A rendering of the Breathless Riviera Cancun.Apple Leisure Group’s acquisition of online wholesaler CheapCaribbean.com “makes us a more dominant player in the leisure market and helps us gain a larger market share,” according to Apple Leisure Group CEO Alex Zozaya.

Apple’s portfolio now includes Apple Vacations; Travel Impressions, acquired from American Express in April; AMResorts; AMStar, a destination management company; and Unlimited Vacation Club, a members-only travel club.

“We have a stronger presence in the Caribbean market now with Travel Impressions, with Apple Vacations we are stronger in Mexico, and with CheapCaribbean.com we can move big volumes to big markets through agents and consumers,” Zozaya said.

Although there is some overlap in products, fine-tuning on Apple’s part will help differentiate the three brands for agents, according to Zozaya.

“In the short term, our job is to put the puzzle pieces together and clearly differentiate the distribution channels, products and services we offer for our agents and customers,” he said.

Each brand name will retain its brand identity.

“We are not shutting down any name,” Zozaya said. “We want to grow each brand not just in market share but in size of market, and we’re keeping all existing business models.”

The addition of CheapCaribbean.com to the Apple portfolio allows for a vertical integration that will help the company remain “competitive in pricing,” according to Zozaya.

The CheapCaribbean.com deal was viewed as “a very smart move” by at least one industry observer.

“I think [Apple] is engaged in a rollup strategy, and it is building a really interesting company that is vertically integrated,” said Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst with New York-based consultancy Hudson Crossing.

“It is a smart move to bulk up,” Harteveldt said. “CheapCaribbean.com serves the online leisure sector, while Travel Impressions is business to business and Apple Vacations’ products are sold through agents as well as online.”

He said that with CheapCaribbean.com now in the fold, Apple Leisure Group “will see how real online commerce works. There will be some overlap, but for the most part Travel Impressions and CheapCaribbean.com cater to very distinct audiences.”

In an email to travel agents, John Hanratty, executive vice president and general manager of Travel Impressions, said that Travel Impressions will continue to operate as a separate unit within Apple and will continue to price-match against CheapCaribbean.com.

“Agents will receive earned commission of up to 14% on CheapCaribbean.com price matches,” Hanratty said. “Our long-term commitment to the travel agent community remains unchanged.”

CheapCaribbean.com also will operate as a separate, wholly owned entity within the Apple Leisure Group. Josh Paine continues as president of CheapCaribbean.com, reporting to Zozaya.

Paine viewed the new partnership as an opportunity to bring CheapCaribbean.com’s products “to the next level.”

CheapCaribbean, with offices in Dallas, Phoenix and Philadelphia, was founded in 2000. It ranked No. 24 on Travel Weekly’s 2013 Power List, with sales of $390 million.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.
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