How the USS Midway Museum Increased Its Sales – Even During a Pandemic

Joslyn McIntyre

July 20, 2021

In the stunning San Diego Bay in California, the permanently docked USS Midway offers visitors a chance to tour a real aircraft carrier and immerse themselves in a rich bit of American history. To be on the map for travelers, the marketing team at USS Midway Museum counts on partnerships with online travel agencies (OTAs). But over the years, they found that a lot of OTAs seemed to focus primarily on their partnerships with hotels and airlines. Yet, without attractions such as the USS Midway Museum, travelers don’t have much incentive to visit a city in the first place.

When Joe Wagstaff first came on board as Travel Industry Sales Manager, he testifies, “We had a philosophy of throwing out a big net and pulling in as many partners as possible to get as much exposure as we could.” This philosophy had resulted in a lot of partnerships with small tour operators and OTAs that weren’t necessarily giving a lot of return. “We simply didn’t have time to keep up with all the partnerships,” Wagstaff admits. “So we have had to get more specific about who we want to keep partnering with for the long term.”

As he investigated strategic options, Wagstaff looked for OTAs naturally aligned with attractions, which could bring in new audiences and make the backend technology much simpler. This quest paid off during the pandemic, when having the right marketing partners mattered most.

“It seems like every six months, Tiqets is doing something new, something innovative. They’re looking for another way of getting our products out in front of the public and making that easy.”

Joe Wagstaff

 Travel Industry Sales Manager, USS Midway Museum

How the Midway Increased Sales During the Pandemic

The USS Midway Museum already had a partnership with Tiqets when pandemic shutdowns began. Because of the relationship, Wagstaff’s team was able to manage the challenges presented while social distancing mandates were in effect and some exhibit spaces were temporarily closed. 

The biggest issue was that controlling attendance became critical in order to abide by restrictions, and that called for timeslot-based ticketing. For some attractions, converting from a free-sale model to a timed-ticketing model was a huge hurdle, but Wagstaff says, “Luckily, Tiqets worked with us and [USS Midway Museum’s ticketing partner] Gateway Ticketing, so transitioning to a capacity-management system went smoothly.”

Since partnering with Tiqets before the pandemic, the USS Midway Museum has so far sold over 25,000 tickets. In fact, Tiqets’ ticket revenue has doubled since 2019. But 2020 put a fine point on Wagstaff’s technology choices, and he had to make some tough decisions about which partners to stick with. Tiqets made the cut. “We only reactivated about five resellers who could do timeslot ticketing,” says Wagstaff, “and Tiqets was in that five.”

Beyond the immediate challenges presented in 2020, there are three specific and evergreen challenges Tiqets solves for the USS Midway Museum.

“During the pandemic, Tiqets was able to sell tickets – in fact, it’s one of only five who are still able to sell them.”

Joe Wagstaff

Travel Industry Sales Manager, USS Midway Museum

Challenge #1

Becoming a priority for OTA partners

Before the pandemic, the main marketing struggle was often just trying to get exposure through OTAs and other partners. The OTAs Wagstaff’s team had been working with –  Tripadvisor, Viator, and Expedia among them – made their money primarily through booking hotel rooms and airlines, and the prevailing attitude was that those were the priority customers.

It was easy to feel dismissed as a second-tier customer, and Wagstaff struggled to get the USS Midway Museum listed accurately and widely. Feedback from OTAs was that the museum needed to provide lower wholesale rates in order to see more ticket traffic, but as Wagstaff says, “I was torn between shrinking our profit margins and devaluing our product or getting the marketing exposure we needed.” Wagstaff and his team specifically sought an OTA partner that understood the pivotal role that attractions play in attracting travelers to a city in the first place.

The Solution

Work with an OTA that prioritises attractions

In 2019, Wagstaff got proactive about his quest for a new OTA partnership to replace the old hodgepodge of underperforming solutions. In his research, he talked to marketing leaders from other local attractions such as SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo, attended industry conferences, and met with as many OTA and reseller reps as he could. He eventually landed on Tiqets as an OTA, which has a priority-focus on museums and attractions around the world.

“I was impressed with the people I met from Tiqets. And my first impression was correct. We’ve now been working on a few different solutions, with inevitable challenges, which have helped me understand that Tiqets’ partners are just as important as their customers.

Joe Wagstaff

Travel Industry Sales Manager, USS Midway Museum

Challenge #2

Simplifying marketing efforts

Marketing efforts in general had become complex and unwieldy. As a not-for-profit, the USS Midway Museum’s marketing budget is limited, so they need to spend wisely.  “When I came on board,” Wagstaff says, “we were mired in the old voucher system and the associated pitfalls that came with it.”

Offering vouchers through various local tour companies and businesses had been a great way to accelerate business in the early days, but it had evolved into an administrative nightmare. Since each company had its own voucher, one coordinator was spending about 20 hours a week just trying to reconcile all the vouchers. This system also created more work for frontline personnel, who had to verify that each voucher was authentic and then scan it in. 

“It was just cumbersome,” says Wagstaff. “It created a bottleneck and much more work than it was worth – especially since we already have a really low price point.” He sought to drastically streamline the number of vouchers being offered through local tour operators in order to simplify operations.

The Solution

Eliminate ad hoc vouchers with the help of tech-savvy OTAs

By replacing the old voucher system with Tiqets’ online booking engine (which is integrated with Gateway Ticketing) and connecting with a range of OTAs via API, the team has been able to eliminate most of the individual vouchers.

“We needed a partner that not only had the technical side of ticketing figured out but also offered great customer service. Relationships are really important. Tiqets ticked those boxes for us.”

Joe Wagstaff

Travel Industry Sales Manager, USS Midway Museum

Challenge #3

Extending outreach all the way to Europe

The European market is an important market for an attraction in an international destination such as San Diego, but partnerships with US-based OTAs and local tour operators did not extend the marketing reach far enough abroad with any consistency.

The Solution

Market to European travelers through an OTA

As an internationally based OTA, Tiqets has a built-in European audience. One of the perks of the Tiqets platform is the ability to attract global visitors in their own language. dedicated venue pages are available in 13 languages, and Tiqets has a strong presence in Europe as well as brand recognition in the U.S. 

This language feature has been especially helpful coming out of the pandemic because it has given the team of the USS Midway Museum the flexibility to communicate changing protocols clearly and automatically in many languages, so visitors always knew what to expect when booking.

Since partnering with Tiqets, at least 70% of the USS Midway Museum’s ticket sales from Europe have come in via the partnership.

“Tiqets provides a booking engine for us, and that’s brilliant, because it has a great capacity for translations, which we haven’t had as easily in some other tech solutions.”

Joe Wagstaff

Travel Industry Sales Manager, USS Midway Museum

As pandemic restrictions become history, and international travel returns to normal (or better), Wagstaff looks forward to more travelers from further abroad, with Tiqets as a close partner in marketing and technology.

“The proof is in the pudding: and the proof that Tiqets works is in their sales for us. You’ve doubled your revenue for us since 2019, and that was a big year for us!”

Want to learn more about how you can partner with Tiqets to achieve similar success?