Last updated: 02:15 PM ET, Fri April 10 2015

MLT Update: One-On-One with John Caldwell

Tour Operator | MLT Vacations | David Cogswell | April 10, 2015

MLT Update: One-On-One with John Caldwell

Photo courtesy MLT Vacations

John Caldwell was appointed president of MLT Vacations, the operator of Delta Vacations, in April 2012. Caldwell has worked in the travel industry for 29 years, starting after college with Northwest Airlines reservations in New York. He worked in sales and sales management positions and became director of sales in Detroit and Memphis. He later worked in the passenger marketing group and managed brands for Northwest.

When Delta acquired Northwest he became the managing director for global sales for Northwest and KLM for North America. TravelPulse caught up with Caldwell soon after he returned from Tiangus, the travel trade show in Acapulco, Mexico.

TravelPulse: What’s the latest news with MLT Vacations?

John Caldwell: I recently attended Tiangus, the trade show and networking event for Mexico in Acapulco. It was an interesting show. It was my second year of attending. It’s a big deal to have the president come and speak and do lunch with four or five hundred of the tourism people. Mexico is such a big part of our business. We are very involved down there.

TP: I believe Mexico is the top foreign tourism destination for Americans.

JC: I think you’re right. It’s one of the biggest tourism destinations in the world for sure.

TP: And deservedly so. It seems tourism now just scratches the surface of all that Mexico has to offer. There is so much there.

JC: I agree. The more I’ve spent time there participating in panels and things like that, as I learn more and more about the country it’s like peeling a really big onion. There’s so much there in that country.

TP: Delta Vacations’ new apartment rental offering in New York is attractive for families visiting New York. You can save a lot of money and change the character of your trip. It’s an interesting development.

JC: Yes it is. And particularly if you’re going to Manhattan to have that feeling that you’re living in Manhattan and tapping into the local life. That is true.

TP: Are you getting a sense of how big this wave of demand is now?

JC: It only launched on March 25, so it’s hard to say. I haven’t looked at any reports in the last week or two, but we’re just letting it get out there, getting the marketing going and then we’ll see how it’s coming in.

We’re very careful about adding content and properties. And Elizabeth [Moriarty, vice president of product development] and her team would not have gone ahead and added content if we didn’t think there was considerable demand. Our agencies are really good and they’ll tell us what their customers are looking for.

We have an advisory board and we talk to them regularly about where the business is going. They mention often that this is a trend and that we need to help them fulfill the demand of their family clients for this self-catering product.

Then when we get a call in reservations and they say, “Do you have this?” and we don’t have it yet, we take note. So I think we’ve got a really good pulse on demand and we’re listening closely. And everything I read about it, it’s all out there. So I expect it to be very successful and I think you can look to us to be adding more.

TP: Being able to service that demand is one thing, but it’s also important to be able to offer a great breadth of product and experience.

JC: It’s all about choice so people can come to you and they have a variety of options based on the type of customer that’s coming in. Segmentation is what it’s all about in my mind. If you have options across the spectrum, people are going to come back and the word is going to get out that you can meet this type of demand.

TP: What is happening with Delta Vacations in Europe?

JC: We’ve been adding. In Europe it’s the more traditional boutique properties. We’ve been adding a lot of product over the last couple of years, several hundred hotels. Where the demand for us has been in Europe is just getting access to a more diverse set of accommodations.

So we can easily turn on the big chains, the Starwoods and the like. But when people are looking to go to Europe they’re looking to experience it and we quickly get into those smaller, boutique hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and things like that.

And then there’s the demand for the family market for the self-catering. We’ve added just recently some apartment properties at Citadine, a new apartment property in Paris. That’s exciting and brand new, so we’ll have to see how that develops.

Our focus in Europe has been in adding more four- or five-star properties in Italy, France and the U.K. The demand clearly is high and has been for the last few years in Europe. What we’ve found is that we needed to have more product so the families are able to tap into that. And we’re slowly adding in those apartment properties in the big cities.

TP: When you say you are adding the four- and five-star properties, does that include the boutique properties?

JC: Yes. Whether it’s a big name property or something local in the five-star category. As we grow in places like New York we hear very loud and clear that the demand is for the four- and five-star properties. We’ve added several hundred properties over the last couple of years and are focusing in on places like the Amalfi Coast and Rome, London and Paris and some countryside offerings as well. Clearly families are going to those spots. It isn’t as customized and the options are not quite as robust in Europe as they are in other destinations, but we are finding opportunities to offer.

TP: How is 2015 shaping up for MLT and Delta Vacations?

JC: There’s so much going on here. In general our business is really strong. We came out of the gate very strong for 2015 and our business is looking really good. Our growth has been in markets where Delta and our partners have a lot of capacity, like Mexico. We have double digit growth in New York and Los Angeles, where Delta is growing a lot as well as Aeromexico offering flights. And then Seattle. Seattle is really exciting. Delta is putting a lot of capacity into Seattle. And then the traditional markets, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Detroit, are all really strong. We’re getting great demand from the Aeromexico network. We’re seeing great demand out of New York, where they fly out of, but also Dallas and Los Angeles and the West Coast as well. We’re seeing great growth there.

TP: With the growth following the restructuring of Delta, you seem to have a lot of new areas to cover just to keep up with Delta’s expansion.

JC: Yes. One thing that’s exciting: when we made our decision with United to part ways, that was a significant piece of business for us, but in January we had the best month ever for total business for MLT in departed revenue. What that means is, having made that decision with United, it took us a while to recover that revenue on Delta and Delta partners.

And the demand for our product outside of where MLT grew up in the Midwest has been so strong that in about a year we’ve had our best month ever for total Delta and Aeromexico business for the company. So in other words we’ve grown all that revenue back in January, which was our best month ever as a company.

Our growth continues to be really strong, so we’re really excited about that. Strategically that was a difficult decision. But we believed there was enough business out there that hadn’t been tapped to overcome it, and to be more strategically aligned with our owner, Delta Air Lines and its strategic partners.

We also represent Air France Holidays and Alitalia Vacations in the U.S. Those are brands that attract customers that are interested in Air France and Alitalia and that is helping with our Europe growth, which has been double digit for two years. It’s just been incredible.

TP: Congratulations on winning two Travvy Awards!

JC: Thank you. We’re very proud of those. In our net promoter score on a survey that we take with our travel agency partners, we had set a goal for a 5 percent improvement for 2014 and we came in at 24 percent improvement. Those agency partners recognized a lot of the work we had done to improve customer service.

Everyone in the industry pays attention to those awards because they are valuable when you win them, but that one came through honest and straightforward. We knew you had put that out there, but it just came through in two categories. We were very excited about that.

TP: Since the Travvy Awards are determined by a vote taken among travel agents, it’s a reflection of what you actually accomplished.

JC: That’s the way we feel about it. It’s a validation of a lot of the work we’ve been doing. So it was great.

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