Last updated: 02:14 PM ET, Wed November 25 2015

Tour Insights: Travel Impressions Blasts Off into its Third Phase

Tour Operator | Travel Impressions | David Cogswell | November 25, 2015

Tour Insights: Travel Impressions Blasts Off into its Third Phase

Travel Impressions moves from strength to strength.

The latest in a long history of reinventions of the Long Island, N.Y.-based vacation packager was unveiled at Travel Impressions’ Best of the Best event last weekend in Cancun at Secrets The Vine, one of the Amstar resorts that are part of Travel Impressions' parent company, the Apple Leisure Group.

The event honored and pampered the company’s highest producing travel agents, gathering a group that accounts for about 60 percent of its total revenue, according to Jeff Clarke, president and CEO.

But the company also used the event as a platform from which to unveil several new initiatives, including its first new logo in decades, a new series of programs for Cuba and the company’s first travel agent rewards program. In addition, the company revealed that it is working on rebuilding its travel agent interface “from scratch” and intends to roll out a new reservations system at the end of 2016.

It was a signal of a major re-launch that has been in the works since ALG purchased TI at the end of 2012.

After purchasing Travel Impressions ALG's first concern was to keep the highly successful tour operator's business flowing smoothly and not to alienate TI's loyal travel agent following. So the first order of business was to assure the customer base that Travel Impressions would essentially remain the same company that they had learned to love. 

Apple added product to Travel Impressions from ALG’s own vast, vertically integrated inventory of hotels and charter flights. But it kept Travel Impressions essentially what it had been, integrating it into the ALG system as a tour operator that targets a higher-end demographic than its new sister brand Apple Vacations.

After a two-year transitional period during which Apple Vacations President Tim Mullen took over the leadership of the company, ALG tapped Jeff Clarke, a former executive of Royal Caribbean, to be Travel Impressions’ new president and CEO.

Clarke took over the leadership position last January, and has spent the year getting his ducks in line to prepare for TI’s new launch, now unfolding.

TI's Third Stage

Travel Impressions' re-launch under ALG is analogous to the third stage of a rocket in a historical trajectory that goes back to its founding in the early 1970s. In retrospect, the company’s history appears to be a nearly unbroken line of upward development. Travel Impressions was one of the early adopters of the wholesaler model and maintains its leadership in the field today after several reinventions under three different ownership regimes.

Travel Impressions is one of the few travel companies today that is literally a wholesaler, selling only through travel agents. It traces its roots back to 1967 when it was founded by Arnold Tolkin as a travel agency.

In 1971 Travel Impressions started packaging group incentive and convention travel to Cancun, Barbados and St. Maarten. It was incorporated as a vacation packager in 1974, offering affinity charters. When the airlines were deregulated, the company took advantage of its position to become one of the major players in the emerging vacation packaging industry, establishing itself one of the major players in the field. In 1992, TI acquired Cavalcade Tours, which had a contract with American Airlines, which enabled Travel Impressions to become a nationwide wholesaler.

Through the 1990s the company continued to grow, adding new carriers and destinations. In 1998, the Tolkin family sold the business to American Express. American Express continued to expand its product line, sharpen its service and business practices and add international destinations for the next dozen years under the leadership of Steve Gorga.

In late 2012, the Apple Leisure Group acquired the company. Apple was careful not to disturb the workings of Travel Impressions and not to derail what had been a spectacular success story up to that point.

It is now almost three years since Travel Impressions was purchased by the Apple Leisure Group. ALG has gathered TI’s resources and reorganized its leadership team for its next phase of development, powered by the investment muscle of Bain.

ALG also promoted from within. Erin McCarthy, an 18-year veteran of TI, to take on the role of vice president of marketing. McCarthy joined Travel Impressions while still attending college in 1998. She started as a reservations agent and gradually moved up the ladder in the marketing department.

Now after its transitional period from the American Express era, TI is perched on a new platform ready for a grand re-launch. The company has zeroed in on a new tagline that confirms its historical role as a wholesaler working through retailers and in collaboration with supplier partners: “Your success is our destination.”

Travel Impressions has now established its new course under its third owner. No doubt its upward trajectory will continue.

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