Class Acts

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Two first-rate tour organizations, Mark Travel Corporation and Mayflower Tours, have put together a deal that is worth noting.

Mark Travel is better known for the brands it produces including Funjet Vacations and United Vacations, and Mayflower Tours is a longtime solid citizen in the escorted tour operator field.

Mark has the technology and distribution to make tours widely available through CRS and Web outlets that include an agent-only site called www.vacationaccess.com. But Mark's tour programs didn't include a strong escorted tour product. Enter Mayflower.

Mayflower, owned by John Stachnik, has a reputation for quality escorted tours and by joining forces with Mark, can now make those tours available to a much wider market.

The Mark-Mayflower alliance will put the Mayflower product onto all of Mark's technology platforms.

Stachnik sees the arrangement as an alternative to selling his company to one of the so-called "rollups" that have been acquiring tour operators by the bushel. The deal with Mark allows Mayflower to retain its independence while it enjoys broader distribution.

"We've watched what's going on out there," Stachnik says, "and the rollups have done some excellent things ... but unfortunately we're going through a period where we're seeing rollups turn into pile-ups."

Stachnik's reference is to the fact that some of the companies that have been built by acquiring entrepreneurial travel firms have experienced financial and management problems.

Some of them were set up with the notion of making money on public offerings, only to have the stocks tumble. In addition, these firms often have found it more difficult than they expected to integrate a range of entrepreneurial businesses into a single entity.

From Mark Travel's point of view, the Mayflower deal fills the escorted-tour gap, a category that Mark's CEO, Bill La Macchia, thinks is here to stay. La Macchia challenges the notion that the escorted tour is obsolescent because of changing demographics.

"Our research shows that with the baby boomers---when you ask the questions in the right way -- touring is going to be more popular."

The Mark-Mayflower deal has the right ingredients to be a mutually successful arrangement between two excellent travel companies.

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