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
"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
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,
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
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."