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Travvy Awards Winners Spotlight: Apple Vacations

Tour Operator | Apple Vacations | David Cogswell | March 31, 2015

Travvy Awards Winners Spotlight: Apple Vacations

There is no company like Apple Vacations, winner of the Travvy Award for Best Vacation Packager Mexico & Latin America. Founded in 1969 by John Mullen, for decades it has been one of the largest and most successful vacation wholesale companies in the industry.

Apple Vacations provides vacation packages from the U.S. to vacation destinations throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Europe, and top domestic ski resorts. Apple has delivered more passengers to Mexico and the Dominican Republic than any other North American tour operator.

Unlike any other company in the U.S. travel industry, Apple is vertically integrated. It owns hotels and an airline and operates charter flights, allowing it to go wherever it sees a demand without having to wait for airlines to decide to provide service.

The Apple Leisure Group is now a conglomerate comprising Apple Vacations, a vacation packager; AMResorts, a hotel company; USA 3000, an airline; and Amstar a destination management company/ground operator. The units operate as separate businesses, but they help and support each other.

The company built its business on a network of relationships with travel agents, and has never wavered from a commitment to working closely with the retail distribution system.

It all goes back to Apple’s founder John Mullen. In the 1950s Mullen was a young army veteran from Philadelphia dreaming of a career in broadcasting. He enrolled at Temple University, and worked his way through seven years of night school with jobs at the airport, from loading bags to passenger services to writing tickets.

Little did he know that what he was learning on the job would lay the knowledge foundation upon which he would build one of the most successful travel industry empires in American history.

His first job in the industry was with Capital Airlines in 1958. Capital merged with United Airlines, and Mullen became a United employee. Then in 1964 he accepted an offer from Lufthansa. As he ascended from the lower ranks of the airline industry, he still thought he was heading for a career in broadcasting.

“I was taking courses in the arts,” said Mullen, “but then switched to business in ’63 and ’64 because I got married.” He switched from broadcasting to business school. The airline business was booming, and opportunities were beckoning for people with knowledge of how it worked. “It was an explosive industry, so for a married man with children on the way, it made economic sense to go into the airlines.” 

After 10 years in the airline business, Mullen had learned a lot about affinity groups, and in 1969 he decided to use his knowledge to start his own business. He left Lufthansa in June, and founded a small travel agency in Drexel Hill, Pa., called Atkinson & Mullen Travel, named for John Mullen and his brother-in-law Al Atkinson. They had three employees, and specialized in group tours. Atkinson soon left the business to pursue his career as a middle linebacker with the New York Jets, playing with Joe Namath when the Jets won Super Bowl III in 1969.

Mullen constantly experimented with new ideas to expand his business. Soon after founding his travel agency, he came up with the idea of chartering planes to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Hawaii for affinity groups and selling the charter packages to other travel agencies. In 1978, when the Civil Aeronautics Board began to allow airlines to offer charter flights to the general public, Mullen saw another great opportunity.

He opened the business to the public, enlisted travel agents as his sales force, and renamed the company Apple Vacations. The company took off and has been growing ever since. In December 2001, Apple launched its own airline, USA3000.

That same year Apple also started a hotel division, AMStar, building its own hotels, and marketing them in three brand categories: Secrets, Dreams, and Sunscape. The tour operator, airline, and hotel company all fall under the banner of Apple Leisure Group.

In 2013, Apple was acquired by Bain Capital. That same year Apple Leisure Group acquired Travel Impressions, greatly expanding its reach, product line, and market. The Mullen family still operates the company, with Alex Zozaya, the son-in-law of John Mullen, as CEO of Apple Leisure Group, and John Mullen’s sons Tim and Jeff heading the tour operator side of the business.

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