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The pandemic was harsh for many travel-related businesses, but there were some outliers in the industry that went beyond surviving to thriving. Squaremouth.com is one such success story.
Like most businesses, Squaremouth's sales dwindled as borders closed and travel bans halted travelers worldwide. Sales were down 90 percent by April 2020.
However, the executive team pledged to keep all staff at full pay.
"We have always operated on complete transparency," said Squaremouth CEO, Jessica Burns.
And Burns means transparency. Employees know one another's salaries, everyone has a vote in company decisions (including on new hires and hours of operation). In 2020, transparency meant even knowing how much money was left in the bank.
"Sales weren't coming in, and refunds were going out from canceled trips," added Burns. "But it was important to us that everyone saw what steps we were taking to reserve funds, and knew their salaries weren't on the chopping block."
The company ramped up efforts to current customers through the changing travel climate and also began to think about what travel would look like when the world began to open up. Squaremouth began to target new markets with new products and to get in front of a new customer base.
"Navigating the pandemic from a marketing perspective can be challenging, it is such a sensitive topic," said Squaremouth CMO, Megan Moncrief. "We have always approached our marketing from a 'downselling' standpoint. So for us, this was no different. In most cases, we actually led with why you shouldn't buy travel insurance."
Now, having survived the hardest part of the pandemic, Squaremouth is in an admirable position with sales projected to supersede pre-pandemic numbers by over 200 percent.
The company is also an outlier with a 50 percent female-led executive team. Having worked their way through the ranks of the multimillion-dollar company, the women in leadership positions feel acutely prepared for the shift their industry has experienced.
Burns started in customer service and is now CEO. She believes that her connection to Squaremouth's customer base gives her an edge.
"These are unfamiliar customers, and they have new and very real concerns," said Burns. "Before, people bought travel insurance for the 'what-if' scenarios. Now, they're buying it because they've already been impacted and want to be protected if it happens again."
Moncrief, now chief marketing officer, joined the company as a mid-level marketing manager with no insurance experience.
"We found new revenue streams early on in the pandemic that heavily relied on our technical capabilities. Because we retained our full staff, we were able to devote all of our resources to supporting these new partnerships," said Moncrief. "We have always operated like a software company rather than an insurance company, and that ultimately allowed us to survive throughout the pandemic".
Squaremouth is a small business with 44 employees; 64 percent are female including half the leadership team. The company has more than tripled sales this year from the same period of 2021, up 272 percent, and surpassed pre-pandemic sales levels in the summer of 2021, finishing the year up 49 percent over 2019.
The company also offers a number of progressive benefits to its employees, including miscarriage bereavement leave and 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all salaried employees, including for adoptions. Employees have unlimited vacation, medical coverage for employees and dependents and mandatory birthdays off.
Janeen Christoff caught the travel bug while living in London, England. After two years on the road, she settled in Los Angeles...
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