Apple Vacations' Tim Mullen

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Tim Mullen
Tim Mullen

On July 9, Apple Vacations will start selling tours to Cuba that will be operated by U.S.-based Cuba Travel Services. Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran spoke with Apple Vacations President Tim Mullen about the company's first major product launch since Mullen returned to the helm of the company at the start of the year.

Q: How long has Apple been eyeing Cuba?

A: We've been eyeing Cuba for the last five years, knowing that at some point in time the travel embargo would hopefully be lifted.

Q: What makes you think Apple customers will want to take a guided tour?

A: The simple reason is that our customers have been asking for it. And they're asking for a price point that is lighter than the ones that have been out there. There's limited capacity to sell Cuba ... so it's not going to be a huge product in our product portfolio. Getting in now with Cuba with what we're allowed to sell, that being tours, also puts us in a position that if the travel restrictions are fully lifted we can go more into a wholesale beach vacation position.

Q: How important was the fact that Cuba Travel Services has secured charter air in deciding to partner with them?

A: It was big. Cuba Travel Services is the best in terms of experience and expertise. But what really puts them far ahead of their competition is their charter air availability out of Miami on Sun Country and American Airlines. And they're looking to expand that with us through other airports, the first of which is most likely to be [New York's] JFK next winter.

Q: What kind of opportunity does Cuba present?

A: Should governments change regulations on the Cuba and U.S. side of things for travel, who knows? There are plenty of beautiful beaches to grow the destination for mass tourism.

Q: Could the soaring popularity of Cuba ultimately have a negative impact on travel to other Caribbean destinations?

A: For now, no, Cuba will not have an impact on other Caribbean destinations simply because of the limited capacity it has to even support the American demand right now in any sizeable way. However ... when it does get there and their prices are competitive with their competitive set, then other destinations that appeal to the mass fun-and-sun market will have to remain competitive and reinvent themselves as they typically do.

Q: Can we expect to see more new products or destinations from Apple?

A: Where you're going to see growth, certainly Cuba because the opportunity presented itself with the recent easing of restrictions. But we're also looking at growing significantly in Central America, specifically in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: What keeps us up at night is technology. Tour operators that don't invest every year a significant amount of their profits into technology really cheat themselves from real opportunity in the future. We've invested with Bain Capital in a tremendous amount of technology that's being developed now, for instance in our new booking engine for travel agents, which we'll unveil in the fall. We want it to be the best booking engine. We think it's going to be the best booking engine. But until travel agents tell us it's the best booking engine, it will keep me up at night.

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