CHICAGO -- What with merger hiccups, hurricanes, seaweed in
Mexico and sensational media reports about tourist deaths in the Dominican
Republic, the past year has been a rough one for Apple Leisure Group and its
partners. And the troubles dominated talk last week at Apple Vacations' annual
Golden Apple awards gala.
Before officials began presenting the company's Crystal
Apple Awards to hotel and resort partners on Sept. 9, Apple Vacations president
John Tarkowski told those assembled, "At the end of the day, the
mistruths, the hyped-up mass media and social media have not only enormously
impacted our businesses but the lives of the hard-working people in the
destinations we send [clients] to. And it's tragic, quite honestly."
Tarkowski said occupancy in the Dominican Republic has been "very,
very low since June," when headlines in newspapers across the U.S. raised
questions about whether tainted alcohol was to blame for at least nine tourist
deaths at resorts in Punta Cana.
During a panel with hoteliers on Tuesday, Apple Leisure
Group executive chairman Alex Zozaya noted that more tourists died in New
Orleans last year "than in the last 10 years in the Dominican Republic."
While some of the highly publicized Dominican Republic
tourist deaths had been ruled heart attacks or other natural causes, the FBI is
investigating, and travel companies are anxiously awaiting toxicology reports.
Apple officials and hoteliers on the panel expressed confidence that the
reports will prove the deaths were natural.
"So what do we do?" Tarkowski asked. "Sit
around or push forward, driving back demand even if that means cutting our
pricing? Those are tough conversations, but we have to have them to get
businesses back to those areas."
In addition to problems in the Dominican Republic, yet
another devastating Caribbean hurricane and an outbreak of sargassum along the
Yucatan Peninsula, Apple Leisure Group over the past year has weathered hiccups
associated with its merger with Mark Travel. The company acknowledged that
melding the two enterprises' technology platforms presented more challenges
than had been expected, and it has lost some of Mark's hotel partners because
they compete with Apple Leisure Group-owned AMResorts.
Zozaya admitted that the transition "was more difficult
than expected" but said at the gala that the merger was "one of the
most important things in the history of our company. ... We will grow and
continue to be the leaders in this space."
Zozaya also introduced Alejandro Reynal, who is succeeding
him as Apple Leisure Group CEO.
Reynal most recently served for seven years as CEO of
Atento, a customer relationship management company. Before that, he held
management positions at Telefonica, Coca-Cola and the Gap.
Reynal said he comes from an industry with an emphasis on
the customer experience and the use of technology to enable a positive
experience, adding, "I hope to apply those things here."
"I'm very confident that the future is very bright,"
he said. "The opportunities far outweigh the challenges that we have ahead
In Tuesday's panel discussion, Zozaya denied rumors that
Reynal had been hired to take the company public.
"Going public is just one alternative," he said,
cautioning that though an IPO is an option, it definitely will not happen in
the short term.
"We are not ready, and we may not even go that route,"