Distribution issues lead Mark Travel to part ways with Playa, Excellence

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The Hyatt Ziva Cancun, a resort managed by Playa Resorts.
The Hyatt Ziva Cancun, a resort managed by Playa Resorts.

Note: This report was updated on Sunday with more information about the Excellence-Mark Travel separation.

Mark Travel Corporation, which merged earlier this year with Apple Leisure Group (ALG), couldn't reach an agreement with Playa Resorts to sell that company's brands (Hyatt Ziva, Hyatt Zilara, the Royal, Panama Jack Resorts, Jewel Resorts, Hilton Rose Hall and Sanctuary Cap Cana).

Jewel and Hilton Rose Hall, which were the only Playa brands being distributed by other ALG companies, will no longer be available through any ALG brand going forward.

Separately but simultaneously, Mark is ending its relationship with Excellence Resorts.

In both cases, disagreement over which ALG and Mark brands would be representing the hotel companies' inventory led to the break in the relationships.

The hotel companies said that all current bookings that previously had been made through Mark or other ALG brands will be honored.

Excellence also said that confirmed bookings made with Mark through its Groups Your Way program could still add rooms through other channels, and these would be considered part of the original group.

Spokespersons for both Playa and ALG characterized the end of their relationship as a mutually agreed upon business decision. Kevin Froemming, Playa's chief marketing officer, said they have valued the Mark relationship and that it had benefited both companies.

Talks between the two companies had been ongoing for a month and a half, but disagreement about whether representation could be "piecemeal" was a sticking point, Froemming said.

"You're either partners or you're not," he said. "And in the end, it was a business decision, one we respect."

Ray Snisky, ALG chief commercial officer, vacations, confirmed that talks with Playa broke down over the scope of what an agreement would cover, elaborating that Mark was willing to continue to sell Playa through the brands it manages, including United Vacations and Southwest Vacations, but not through Funjet, which Mark owns. Snisky said that, from Mark's perspective, Playa and Funjet were no longer strategically aligned.

The matter of which ALG wholesaler brands would be included in a distribution agreement was also central to the breakdown of discussions with the Excellence Group, which includes Excellence Resorts, Finest Resorts and Beloved Hotels.

But in this instance, Mark wanted its hotel partner, Excellence, to expand into more ALG-owned wholesaler brands for distribution, not fewer. Snisky said that when Excellence balked, he ended the discussions.

In a letter addressed to travel agents, wholesalers and commercial partners, Excellence Group vice president of sales and marketing Domingo Aznar confirmed that the reason the relationship ended was because of a requirement for "Excellence to open its distribution to the entire ALG portfolio of wholesale brands."

These are not the first hospitality relationships that were disrupted as a result of the ALG/Mark merger. Shortly after the companies came together, Sandals pulled its inventory from Funjet. At the time, ALG CEO Alex Zozaya said Sandals made the move because ALG's resort division, AMResorts, competes with Sandals and Beaches. AMResorts' brands are Zoetry, Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now, Reflect and Sunscape.

ALG vacation packagers, which in addition to Mark include Apple Vacations, Travel Impressions and CheapCaribbean.com, sell AMResorts alongside brands not affiliated with ALG.

Snisky said that other hotel companies represented by ALG brands need not be concerned by the shifts in business relationships that have occurred since the merger. All hotel brands sold by ALG wholesalers are "on a level playing field" with AMResorts, he said, and the removal of Playa, Excellence and others only means that "remaining partners will get more business because we will be selling that many fewer hotels. It represents an opportunity for them to increase their market share."

Playa's Froemming characterized previous bookings through Mark as "a significant piece of business," but asserted "I don't think [the end of the relationship] hurts us," noting Playa's continuing relationships with Delta Vacations, Flight Centre Travel Group, Classic Vacations, Pleasant Holidays, Vacation Express, American Airlines Vacations, JetBlue Vacations, Island Destinations and Sun Country Vacations.

"In fact, [the cessation of the relationship with Mark] is an opportunity to accelerate existing plans we had to get closer to travel agents. We'll redeploy with other partners and travel agents directly, through significant investments we've made, and continue to make, on PlayaResorts.com," Froemming said.

He added that Playa brands will no longer be represented in VAX VacationAccess, the booking platform deployed by Mark's Trisept Solutions.
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Correction: Playa has a continuing relationship with American Airlines Vacations. 

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