Technology and the personal touch shared the spotlight at the annual Travel Impressions Best of the Best celebration at Secrets Playa Mujeres this past weekend, as the tour company rolled out new products and highlighted the importance of its travel agent partners.
On the tech side, the company in January will debut Travel Impressions University, offering a three-chapter, self-paced, all-digital program that will take “maybe an hour” for travel agents to complete.
Also new are improved tools for booking “celebration groups,” parties of families and friends traveling together for special birthdays and anniversaries—a market being embraced by travel agents who specialize in Mexico and the Caribbean as the Zika virus impacts their business in the 30-year-old age bracket.
“We have built out our tools for celebrations, in general making them more robust, with a greater ability to customize trips more for milestone birthdays and anniversaries, and additional benefits” for travel agents and their customers, said president Scott Wiseman. More than 20% of Travel Impressions business is in the group space, he noted, and while the existing Quest system “is popular, for the past couple of years we’ve been working with travel agents to build this new resource.”
Peter Bowler, president of Travel Impressions’ parent company, Apple Leisure Group (ALG) Distribution, noted that the system has been in development as a company-wide solution. The goal is to offer “a common background booking engine to the GDSs and hotel inventory” for all the ALG companies, including Apple Vacations, AMResorts and Cheap Caribbean.com. Travel Impressions will be the first company to roll out the system; it will begin beta testing in January.
While some agents told TMR their wedding business to Mexico and the Caribbean is down—and their focus on celebrations for the 30-to-40-year-old age demographic is therefore growing—Wiseman said Travel Impressions is “not seeing avoidance” of Mexico, which “continues to be huge growth for us. The bulk of the change was last year, and now we are seeing groups come back.”
Cancun, site of this year’s Best of the Best, continues to be the fastest-growing destination in Mexico, he said.
Another positive trend Travel Impressions is definitely noting, he said, is younger travel agents entering the profession again. Millennials “have been exposed to travel; they have a willingness to work in nontraditional ways and a passion to travel. For a long time there was a belief that it was difficult to recruit younger people, but now we are seeing them come back. I’m very excited.”
Three months into the job, Wiseman said his priorities have been to “listen and ask questions.” Perhaps his most important contribution so far was tripling the quality assurance team “to make sure we are delivering.” Also on the way are more BDMs in California, part of the company’s push to grow its West Coast business.
So far, he added, Travel Impressions has not had a problem differentiating itself from its sister company, Apple Vacations. “Each has its own history and personality,” he said, “and the delicate challenge is to allow each to grow in ways that are consistent with those. We don’t have a specific roadmap that says ‘Travel Impressions will be here in the market and Apple Vacations will be here.’ Each company will navigate its own path.” But he did note that Travel Impressions has a much broader portfolio than the fun-and-sun focus of Apple Vacations, and much closer partnerships with the major travel-agency consortia.