In this issue, INBOUND talks with Mike Gallagher, co-founder and co-chairman of CityPASS, the discounted package of tickets for attractions, tours and entertainment experiences, about the state of this sector of the tour and travel industry. He is the natural “go-to” choice for such a discussion. Why? First, he knows the sector as well as anyone, having been a part of it for nearly a half-century, serving in different capacities at the places such as the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom before creating CityPASS, along with his friend and professional colleague, Mike Morey, late in 1996. It has grown to provide ticketing for more than 100 attractions and activities in 14 North American destinations.
Second, Mike is an innately likable guy who reminds one of George Bailey, the fictional character in the old, classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who saves his family bank with the help of townspeople. In the midst of the economic trauma brought about by the COVID-19 driven global pandemic, Gallagher and Morey have managed to keep all of their more than 50 employees by reducing salaries but maintaining the jobs. Gallagher also stepped in to volunteer his services pro bono to Brand USA for some four months in the latter part of 2012 as the agency recruited a new president and CEO in the wake of a surprise resignation.
Following are excerpts of our conversation with Mike Gallagher.
INBOUND: How does it look till there is a full re-activation of the tour and travel industry in the USA?
Gallagher: Right now, we are focusing on our partner destinations that are reopening. We can certainly sell tickets for places like Houston, Dallas and Tampa, but it doesn’t make sense for travelers to purchase a CityPASS ticket until a majority of the attractions in a city are operating. You can find out which sights are open by visiting our website. When you click on the destination you want to visit, you’ll see the list of included attractions. Those that are currently open are flagged.
INBOUND: How does it look for the CityPASS’ sector of the industry?
Gallagher: Bundled attraction tickets should be quite attractive for travelers because of the budget angle. With so many Americans out of work and others dealing with financial uncertainty, affordability will be a major factor in travel decisions. People, especially families traveling with children, have a lot to worry about right now. Anything that makes life a little easier is good.
You know, it’s summer now and schools are about to go on summer break. And after weeks of being stuck mostly at home, I’m sure families with kids want to get out and do something fun. We can help with that. I was very happy to see that Disneyland is planning to reopen on July 17. For many people, once Disneyland is open, summer has officially started.
INBOUND: Are you picking up any insights of particular interest from international tour operators?
Gallagher: We’re in contact with our international third-party sellers, ensuring that they have all they need from us for when international visitation begins to rebound. But it seems as though local travel will come back first. Understandably, people seem to feel more comfortable exploring closer to home. I don’t think we’ll see a large uptick in interest from international tour operators until countries are more fully open to visitors and people feel less anxious about getting on flights and traveling farther from home. And flights need to be available.
INBOUND: Most of us see “normal”—as in “return to normal”—as something different this time. We use the term “new normal.” What does that mean to you?
Gallagher: When current CityPASS President and CEO Megan Allen took over (in late 2012), one of her main goals was mobile. She and our team have worked very hard to make sure we have mobile tickets for all of our destinations. And many of our buyers chose mobile tickets because of the convenience. In the post-pandemic world, I think we’ll see an increase in travelers choosing mobile tickets for safety reasons, since those tickets reduce contact with other people. So, I’m very happy that we had that option in place. For our partner attractions in general, the new normal means timed ticketing for many attractions and more guest safety procedures.
Also, we’ve always had a generous return policy. We’re making that policy more front and center on our website to reassure buyers that they’ll be okay if their travel plans change. They have 365 days to return any unused tickets for a refund.
INBOUND: There have been articles and webinars ad nauseam on the subjects related to the coronavirus-driven global pandemic and the resulting new protocols for cleanliness and security. Are there any that stand out as uniquely different or seriously challenging?
Gallagher: Recently, the New York Times ran a great article—actually a collection of several short articles—called “The Future of Travel: How the industry will change after the pandemic.” It touches on changes the airline industry is making, when consumers will feel comfortable cruising again, where travelers will go first, what’s newly important to travelers, and lots more. It’s a very comprehensive look at the industry. Of course, depending on what happens with the virus, all of this careful reporting could be turned upside down. That’s the most frustrating thing about this new reality: It’s very hard to make specific plans or to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
INBOUND: How does all of the pandemic-affected activity influence the actual distribution of product by your segment of the industry? That is: Are ticket packets gone? Is everything going to be touchless? No paper ticket passes?
Gallagher: That’s a good question. Many people love mobile tickets because they’re fast, convenient and easy. You can purchase a ticket through our website and have it appear on your mobile device almost instantly. The fact that mobile tickets also reduce touch points is an added benefit in this current situation. And we are definitely encouraging its customers to do so everything they can to stay safe and healthy.
Having said all that, we do have customers who prefer printed ticket booklets, so, for the foreseeable future, we don’t have a plan to discontinue them. It’s funny that many of the people you’d think would be most comfortable with mobile tickets—younger travelers—like the printed tickets, because they use them as props in their Instagram photos, their YouTube videos and their Facebook posts.
INBOUND: Anything you want to add?
Gallagher: Beyond the pandemic, we have other challenges in our country, including the current protests calling for racial equality. To quote Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I think those words have never been truer. Travel is a way to connect with friends and family, but it’s an equally important way to connect with new people, places, cultures and beliefs. Travel is educational for children. We often look at travel as something that’s an extravagance, but it’s also one of the best ways to build tolerance and understanding. And you don’t even need to go far; even a day trip to a new neighborhood or a nearby town can be beneficial.