Tour Talk: Travel Impressions

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Cuba’s pristine Varadero Beach.
Cuba’s pristine Varadero Beach.

New Branding, New Loyalty Program & New Product from Europe to Cuba

Travel Impressions’ new tagline, “Your success is our destination”—part of the tour operator’s new branding that launched last November during its Best of the Best event in Cancun—speaks volumes about how intricately tied Travel Impressions’ success is to its travel agent partners.

In fact, during Travel Impressions’ Best of the Best event, president Jeff Clarke noted that, “Our success is tied to each other,” referring to Travel Impressions and the travel agent community. “We are part of a family that’s been successful for 40 years and now we’re thinking about how we will continue to evolve over many, many years.” He also made it a point to stress that for all of the new product, “We are a 100 percent B2B tour operator, and we will continue to focus on you being more successful and ultimately more profitable.”

That profitability, he said, comes first and foremost from the breadth of product Travel Impressions offers, and for 2016 not only is Travel Impressions expanding on that product, including new tours to Cuba, but it’s offering you more efficient ways to conduct business.

Top of the list is the LoyalTI First program, which launched this month. Once enrolled, travel agents earn at least 500 points for every booking, and points will not expire so long as travel agents remain active with at least one booking every 12 months. You’ll also be able to combine points with other Apple Leisure Group brands.

In terms of product, for 2016 Travel Impressions is expanding in Europe, with 15 additional Melia Hotels International properties in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as the new HotelRIU Plaza Berlin. Also big for your Europe sales—there’s new commissionable rail product with point-to-point in Italy.

One of the biggest news to come out of the event, however, is that Travel Impressions is now offering two people-to-people programs to Cuba—one direct from JFK, the other from Miami. During the Best of the Best event, Jacqueline Kuehnel, v.p., product development, Apple Leisure Group, noted that, “The world wants to go to Cuba before it gets [too popular].”

The 8-day Expressions of Cuba offers two direct departures from JFK per month from February through October, and includes four nights in Havana and a 3-night hotel stay in Varadero. Clients will also have the opportunity to hop into an antique car to La Casa Restaurante for dinner; have lunch at an organic farm, El Paraiso, overlooking the Valle del Silencio; take a boat ride through Cueva del Indio’s underground river; enjoy poolside salsa lessons; and take part in rum and cigar tasting, as well as visit the countryside and Matanzas.

The Miami direct tour, meanwhile, also with two departures per month from February to October, is the 11-day Rhythms of Cuba, with six nights in Havana and three in Cayo Santa Maria—”these keys,” said Kuehnel, “are absolutely stunning.” There are also visits to Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Remedios. (Cuba tours, incidentally, need to be booked a minimum of 62 days in advance of departure date to allow ample time for the processing of required documentation).

The tours, noted Kuehnel, are not inexpensive, but they are practically all-inclusive and allow for a 6-passenger minimum. Included are meals as indicated in the itinerary; accommodations, including the overnight in Miami; 24-hour tour director; visa; tips; air and more.

“The pricing piece of [creating these tours],” said Kuehnel, “is sometimes a bit complicated because we contract through Cuba Travel Services, and they contract through Havana Tours, so by the time the pricing gets to the market, there’s a real mark-up level. We tell the agents it’s not about gouging, it happens to be that the economics of packaging Cuba is different from other places.”

Adding that, “We will be the only one of the major operators that offer product for the winter season, and we have a really great product.”

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