Selling the vacation experience

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A $51 roundtrip plane ticket from Los Angeles to Fiji was too good to be true.

Travelocity prides itself on offering great prices on airfare and vacation packages, but the appearance of that fare on the company's Web site was a mistake, Travelocity Chief Executive Officer Michelle Peluso said. Still, after a number of people purchased tickets through the Travelocity site, Peluso decided the deal had to be honored.

Doing otherwise would have gone against the company's Customer Bill of Rights, which was being unveiled in two weeks.

"You have the right to get what you booked" is the first of seven rights guaranteed by the bill.

Peluso explained her company's philosophy and the direction in which the travel industry is heading at the 43rd annual Colorado Ski Country USA conference this week at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. About 150 Colorado ski executives and others involved in the ski industry attended the three-day event.

The Fiji ticket goof-up proved to be a valuable lesson, and how the company handled the mistake was an example of the direction Peluso wanted to take the evolving company.

"It's not our fault, but we can take more accountability," Peluso said she told her staff.

Travelocity, now in its 10th year, has changed considerably throughout time.

"We really didn't have the ability to sell the complete travel experience," Peluso said.

Booking travel arrangements online is no longer just about finding the cheapest flight, printing out the boarding pass and going on your journey. "It's not about price," Peluso said. "It's about the experience."

The company's approach -- that price shouldn't be the determining factor for online travel -- is controversial, Peluso said.

She said the focus has shifted to "making sure consumers realize the magic of travel." The company no longer looks at travel as a mere commodity with a certain price tag.

Customer surveys helped Travelocity realize what direction to go.

"When asked what made the trip a great experience, no one said price," Peluso said.

But when people were asked what factors are important when deciding on a vacation, price was a factor.

"The reason consumers say price matters is that we don't give them the opportunity to talk about the experience," Peluso said.

A major step for the company was assembling a customer service staff that would help ensure the goals that were set forth in the company's Customer Bill of Rights.

If a customer's trip is headed in an unexpected direction, Travelocity tries to put the journey back on track. For example, if Travelocity finds out the pool is closed at the hotel, the support staff will alert its customers who have reservations and try to find an alternative.

"If anything goes wrong, you can call us," Peluso said.

Data compiled and analyzed allow Travelocity to answer nearly any question it has about its 10 million customers. The company can now target customers with specific travel offers. "We're getting better at targeting and saying it's time to get back to ski country."

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