eTN Executive Talk: A conversation with .travel CEO Ed Cespedes

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eTN: Where does .travel stand now?

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eTN: Where does .travel stand now?
Ed Cespedes: In terms of names outstanding, slightly north of a quarter million, and in terms of adoption, we’ve seen some excellent adoption by major destinations in the world. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Argentina, El Salvador, Egypt, Poland, Cancun, Utah, Arizona, South Carolina, Alabama. So we’re starting to see the snowball pick up a little speed.

eTN: Have your expectations been met?
Ed: I would say no. We have high expectations of the domain.

eTN: Based on the business model I saw, from day one it was quite…
Ed: We feel successful, but we don’t feel successful enough, and we feel it critical that… we are at an important time now, that the industry really begins to take the domain name up. A lot of things are happening – the .com world is becoming saturated; new top-level domains are coming out, and it’s going to cause consumer confusion. We feel really that now is the time for the travel industry to really identify itself with its own domain.

eTN: What are you doing now that’s different from what you’ve been doing, as far as going forward and pushing for those markets and getting them board?
Ed: Well, I think we have more conclusions to show people now, so we are seeing, for example, we are spending a lot of time showing our potential customers and members of the industry how .travel name holders are doing very well in traditional search engines, how they are doing very well on awareness. We’ve conducted some surveys, sort of fun things to do – you go out and you ask people, do you know what .com means, and nobody does, and nobody knows that it means commercial. And then you ask them what .travel means, and they know what it means. So we’re now supplementing our marketing with facts.

eTN: There are old-school folks who don’t want to merge with the information superhighway because they may feel that, that’s what taking much of their business, and also you’ve got the .com-savvy people who don’t want to merge to .travel because they’re already at a place where they want to. How do you convince those two different sets of resistance?
Ed: I’m surprised to hear that there is anybody left who doesn’t want to join the information superhighway. That’s kind of like being the last guy with a horse and buggy, and there’s Ferraris driving by, but I suppose there are people like that. You know, the Internet is a fabulous medium; I’ve not yet had to convince someone to jump onboard the information superhighway. For people in the .com world, it’s a much different conversation. They have a legitimate concern – they’ve owned their .com names for a long time, they have marketed them for a long time, so they feel they have time and money invested in a .com brand. What we tell them – remember, we’re exclusively for the travel industry – we tell them a few things. First, thing we say is, look, this domain is what it says it is. Nobody thinks you’re selling medical supplies if you have a .travel domain, right? The second thing we tell them is, we say, take a look at the domain name you are using, because some people use a domain name that might not be the best domain name for them, because they couldn’t get their appropriate .com domain name, right? So, for example, with London, rather than using, visitlondon markets under – that’s likely because they didn’t own, right? Well, if you could market under, they do own that, that might be a better name, right, because most people would tend to visit than; visitlondon is something made up; it’s not something in the normal vernacular.

eTN: Economically and practically speaking, the times are really dictating how to act. You’ve got the economic crisis. If you have got to choose .com or .travel to go with, of, course, you’re going to have for your .travel – how do you convince that?
Ed: Well, we’re not talking about a life commitment of money here, right? A domain name costs US$90, and redirecting a domain from com to travel and travel to com is a matter of a few keystrokes. So it’s really not an economic impact. I think what it really is, is context, right? If you’re looking to go to Egypt, you’re likely going to search under some form of travel – travel to Egypt, fly to Egypt, hotels in Egypt – that’s all travel related. And what better way to market yourself than in the same vein that the consumer is looking for, right?

eTN: Excellent. Has there been a difference in the way that the traditional, such as France, UK, and US, and emerging markets, such as India, China, have looked at .travel?
Ed: Yeah, I would say the emerging markets are much more inclined to move quickly to .travel, because they don’t have their .com names, right? So a lot of them were slow to move. There were a lot of countries that are slow to move and some domain took their .com name, right? I don’t have an example handy, but it doesn’t surprise me that Poland moved to, for example, right? Whereas, the more established, more developed countries were ahead of the curve, and they own lots of names, right? But even London, for example, it’s a city, but even London doesn’t own, right? So I think the whole world should just move to .travel, and we should just stop talking about it.

eTN: That’s an ideal world for you. For that travel company that cannot understand what the difference is between .com and .travel, in one quote, make that difference.
Ed: If you’re in the travel business, your last name should end in travel, because then people will know what you’re doing.

eTN: Okay, let’s walk through then, the process of joining .travel. Say, “Company X Travel” wants to try it, how do they go about it?
Ed: They just visit, and go from there – – and they go from there. It’s simple instructions. They’ll first check to see if their name is available. They will likely find that it is. Then they will be directed to a registrar of their choosing; they’ll buy the domain name, and they’re in business, just like any other domain name.

eTN: From what I know, you used to be very strict. Now, it’s gotten a lot more lax.
Ed: Let’s put it this way. We have made the user experience much easier – let’s put it that way.

eTN: Okay; that’s a good way of putting it. What challenges have you met, as you push for .travel now?
Ed: Oh my goodness, what challenges haven’t we met? I mean, the first challenge is that you’re starting a new, top-level domain in a world where there’s 80 million .com domains, so that’s not easy to do. For most people in the world, .com is the Internet, so that’s one challenge. The other challenge is that often, the major brand names don’t want new top-level domain names at all, because they feel like it’s just another place where people can hijack their brands and things like that, etc., and they’re perfectly happy with .com. On the other hand, people that benefit, like small businesses, which most of travel is, love .travel, because it gives them a chance to have their name, right? Whereas, there’s just no chance to get a great travel name when there’s an Expedia and a Travelocity in the world, right? So the challenge of getting the word out to the people that really need and really can benefit from .travel has been a challenge, because it’s easy to get the top 50 brands in the world. In fact, I’ll tell you something, every major travel brand in the world owns its .travel domain name. In the case of places like Expedia – they own hundreds of them, Disney owns hundreds of them. It doesn’t mean they use them, but they’ve got them, right? They’re not our target, right? My target is that five-person travel agency or five-person kayaking tour, or five-person guided tour that needs to be found on the internet when someone is looking for a guided tour through Machu Picchu. And he has a good website and all that, and he can’t figure out why someone can’t find him because he’s tours, right, whereas, he could be just machupicchuwalkingtours, right? So that’s the main challenge; the main challenge is to get the word out to the part of the industry that can really benefit. And, of course, all of the other challenges are just business challenges, and anybody that’s ever been in business, knows that you’re going to have them, and you just push through them.

eTN: I’m aware that the first organizations that joined .travel, are the big, tourism organizations. Was this a conscious effort on your company’s agenda to have them, or did this happen by coincidence?
Ed: No, it was the founders’ idea, and that was one of their better ideas, actually, where they went around the world, and they told the associations of the world that the travel industry was now going to have its own domain, and that they should really be a part of this, and they really did sign on to it. Today, we probably have 80 to 100 associations around the world that are members of our advisory board, called the Travel Partnership Corporation. So that was a concerted effort on behalf of the founders to get the industry behind the domain, and they did a good job of that.

eTN: For a domain that is so industry specific – .travel – has it really carved an image? You listen to Google – you know it’s more than a search engine; it’s more than that, but when you hear .travel, nothing clicks, like…
Ed: Exactly. You don’t know what it is. I think that’s our challenge in a nutshell. Nobody thinks of it this way. Our brother, if you would, called Verisign, who runs .com, you probably never heard of Verisign, but they are to .com what we are to .travel, right? The reason you’ve never heard of Verisign is because they don’t need to do any advertisement because they’re into .com names, so every television commercial, every radio commercial, every ad you hear, every ad you read says, visit us at, .com, .com, .com. So it’s just constantly being punched into the minds of consumers and industries and all that. And so this .com raises… you know, you think of .com, and you think of Internet, technology, website, etc., and we’re not there yet, and that is our challenge. They’ve got 8 million names; we’ve got a quarter million names. It’s going to take some time, but that’s our challenge. We’ll work on it every day.

eTN: What about jobs? Jobs are important now. Everyone’s looking for a job because of what’s going on economically. Is .travel going to come up with something?
Ed: We just launched in partnership with Cornell University, the School of Hotel Administration. It is a job site; you can visit it now – It is a job site that matches employers and potential employees for the hospitality industry. So, we couldn’t agree with you more. And we’re building that one very carefully. We partnered with Cornell because we want to make sure we have the academic view of how this should work, and certainly they produce a lot of potential employees, and they educate a lot of the employers. So, yeah, we’re very excited about

eTN: How do you cope with companies like GoDaddy, which offers domain names for very inexpensive rates?
Ed: We partner with them. We are in discussions with all the big registrars now, and I’m very happy to say that whereas before they were very dismissive of .travel as something new, something they didn’t understand, now they’re all very anxious to talk to us. You can’t beat them, you join them.

eTN: I believe there are certain opportunities .travel is missing as far as the overall scheme of things. Talk about the corporate structure and the culture of .travel. Who does what and why?
Ed: The company is structured as basically a marketing and support organization. We have a marketing infrastructure and public relations infrastructure that Heidi manages.

eTN: In house?
Ed: That’s in house, yes; we do everything in house. Of course, from time to time we use external PR – partner with guys like yourselves, that sort of thing. And then we’re a global company, so we have partners, what’s called the Tralliance Partners International program – 22, 23 countries in the world – and that’s managed out of here, out of the UK. And the idea there is to bring local, market expertise and local, market awareness of the domain.

eTN: So Tralliance is based in the UK?
Ed: Our partner program is based here in the UK. Tralliance is based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That’s where I sit, and so roughly you would look at the company as having a CEO – that’s me – having a public relations arm – that’s Heidi, having a policy arm – that’s a guy named Byron Henderson; he deals with IT and our registrars, and then, also sort of under Heidi’s marketing organization is the Partners program, and they’re all over the world; we have partners all over the world.

eTN: What does .travel make of the current economic crisis?
Ed: It’s a nightmare. I think anybody looking at the current state of world economic affairs, knows that we’re going to have a lot of trouble, and it’s going to impact travel. It’s going to impact travel and tourism in a very big way, however, that to me means that a lot of the industry is going to have to find more efficient, more intelligent ways of acquiring those fewer customers that are out there. And that includes being found more effectively on the Internet, and that’s where .travel domain names can really help, and it’s not a major investment. You’re talking about US$90 to US$100, and so even in this economy, people can invest in that. But for a year or two, we’re going to be competing for fewer customers across the board.

eTN: Let’s look at it from a microscopic point of view – from the .travel. Are you seeing more registrants from the European side, because the general idea is that the UK and Europe are not going to suffer as much, so are you seeing that translated into the registrants?
Ed: I have not seen any major… well, that’s incorrect. Yes, I am seeing that. I have seen, recently, European registrations surpass North American and South American registrations recently. I don’t know if that’s an indicator of the time or not, because we’re really only talking about US$90, but if you want to be chairman of the federal reserve, go for it.

eTN: I’m throwing it out because it is a valid argument that someone made. Where does, if at all, .travel stand on issues such as climate change?
Ed: First of all, we are a contributor and have been a support for a long time of the Just a Drop Foundation. We give to that charity – we give a dollar for every name we sell to that charity, and that charity is all about building wells – sustainable wells – in places where people don’t have water. Beyond that, we are a very environmentally-supportive business. I frequently have conversations with UNWTO, with people from Green Globe, and all my staffs has heard me say that we have to get behind the environmental movement and the sustainable tourism movement and all of that. One of our partners in Costa Rica is – I forget the name of his charity that we’re supporting – but, he plants trees, lots of them. It’s like a repletion of the ozone layer; something like that. So we’re very interested in that. For my sake, I have two young children, and that makes it especially important to me. They’ve got to live here for another hundred years.

eTN: Two more questions. Are you allowed to trade with Zimbabwe?
Ed: I don’t know. We are a US corporation, so if, remember this, if there is a registrar outside of the United States that lives in a legal zone where they can trade with Zimbabwe, people of Zimbabwe can buy their .travel names through him, because they’re not buying it from me.

eTN: So there’s none at the moment, because tourism is quite big in Zimbabwe.
Ed: No, but I mean, for example, I assume, I don’t know, maybe I should know this, but I assume there’s some sort of restriction of trade between the US and Zimbabwe, by what you’re saying. If there is no, say restriction of trade between England and Zimbabwe, and there are registrars in England, Zimbabweans can buy from that registrar; no problem.

eTN: But you’re saying as of right now, there isn’t a Zimbabwe company that’s registered with .travel?
Ed: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. It’s possible there is, but remember, we’re the purveyor of the thing, we don’t sell the names, the registrars do.

eTN: So you govern.
Ed: I govern, right. But it’s all governed by a group called ICANN. We could check. We should check, because that would be interesting, because if we can sell names there, and there’s a big demand, let’s get over there and sell them.

eTN: Especially now, because they really are looking. They have such attention towards them – they’re grabbing attention everywhere because of the political situation – it could work for their advantage, to take advantage of that attention.
Ed: That’s very interesting. That’s definitely the first time I’ve been asked that question.

eTN: Well, that’s all I have. Do you have anything else to add?
Ed: No, I just want to say thanks.

eTN: No, thank you; my pleasure.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.