NEW YORK -- Just over a year ago, the merger between Apple Leisure Group (ALG) and the Mark Travel Corp. was completed. The last 12 months haven't been without challenges, but executives believe the merger has created a stronger company to better serve advisors and the industry.

"We did this because the industry is changing so dramatically, constantly," ALG executive vice president of trade sales and engagement Jacki Marks said at an event for media and travel advisors here Monday.

"You have the OTA pressure, you have Airbnb, and I tell people I'm always wondering what Google and Amazon are up to," Marks said. "As this industry continues to change and everybody wants a piece of travel, I believe we have built a foundation with Mark Travel and Apple Leisure Group -- the new Apple Leisure Group -- to have something that's special, that's different, that's going to propel travel agent success. It's going to propel tour operator success and really fight back against these pressures."

Jacki Marks
Jacki Marks

Marks acknowledged that the merger created a lot of change in the industry, something that's never easy to deal with, but she is confident in the combined organization's ability to succeed.

When the merger was complete, Marks said the combined company saw two ways forward. It could proceed "fast and thoughtfully" or "slow and deliberately" integrating brands, policies and technology. ALG decided to move fast to avoid uncertainty.

"Everybody's clear, at least, where we're going," she said.

During a question-and-answer session, an agent asked about customer service. Travel Impressions had a reputation for great service, but response times suffered after the merger, she said.

Travel Impressions president Scott Wiseman acknowledged there were issues surrounding its booking system. ALG previously used Quest, but last fall started using Mark Travel's VAX VacationAccess.

In addition to VAX being a new system for many agents, Wiseman said it was also new for Travel Impressions' reservations agents on the back end. They were not experts in VAX, contributing to issues. There were some serious hold time issues in the fall for agents calling in with questions, which wasn't helped by a struggling inside team.

But today, Wiseman said, that is turning around. Inside agents leaned on the Funjet Vacations team, which was more familiar with VAX, and has improved wait times. Additionally, during times when Travel Impressions needs extra help (like during hurricanes and other large-scale travel disruptors), the entire ALG team can jump in to help advisors.

Marks added that ALG is working with a third-party company to increase staffing when necessary.

Changes are still being made to the way things are done. Wiseman said he and the other brand presidents get a comprehensive weekly report from the sales team that includes agents' suggestions of changes. He encouraged agents to contact ALG brand presidents directly or their business development managers with any suggestions.

Scott Wiseman
Scott Wiseman

Another agent at the event said she initially thought the merger would be "disconcerting and daunting," but found it to be the opposite. She commended ALG on maintaining sales teams, integrating new technology and listening to advisors' feedback with interest.

"You hit on the foundation of who we are as ALG," Marks said. "It's about people. When this merger started, I called it a marriage. We're blending a family. This is about how we connect with our travel agents. It's about listening. It's about communicating. It's about all of what you just said."

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