If you ask Siri for the definition of appreciation, your results may return words like gratitude, thanks, recognition, acknowledgment, growth, gain, improvement, admiration, perception, love, knowledge, awareness, understanding, sympathy, affection, and perhaps most appropriately, realization.
It’s no accident that the national Travel Agent Appreciation Day fell on the anniversary of the day that The Mark Travel Corporation (TMTC) and Apple Leisure Group (ALG) announced one of the biggest mergers in history – a merger that was framed when it closed in 2018 as one that would be hugely beneficial to both customers and travel agents.
Appreciation and realization were on the menu this past week when the new ALG hosted a micro summit in mid-town Manhattan kicking off a month long celebration called “Travel Agent Appreciation Month,” a celebration of travel agents and the travel agency model. The exclusive event was attended by a handful of the industry’s highest-volume agents and agency owners, as well as top brass from ALG, including Jacki Marks, executive vice president trade sales and engagement, as well as the presidents of each brand including Ron Jacobs (Funjet Vacations and Blue Sky Tours), John Tarkowski (Apple Vacations) and Scott Wiseman (Travel Impressions).
ALG’s Travel Agent Appreciation Month certainly comes with its perks for agents, including trips, cash and room nights, but perhaps the biggest value was the heartfelt and honest position that leadership took in addressing some of the change that agents have had to experience as a part of the merger.
Marks acknowledged that the merger created a lot of change in the industry, something that's never easy to deal with, but she is confident in the combined organization's ability to succeed, and succeed alongside agents. She highlighted that agents learning new technology (VAX VacationAccess) as well as longer-than-usual hold times in the call center were bigger challenges, but said “the features and benefits that agents know and love from Apple and TI legacy booking technologies are a core focus for us in the coming months.” Scott Wiseman added that they recognize the need for stronger service, and said “it is much improved.” Marks added that a third party has been hired to provide extra telephone support in cases of crises like hurricanes and other uncontrollable circumstances.
“It has been a learning year, for all of us,” Jacki Marks said in a statement to the audience. “We did this merger because the industry is changing so dramatically, constantly. You have the OTA pressure, you have Airbnb, and I tell people I'm always wondering what Google and Amazon are up to," she said. "As this industry continues to change and everybody wants a piece of travel, I believe we have built a foundation with the new Apple Leisure Group to have something that's special, that's different that's going to propel travel agent success. It's going to propel tour operator success and really fight back against these pressures."
With two weeks left in Travel Agent Appreciation Month, there’s still time for agents to earn some perks, but the biggest perk for agents is the knowledge that ALG has their best interest in mind. When asked how to get in touch with senior executive leadership at ALG to offer direct feedback about the merger and what agents might like to see in the future, Marks simply replied, “We are all here for you and we are as close as a phone call or email. Trust me when I say that we have all of your best interest in mind. We are One ALG, and that doesn’t end with one portfolio of brands, it means we are all one together with travel agents, evolving ahead of an ever changing industry.”
At the end of the event, Susan Mirabito, executive vice president of operations for Travel Network, said she was disappointed when she first heard about the merger but offered her thanks to the sales team and sales leadership who she said had done an amazing job of providing ”kindness and generosity” during the transition.
She closed her statement with “Thanks - we know you’re listening”
Learn more about ALG's Travel Agent Appreciation Month.