Last updated: 10:46 AM ET, Mon December 02 2013

Mullen: Early Transition Focused On Making Agents Happier

Vacation Packages Travel Impressions David Cogswell December 01, 2013

Mullen: Early Transition Focused On Making Agents Happier

Earlier this year Travel Impressions was purchased by Apple Leisure Group.

TravelPulse caught Tim Mullen, the former co-president of Apple Vacations and now the president of Travel Impressions, upon his return from a major strategy session with Apple Leisure Group and asked him what travel agents and consumers should expect to see from the mega wholesaler going forward.

TravelPulse: What plans do you have for Travel Impressions going forward? 

Tim: It’s the natural expectation is that I’m going to come in and change things. And what I’ve got to make clear and repeat several times is that I’m not going to change anything.

Travel Impressions enjoys a very good reputation for a high level of service, for relationships with travel agents that run deep and have for years, and outstanding operational service excellence. And all that will continue. All that is my mandate to continue.

At a recent meeting with top travel agency customers in Cancun called "The Best of the Best" event, I did a presentation in which I stated just that. Apple Leisure Group and Bain Capital bought Travel Impressions because they were at the top of their game and they remain at the top of their game.

They are a company with a reputation for outstanding service, which we are going to continue. They are a company that has a reputation for operational excellence, which we will continue. They are a company that does business exclusively with travel agencies, which we will continue now under my leadership.

TP: What’s changing and what is staying the same?

Tim: The good news is the preceding management did an outstanding job of creating such a great brand. And my job is to maintain it and continue it.

To the extent that I can do one of two things, I will. The only change I would consider introducing at TI is a change for the better. Specifically, if a change can make it easier for travel agents to do business with travel agents, or if it would give travel counselors more reason to do business with Travel Impressions, I will consider adding that change.

For instance, we are very close to launching access to the charter seats that Apple Vacations has had for years. That is 24 cities to 13 destinations representing a network of more than 500,000 air seats that heretofore Travel Impressions had no access to.  

That would be a change that would give travel agents more reason to book Travel Impressions.

We’re ready to launch this. We’re just making some final pricing adjustments and so forth. We should be ready in the next couple of days here.

If it makes business sense to offer travel agents and gives them reason to book us over our competitors or makes it easier for them to do their current business with us, I will do it.

Another enhancement we’re looking at: Quest for travel agents, which is their booking engine, travel agents love. But the one thing it doesn’t have – it’s a great tool to make a booking, but it doesn’t allow travel agents to make a change to a booking.

And it should. And that enhancement is something I want to pursue immediately, to allow travel agents to make a simple change to a booking at TI.

TP: In terms of destinations, Travel Impressions is already pretty comprehensive already. Are you going to stick with that?

Tim: Yeah, their global product has been laid out. They most recently added China, with 16 different tours throughout China and some Indonesia.

It is a great product and that’s the kind of thing we will look to expand to give travel agents more reason to book Travel Impressions.

We’re looking at other options, digging deeper into Europe and Eastern Europe, as well as Africa and India.

TP: What is the inter-relationship of the brands Apple Vacations and Travel Impressions now? Will they just be operating independently? Will you be looking for any more synergies between TI and Apple?

Tim: No, our synergy work is done. Nothing on the front end changes. The brand remains the brand. The people, the faces identified with the brand, particularly the sales department, the marketing folks, service, call center, ecommerce.

They all remain intact with the brand and separate to any other distribution company within Apple Leisure Group. There have been some synergies in product buying, accounting and technology, all behind the scenes and relatively hidden to travel agents and their customers.

I want to underscore that we will keep the brand separate, keep the brand going and keep it dedicated exclusively to travel agents. There is nothing I or ALG or Bain Capital would want more than to continue to be successful and to grow and expand under the Apple Leisure Group Umbrella.

We did our due diligence on the company and we did a survey of 2,200 travel agents nationwide and we addressed 10 key points in areas of service having to do with call center, customer service, price matching, timeliness of documents, and so forth, and Travel Impressions across the board scored No. 1.