Dan Swain, director of data sales for the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), knows his way around the airline industry. He’s been with ARC for a dozen years and, previously, he worked for Austrian Airlines and US Airways. Of late, Swain has become a familiar figure at travel and tourism conferences as he explains to audiences just what ARC is and what it does—most recently he is more than likely telling others in the industry how they can use ARC’s database to track the purchases and destinations of airline passengers throughout the world, using the Global Agency Pro platform. He’ll be a featured speaker next week at Connect Travel’s RTO Summit Florida, in ChampionsGate, Florida. (For more information on the event, visit www.rtosummit.com.) We recently spent some time talking with Swain about ARC and its Global Agent Pro, launched two years ago, which is a data tool designed to help DMOs improve their marketing and promotional results. The following are excerpts from our conversation.
INBOUND: First, since it’s likely that many people are still unaware of what ARC is and does beyond providing a payment settlement platform for travel agencies and the airlines, could you give us a brief “this-is-what-we’re all about” so that we can better understand your work and the work of your organization?
Swain: Sure. ARC is an airline industry-owned entity, and we’ve been around for more than 50 years in one form or another. And, yes, our core business is settlement and we accredit travel agencies to sell airline tickets on behalf of our airline owners and participating airlines. So, we have a unique insight into the travel agency community and the types of travel that they’re able to support for the industry.
In addition to our settlement/clearing house function, we also have a very robust data business, which allows us to offer insights into traveling patterns and recent trends for tickets sold not only in the United States, where we’re focused, but also from anywhere in the world through our partnership with the International Air Transport Association (IATA). For the DMO community, this is especially interesting because we’re able to combine the ARC and IATA settlement platforms to provide a truly global point of sale database for DMOs from which to get that insight.
INBOUND: What prompted ARC to develop the Global Agency Pro data management program, and when did it come about?
Swain: Global Agency Pro is about two years old, and it is the result of a closer partnership we have with our friends at IATA. ARC and IATA have for many years created data products—primarily for our airline owners and partners. We perform several services for airlines. But we’re constantly having interesting discussions with other players in the travel and tourism industry resulting in products and services for all types of entities—everything from travel agencies to airports. DMOs comprise the newest group for which we’ve created products.
Before Global Agency Pro, ARC had a stand-alone product using ARC-only data (U.S. point-of-sale only) in which we offered travel agency insights for the U.S. community as well. What’s new with Global Agency Pro is that it is a truly global offering that brings in a much more extensive database of airline ticket sales.
INBOUND: To help us better understand—or, in our case, more easily understand Global Agency Pro—do you have a brief “101” or case study of how someone uses it? I was thinking about the case of Atout France. (It is the France Tourism Development Agency, the French organization responsible for promoting France as a tourism destination—you can access a copy of ARC’s case study of how it uses Global Agency Pro here.)
Swain: Yes, Atout France is one of our most robust users and advocates. They do some really interesting work. But our core value proposition is to the greater DMO community, because many of them don’t necessarily recognize the volume of business that still comes through the travel agency community in the United States, which sells 50 percent of U.S. airline tickets. That includes small mom-and-pop leisure agencies that most people think of, but in addition to that, it includes the managed corporate travel community and the OTAs as well.
ARC has huge visibility in terms of air travel in the U.S. We also know through IATA’s data that global travel agencies sell more than 50 percent of tickets in their local markets as well. Most people don’t realize how robust the agency community still is.
What we can do is give DMOs insight into not only how many passengers are coming to their destination, or where those passengers are coming from but, uniquely, we can also tell them who sold those tickets. Instead of just knowing that you’ve got a large population of people coming from a particular country—especially for international inbound interests—we can tell them which travel agencies in that county are making the sales. So, they’re able to use our data to not only see the volumes of passengers, but also create a relationship with the sellers of that travel.
For something like the RTO Summit audience, which is focused on (international) tour operators, we find that most tour operators are also travel agencies. This means that if they’re issuing airline tickets, we have visibility there as well. Interestingly, our data is not delayed like many other sources in the marketplace. If that ticket is sold today for travel six months from now, we can see that ticket today. ARC can provide a good forward indicator of future travel to the destination as well.
INBOUND: You have a point about tour operators in other countries. In Brazil, you can walk into an office and on one side of the room is the travel agency and on the other side is the tour operator. That’s how co-mingled they are there.
Swain: Absolutely. And the volumes that they send are very significant. If you talk to the general population, they’re like, “Oh, I don’t use a travel agency any more. I book everything by myself online.” Well, those online bookings are often via an OTA like Expedia, which is a travel agency. Maybe for a relaxed weekend domestic trip, they don’t need a traditional travel agency to help them, but most people are happy they get the help and insights of a travel agency when they’re booking a more extensive international trip or tour. Travel agencies provide a lot of additional value to those customers who are planning a more high-end or complex trip.
INBOUND: For those DMOs who are just beginning to familiarize themselves with the Global Agency Pro, do you have any ballpark figure that you can tell us as to how many DMOs use the product?
Swain: This product is available globally—in the U.S. via ARC and outside the U.S. via IATA. We’ve got about two dozen DMOs using the system today, and we sell it as a subscription. The DMO receives access to an online platform where, on a daily basis, they can run reports and do queries as to tickets sold to their destination. Uniquely, they can also run reports on travelers going to competitors or peer destinations as well. If they identify travel agencies who are supporting their peers but not their destination—or not supporting theirs to the same extent—it’s an excellent way to identify areas of opportunity, like creating a new relationship with that travel agency or tour operator.
INBOUND: Is it on a sliding scale? That is, larger destinations more, smaller DMOs pay less?
Swain: That’s correct. We base our pricing on the volume of tickets included in the data subscription. A smaller destination is going to pay less than a larger destination, just by the aspect of how many tickets are involved in their reporting. Everything is done by an annual subscription. An annual subscription gives them access not only to daily, updated ticket reports, but also historical data going back to 2010. So, when they sign up with us, they instantly get access to almost a decade’s worth of travel history.
INBOUND: At the RTO Summit, will people be able to meet with you one-on-one? Will they be able to sign up on the spot? Has that ever happened?
Swain: It’s absolutely possible if they want to. We are capable of creating a contract with them on the spot, and we’ll also be providing demos and custom proposals for anybody interested.
INBOUND: Is there anything else I’ve missed you would like to cover?
Swain: We’re looking forward to working closely with the DMO community, and we’ll be happy to connect any prospective customers with current users. And we have testimonials and more information on our website as well. (https://www2.arccorp.com)