar deal on the market, so for example if it’s a hotel room, it will be a hotel that has a kind of ‘Wow’ factor, and we will negotiate something extra for our audience. So It could be a room that faces the beach rather than the car-park, or a room that includes a bottle of Champagne upon arrival, some amazing spa vouchers as well. So we will always try and sweeten the deal to give our audience something extra so they recommend it.

Added Value is always a must to keep consumers happy these days. Now, do you charge companies to get listed, and what is your criteria?

Our criteria is that the companies have to be reputable, so we do background checks on the companies and If there’s any new entrants into the market, we will make sure that we can find out as much as we can about their business and how they protect customers if things were to go wrong. It’s something that’s very important especially with recent gambles of volcanic ash cloud moving so we really do have to ensure that we only work with companies that are trusted and respected. In terms of advertising our company, yes people do pay to have their deals listed in the Top 20, but the fact that they are offering money doesn’t necessarily mean they will make it into the Top 20 because we operate very much like a magazine, in the sense that we have an editorial team who will only publish deals that they feel are newsworthy and are outstanding. We have a sales team who are constantly trying to get into work with their clients but obviously if the deals the clients are offering do not stack up and we can find something better in the market, our promise to our audience is that we will only publish the best deal.

So Travelzoo provides consumers with all inclusive holiday packages: flights, accommodation, entertainment – all in one go. Let’s talk about marketing –how do you market yourselves to remain relevant to your target audience?

There’s a range of different ways really, we have our trade marketing side which is where we sponsor associations such as , The British Travel Awards every year. We often tend to sponsor an element of that conference so that people are aware of our brand. In terms of consumer advertising, we don’t do any at the moment in the UK, so it’s all online and search marketing, and PR.

As Head of Communications at Travelzoo, what’s your average working day like?

Absolutely crazy! I can be in a different country within our 4 markets in Europe any day of the week. I look after the UK, France, Germany and Spain. Just this week for example, I’ve been in Munich and possibly off to Paris next week. So I tend to start my day looking at the headlines and finding out if there are any news angles that we can use to comment on. A big part of what we do is media relations. I work with the marketing team to find out what’s going on out there, to look after social media, to look at the bigger projects and campaigns we’ve been working on. Recently, we’ve just launched an app called Map the World which is a geography puzzle for children, and we’ve been involved with that, it’s been something developed by our CEO, so I’ve been doing a lot of press interviews and radio interviews about Map the World.

Map the World sounds great and an excellent concept to get kids interested in Geography. Have you got an App for Travelzoo and is this new app (Map the World) available on Android and all the different platforms?

Well, Travelzoo has got its own app which is for the Top 20 and our local deals, which is available on Android and iphone. Map the World has only been made available on iPad, because of the type of app it is, it requires a bigger screen than you find on a smart phone so we decided to launch it on that medium. So it really depends on the type of app that we would be launching, but we try to launch on all platforms where possible.
Now Louise, what we always do on Brand Weekly is play a little game which lets people get to know the personality behind the name. It’s called Top 5. So let’s start with your Top 5 Best Destinations of all time, for you personally.

I love city breaks, some of my favourite cities are Florence and Paris, and for further afield sunshine, I love Malaysia and the Philippines. For skiing – Courchevel is my favourite choice.

Brilliant. That’s some good choices! And finally to all our Brand Weekly readers planning a Christmas get-away or short breaks for 2014. Give us your Travelzoo top tips?

I think that some places are offering great value for next year, obviously there’s been a lot of interest in South America because of Brazil (The World Cup), and some of the neighbouring countries such as Uruguay and Chile will be offering better deals than usual, as we are trying to attract people who can’t get to Brazil.

Great. Louise, it’s been a pleasure having you on Brand Weekly. Take care, and Happy Christmas to you and the Travelzoo team!

Thank you Jordan same to you!

For more deals, tips and offers. Click Travelzoo