Things have begun to return to normal in the travel industry, but most agree that travel will likely never be exactly what it was prior to 2020. For the companies who survived through the pandemic, the world of travel is a very different place. Companies have adapted, and many that were thriving three years ago are returning to pre-pandemic numbers. We spoke with CityPASS, a company who provides discounted ticket packages to tourist attractions across the United States, about how they started and where they see the travel industry headed.

The company started in 1996 and is based in the small Idaho town of Victor — but has grown to be an important voice in the tourism and travel industry.

1. Tell us a little about CityPASS and how it got started. What are your company’s goals?

CityPASS was the first bundled attractions ticket ever introduced in the United States. CityPASS is the brainchild of our two founders: Mike Gallagher and Mike Morey, whose families still co-own the company.

Mike and Mike wanted to create a product that would help take the stress out of travel. They wanted families and travelers to be able to focus on making memories, as Mike Gallagher would always say, as opposed to worrying about what to see, how to plan their trip, and how much the attractions will cost.

The cofounders decided that a bundled attraction ticket could alleviate a variety of stresses:

  • Saves Money: By saving travelers up to 50 percent off their attraction admissions, CityPASS makes travel more affordable and leaves more money for other travel expenses.
  • Makes Planning Easy: Because CityPASS focuses on bundling admission to the attractions with the highest attendance (in terms of out-of-town visitors), a CityPASS ticket helps you to see the major attractions. It’s a way of making sure you don’t miss any of the marquee sites.
  • Convenience: Rather than having to purchase individual attraction tickets through a variety of websites or box offices, CityPASS combines all of your attraction admissions in one ticket. Now, with mobile ticketing, CityPASS puts those admissions onto your phone. It’s a breeze to scan your phone for entry and not have to fumble for a separate ticket.
  • Eliminates Time Pressure: For most destinations, CityPASS tickets are valid for 9 consecutive days. That means there’s no need to rush from place to place to realize the full value of your CityPASS ticket. You can spend an entire day exploring and enjoying the American Museum of Natural History, for example, without feeling like you need to hurry up and get to the next attraction.

With these goals of saving travelers money and making travel easier, Mike and Mike launched the first CityPASS programs in 1997 in Seattle and San Francisco. In those early days, we had printed CityPASS ticket booklets that needed to be mailed to customers. Mike, Mike, their spouses, and even their children, helped stuff envelopes and get those tickets out on time.

With the success of the Seattle and San Francisco programs, CityPASS gradually added staff and expanded to new destinations:

  • 1997 San Francisco and Seattle
  • 1998 Boston and New York
  • 1999 Philadelphia
  • 2000 Chicago
  • 2003 Southern California
  • 2004 Toronto
  • 2006 Atlanta
  • 2008 Houston
  • 2014 Tampa Bay
  • 2015 Dallas
  • 2018 Denver and Orlando
  • 2021 San Diego

CityPASS tickets are now available in 15 North American destinations. Since 1997, CityPASS has sold more than 24 million tickets. We have 77,000 customer reviews and an average customer satisfaction rating of 4.6 stars (out of five).

Goals: Under the leadership of CityPASS President and CEO Megan Allen, our goals continue to be showcasing the very best attractions while making travel easier and more affordable.

2. How have you seen travel change in the last few years? Do you have a prediction for the next 5 or 10 years?

  • Change in Purchasing Platforms: About 60 percent of our online sales are now through mobile devices, as opposed to desktop computers. The use of mobile devices for buying CityPASS tickets has been steadily increasing for several years now. (For example, in 2019 our percentage of sales through mobile devices was less than 50 percent.)
  • Transition to Mobile Tickets: CEO Megan Allen has overseen the transition to mobile tickets for all of our partner destinations. We had been moving in this direction for several years, but COVID really made printed tickets obsolete. People wanted a touchless entry experience at the attractions. We were lucky that CityPASS was in a position to immediately offer that.
  • Increase in Customization: We’ve seen more of a desire to customize the travel experience. Because of this, we’ve built more flexibility into our programs. Our Orlando and Southern California programs allow travelers to build a completely customized ticket to the major theme parks, from the parks they want to visit to the number of days the tickets are valid. Our Denver and Philadelphia CityPASS tickets now let travelers choose to visit three, four, or five attractions from a long list of options. Our San Diego CityPASS ticket can be configured three ways: SeaWorld San Diego + 3 additional attractions, LEGOLAND California + 3 additional attractions, or both SeaWorld and LEGOLAND + 3 attractions.
  • More Short Trips vs. One Long Vacation: We’ve seen an increase in shorter-stay/weekend jaunts, especially to major cities. To accommodate these short holiday breaks, we’ve introduced C3 tickets in a few destinations (New York, San Francisco, Chicago). The tickets cover prepaid admission to three attractions, which can be easily incorporated into a weekend getaway.
  • Advance Reservations: During the pandemic, many attractions adopted advance reservations to better control occupancy and guest flow. Unexpectedly, this change enhanced the guest experience. It’s nice not to be in a crush of people when you visit an attraction. It makes the visit better for both the guests and the attraction’s staff. So I think advance reservations may be here to stay at attractions that have high year-round attendance. Anticipating this, CityPASS spent a great deal of staff time and expertise creating a portal within the CityPASS website that allows our customers to conveniently make most of their advance reservations in one place. We are still integrating a few attractions, but, thanks to our tech team, CityPASS buyers can now purchase their tickets and make those advance reservations with a one-stop visit to our website.

If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that it’s impossible to predict the future. I wouldn’t even venture to guess what the next 5-10 years might bring.

3. How do you work with travel advisors and how do they benefit your business?

Our Tourism Sales Department carefully vets any travel representative who wants to sell CityPASS. We want the relationship to be mutually beneficial, so there’s a careful process to determine which partnerships will work best. Anyone interested in selling CityPASS can visit our Travel Trade site and fill out the sales inquiry form.

4. How do you feel you have changed the way people travel?

Based on the number of imitators that have sprung up since CityPASS was launched as the first bundled attractions ticket in the United States, I’d say that Mike and Mike’s original idea was a brilliant one. I can’t tell you how many articles I see that recommend purchasing a “City Pass” ticket before you go. The authors are using our trademarked company name as a term to describe all bundled attraction tickets, but we were the first. We created the demand and enthusiasm for bundled, discounted ticket programs in the U.S.

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For our customers, CityPASS has made travel more affordable and accessible. We purposely went with the 9-day validity for most of our tickets so that our customers would have plenty of time to enjoy and experience a destination. I think we’ve been part of the evolution from “checklist tourism” (running into an attraction, taking a few photos and then checking off the site on your to-do list) to experiential travel (steeping yourself in an attraction and allowing yourself time for an authentic, unhurried experience).

5. Do you plan to expand to other cities? How about other countries?

Yes, although we’re not ready to announce anything at this time. We’re always looking for new destinations, as well as honing our existing programs.

Photo credit: CityPASS

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