ATLANTA -- With 10 years in the tour business under its belt,
Vacation Express has grown from a Jamaica specialist selling less
than 1,000 packages in its first year of operation to a
multidestination operator expecting to move more than 100,000
passengers in 1999.
The firm now offers 19 sun destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean
and Costa Rica; 227 hotels; charter service into three of its
featured destinations; scheduled air from a number of U.S.
gateways, and a cruise program, set to kick off this year.
While focusing on upper moderate and high-end clientele,
Vacation Express carries products for every budget, with prices
ranging from $169 per person, double, for a one-night,
air-inclusive program from Atlanta to Cancun to $3,000 for a
seven-night, deluxe air-inclusive package from Atlanta to the
In its main markets, the Southeast, Midwest and mid-Atlantic,
the company works with more than 7,000 travel agencies, through
which 98% of its business is sold.
Through a disciplined expansion strategy that slowly added new
destinations, charter gateways and products to the mix, Vacation
Express has witnessed 50% to 100% annual growth in passenger volume
since it was launched in 1989, according to Kevin Hernandez,
president and founder, along with Meg Deeb, the firm's director of
The company's motto, "The Travel Team That Cares," has been the
backbone of its successful record to date, Hernandez said.
"It extends from caring about the service we give to our travel
agents to the experience we deliver to the end-user customer," he
Vacation Express aims to set itself apart by communicating that
philosophy to the industry, Hernandez added. "We believe it is our
biggest selling feature," he said. "At the end of the day, a lot of
tour products are similar, and we want people to think of us as
very reliable, and they do."
The firm's formula for success has not changed since it opted to
follow the move toward consolidation in the industry, Hernandez
said. Vacation Express was acquired by Airtours in September 1998
and now operates as a division of Airtours' North American Leisure
"We still have the same philosophy," he said. "And the only
change to the product is the addition of cruises, which is a direct
result of the acquisition."
The cruise program features itineraries on the Carousel and
Sunbird, two ships operated by Sun Cruises, which is owned by
Airtours. Beginning in November and running until April, the firm's
cruise lineup includes three seven-night itineraries.
The Carousel will depart from Calica near Cancun and call at
Cozumel, Puerto Cortes, Roatan Island, Grand Cayman and Ocho
The Sunbird will depart from Aruba and offer two itineraries,
one calling at Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Margarita Island and
Curacao, and the other stopping at Barbados, Antigua, St. Maarten
and St. Kitts.
Aside from the addition of a cruise product, another major
expansion move for the company this year is the introduction of
Baltimore as its 10th charter gateway into Cancun, its top
The year-round service, which begins Nov. 18, will offer five
weekly flights with a stop in either Washington (Dulles) or
Charlotte, N.C. On March 1, the Saturday service on the route will
become a nonstop flight.
At its peak, the firm operates roughly 18 charter flights per
week into Cancun. The second-largest destination for Vacation
Express is Aruba, to which it operates approximately six charter
flights per week during its busiest period.
Beyond expanding into the cruise realm and increasing gateways
and frequency, Hernandez said Vacation Express is responding to
trends in the marketplace, such as the demand for inclusive
To that end, the company is strengthening its relationships with
inclusive operators such as Blue Bay Resorts, which has properties
in Cancun and Costa Rica, adding other inclusives such as RIU
properties in the Riviera Maya south of Cancun and persuading
hotels to introduce inclusive options.
On the marketing front, the firm will unveil a new Internet Web
site Sept. 15. Vacation Express pays agents a base commission of
10% on all of its products, with the opportunity for overrides
based on production.
The company also features two year-round agent incentive
programs, one rewarding agents with free airline tickets for use in
their own promotions and the other offering frontline agents free
nights for themselves at participating hotels. Additionally,
Vacation Express often runs cash bonus incentive programs for