With the addition of Mark Travel Corp. earlier this summer, Apple Leisure Group (ALG) is ramping up its focus on charter flights to vacation destinations.

Apple Leisure Group CEO Alex Zozaya said the company plans to offer more charters within the Apple Vacations and Funjet brands, as well as make Travel Impressions a bigger player in the charter space. 

He added that charters are especially important to ALG's travel agent partners.

"Travel agents are the strongest supporters of our charter programs," Zozaya said. "We want to increase our charters and increase the number of vacations point-to-point. The idea would not be to take share from commercial airlines, who are also strong partners, but to create new nonstop routes in charters to interesting points. Travel agents can then push them and make more money. The agents always make more by booking nonstop charters."

Apple Vacations president Tim Mullen noted that the addition of Funjet has made charter expansion attractive for ALG. 

"We probably wouldn't have added some of our new charters if it was just for Apple Vacations. It would likely be too much risk. But with Funjet, we're going to do it."

Apple Vacations most recently unveiled new nonstop charter routes from the Chicago Rockford International Airport in Illinois to Costa Rica, Kansas City to Punta Cana, and Milwaukee to Los Cabos. The company also reintroduced two weekly charter flights from Philadelphia to Jamaica. 

"OTAs don't have access to our charter inventory. And when you have product that's exclusive to travel agents, that's huge," said Mullen. "We're trying to make it better for agents to compete with the OTAs, and that's our mantra."

Changes are afoot at Apple Vacations, which accounts for around 800,000 of ALG's 3.2 million annual customers. Last week, Mullen said that he would be stepping down at the end of the year. ALG has initiated an internal search to fill his position.

Just ahead of that announcement, Mullen outlined several highlights within Apple Vacations' growth strategy, including the addition of 50 new resort partners by this winter. These brands include El Dorado Spa Resorts by Karisma; Generations Riviera Maya, a Spa Resort by Karisma; and La Coleccion by Fiesta Americana. Typically, Mullen said, Apple Vacations adds just over a dozen new properties to its portfolio a year. 

Additionally, Apple Vacations has extended its Agents Give Back program to travelers. Targeted toward large groups, the voluntourism product can be added to trips for around $100 per person. 

Meanwhile, ALG continues to bolster its hotels business, with the company recently forging a strategic alliance with NH Hotel Group to bring its AMResorts hotel management company to Europe. That expansion includes four hotels in Spain: two Secrets resorts, a Dreams resort and the first property flagged under ALG's new three-star brand Amigo.

"At the 3- and 3.5-star level, there is a void in the market. It's a part of the market that people don't tend to look at, because 3-star hotels are usually less profitable. But in reality, if you are a solid 3-star property, you can provide a very strong value proposition," Zozaya said. "You have a hundred examples in urban areas, but it's important for the leisure side to also have a product that is hip, fresh and fun, but not luxury."

Zozaya estimates that ALG has 23 hotels scheduled to open within the next two years.


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