Apple Leisure Group and the Mark Travel Corp. completed their merger earlier this month, and while Apple CEO Alex Zozaya predicted the move would benefit travel retailers, agent reaction was mixed.

Ashley Hunter, Avoya Travel's vice president of business development, predicted that the merger will ultimately mean a more seamless booking process and stronger pricing for agents.

"The enhanced technology across [these] major vacation packagers will most likely provide an easier booking process," Hunter said. "And we expect synergies will emerge that could produce cost savings that would extend value to the consumers and travel agents."

One area where agents stand to benefit pretty quickly, Zozaya said, is in charter flights. The merger is "going to immediately allow us to have more traffic into the charter space," he said. "We no longer have to fight for pricing, seats, volume."

He said the combined companies will be able to secure more charter flights to popular fun-and-sun destinations, which will ultimately give agents more nonstop flight options and more opportunities for higher commissions on air-inclusive bookings.

As of the May 1 close of the deal, the companies are operating under the name Apple Leisure Group. Its brands include Apple Vacations, Travel Impressions, CheapCaribbean.com, AMResorts, Amstar, Worldstar and Unlimited Vacation Club plus the Mark Travel brands Funjet Vacations, Southwest Vacations, United Vacations, Blue Sky Tours, My Destination Wellness and Mark International.

Mark Travel's technology company, Trisept Solutions, is also now part of Apple.

Bill La Macchia Sr. will continue leading Trisept Solutions and will serve on the Apple board. Bill La Macchia Jr. will continue to lead Mark Travel Corp., which still exists as part of Apple Leisure Group, and he, too, will serve on the board.

Zozaya said another big benefit for agents will be the improved technology Apple gained through Trisept Solutions and its popular booking platform, VAX VacationAccess. With the enhanced tech, Zozaya is hoping to help agents better compete with OTAs by giving them the tools to sell to their clients via mobile devices, among other improved tools.

Several agents said that being able to book AMResorts through the same reservation system as suppliers they had booked through Mark Travel -- and being able to do it all on VAX -- were potential upsides of the merger.

"That's going to be a big benefit for agents, being able to single-source through VAX," said Tim Evans, president of Houston-based Modern Vacations and Destination Weddings. "In my opinion, VAX is the best platform, where you can easily package everything together."

Even so, Evans, who books about 60% of his business through Funjet and also books Apple Vacations and Travel Impressions, said his main concern about the merger was having the vast majority of his business tied up with one company.

"I want to diversify to ensure if anything happens I'd be able to rebound," he said. "I don't want to go all-in on Funjet or Apple. We're going to start venturing out and doing more cruises and different packages. If I'm all-in, I'm at the mercy at whatever they decide, which is a little scary."

Evans admitted he was taken aback by news of the merger. "I didn't see it coming at all," he said. "I have really mixed emotions, honestly,"

Tina Chisnell, a travel professional with Puyallup, Wash.-based Price-Peterson Travel & Cruises, had traditionally sold Mark Travel but not Apple Vacations. She said she was disappointed to learn of the merger because she had a couple of bad experiences booking with Apple Vacations.

Another potential drawback is that following the finalized merger, Sandals Resorts International said it was ending its partnership with Funjet Vacations, a move Zozaya attributed to the fact that Apple owns AMResorts, a collection of all-inclusive properties that compete with Sandals and Beaches resorts.

As for commissions and agent loyalty programs, Zozaya said that eventually Apple will combine the programs of both companies.

"We have so many external competitors that are making our profitability more difficult, particularly for the travel agents, and I'm talking about Airbnb and the OTAs," Zozaya said.

He added that the strength and pull of a consolidated packaged-travel company will give agents the tools they need to compete.

"I think that the travel agents need a strong business model that totally integrates the travel agent into the sales and experience process," Zozaya said. "I think there is no better time for the travel agent than when [they have] a very solid business partner."

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