The pandemic has been a period of change for almost every single company involved in travel, but one company that has undergone more change than most is Apple Leisure Group Vacations, which is in the process of moving to new ownership at the same time as it continues its rapid expansion in Mexico, the Caribbean, and all over the world.
At last week’s Executive Advisor Retreat, the Apple Leisure Group Vacations (ALGV) executive team took time to talk about the company’s current plans for this year and next, including what’s happening with the Hyatt deal. Here’s what they said:
Ray Snisky, the group president at Apple Leisure Group Vacations, described an “arms race by the big box hotels to get into all-inclusive” during the COVID-19 pandemic. During previous years, particularly the time when he was on Starwood’s advisory board, the all-inclusive segment was an afterthought for a lot of the major hotel companies. But that has changed dramatically.
“This is the hottest part of hotel distribution and hotel experiences,” he told attendees last week. “The quality of the product continues to get better and better.”
“I knew that someone was going to purchase us at some point but I didn't expect it to by Hyatt,” Snisky said. “They have, in my opinion, scooped the industry.”
Even with a lot going on to finalize the Hyatt deal, ALGV continues its work, including an expansion outside of Mexico and the Caribbean—two years ago, the AMR Collection had no properties outside of that region and now, around 50% are.
“I think you’re going to see us continue to expand, you’ll see properties in Asia at some point,” Snisky added.
As for how Hyatt is going to interact with ALGV’s travel advisors, there are still details to work out but Snisky said that all interactions he’s had with Hyatt’s CEO Mark Hoplamazian, who is expected to speak at this year’s Ascend conference, has been positive.
“He’s made that commitment and he has a tremendous amount of respect for the advisor community,” he said. “We won’t be successful without a fantastic relationship with the travel advisors.”
Call Center Update
ALGV’s operations, like so many in travel, were stretched during the pandemic. SVP Call Center and Operation Anderson Hernandez said that even with those challenges, “we never stopped working or investing.”
Hernandez said that that investment has led to a number of improvements for advisors. “More sophisticated forecasting” has allowed ALGV to focus on better and more efficient staffing, and better training and cross-training have allowed advisors to get their problem or issue solved by the first contact at the call center, something that wasn’t happening last year.
The company also continues its digital adoption, which is impacting double the percentage of call center interactions compared to last year (35% v 17%). Customer refunds are now “pretty much automated from beginning to end,” according to Hernandez, as are schedule changes.
All that has led to a better experience for advisors and a quicker turnaround time when they do need an agent at the call center and Snisky added that just those changes have helped “transform” the company.
“We’re doing some things that we should have been doing 15 years ago—new technology, new robotics, new things that make things more efficient,” he said, adding that other changes and improvements are on their way.
“Everything that we know isn’t perfect right now is being worked on diligently by the team,” he said. “Just know that it’s a huge priority for us. How we help you take care of the customers is a number one priority for our organization.”
‘Ask a Travel Advisor’
This year, ALGV is following up its Year of the Travel Advisor (YOTA) campaign with a brand new initiative that it hopes will not only raise awareness among consumers about the value of the trade but also create actual business for its partners.
Jacki Marks, EVP Travel Agent Vacations, Sales, Brands, Groups, told attendees that the team wanted to make sure it was continuing to get advisors that recognition while also generating new leads with a specific call to action centered on the new campaign.
“What we learned from last year’s campaign was that we were generating a lot of interest in advisors but we weren’t generating leads to you,” she said.
This year’s Ask a Travel Advisor Campaign will aim to do just that, combining a media blitz at the same level as YOTA with a webpage where consumers can connect to premium advisors.
That page will include an agent finder for consumers to find an advisor close to their location and “more meaningful content” for advisors to use to close that sale.
“More importantly it’s about conversion now,” Marks said. “All of our research beyond what we know is that people are using travel advisors now more than ever.”
The goal of the campaign is to allow advisors to be the big winner. Even with inflation persisting, consumers are healthy. According to Marks, 2019 pricing to today is up over $400.
“People are buying ocean view rooms, they are adding on the gift cards, upgrading their transfer —you have to figure out that it’s okay to recommend things that maybe you couldn’t have before COVID,” she said.
More from Amstar
Amstar, the ALGV segment that is maybe most known as a transfer and airport transportation company, is continuing its growth outside of those two purposes. Rodrigo Llaguno, who oversees operations, told advisors last week that there is much more to it than that.
“In general, people when customers think of Amstar they think of us as a transfer company,” he said.
Amstar’s role is not just to get people places, but it also helps curates on-the-ground experiences, something that is “becoming much more relevant” for consumers.
“We have a bunch of other very well-curated experiences for your customers and destinations,” he said.
While it may be difficult to sell clients' experiences before they get to the resort, doing so can help advisors improve their bottom line. And even if that sale is difficult prior to arrival, advisors can sell vouchers for that experience beforehand that clients can use once they arrive.
Those vouchers will guarantee