Jacki Marks Of Apple Leisure Group On The Future Of Travel Experiences In The Post Pandemic World
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
We’re already in it, but we’re gonna continue to figure out how to live virtually in our communications. I think we’re going to have to be more efficient, use the tools better, and we’re going to get outside our comfort zone. There was the comfort zone of brochures. There was the comfort zone of all in-person calls. So I think we’re all going to have to adapt to reaching our clients. As much as we will continue to do in person stuff, we’ve still got to master the art of virtual connection.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacki Marks at the 2021 Ascend Conference in Cancún, Mexico. Jacki is Apple Leisure Group’s (ALG) executive vice president, who oversees the company’s vacation brands.
As executive vice president, how would you describe the perfect vacation experience?
Well, first you should find the travel agent that you need because you need somebody who’s going to understand and be able to plan what you’re looking for. Once you find the right travel agent, then I think the next question would be, what do you want out of the vacation? It’s so important when you’re planning your vacation to really be honest about what you’re looking for. Are you looking to relax? Do you wanna have more of a nightlife environment? Do you want to do more excursions? Once you make sure that you really thought that out, you can then pick the right destination, you can pick the right hotel. Let’s face it. We all dream about this many times. It can be a year, it can be two years that you’re planning. I think it’s even fun, if you can sit down, if you’re a family and actually create a dream book about what we want out of this vacation. You have to put in the time to get the most out of it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the travel industry to help them thrive and not burn out?
That’s a good question. I think that obviously the first thing is you need to take care of yourself. A lot of what we’ve talked about in this conference is that it’s not just business. This is very personal to all of us and so whatever you need to do in your own wellness journey — mental wellness, physical wellness, financial wellness — you have to have that. I’ve talked to so many advisors here who said, I just had to take that breath. I had to take that breath, be okay with where I’m at right now. So first is to have that kind of understanding of where you’re at and get into the right mental space of what you need in your wellness journey.
Beyond taking care of yourself, when you come to taking care of your business, I think what you really need to do is really figure out where you are at in your business plan journey.
People tend to get burned out. I really understand the struggle a travel advisor has because they must be a jack-of-all-trades. They’re the finance person, they’re the marketing person, they’re the sales person. So they have to do it all. But by having a plan and realizing you’ve set goals, it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Otherwise you’re trying to do ten things and you’re not doing any of them well. So if you pick 1, 2, 3 things and keep working down that list on your business plan, you’ll feel more accomplished and you’ll feel less scattered. So to me, it’s about your own wellness and then having a plan for your business.
None of us achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you’re grateful for, who helped you to get you to get where you are today?
Oh my goodness. Do I have to pick just one? Well, I’m gonna just start out with the person I work for first, Ray Snisky. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for 25 years and he has been a mentor of mine for years. I really learned a lot about how to really organize myself in a time when in the travel industry, it felt like there was chaos always around us. He always felt very grounded. “This is what we need to do. Let’s just figure it out.” He always gave me that sense of stability that I had to grow into over those 25 years.
Also, I came from The Mark Travel Corporation. The Mark family in general, I owe so much of my career to them giving me a chance as a young person coming out of college, not knowing much about travel or even business. All of the Mark family really gave me opportunities. They showed me different things I didn’t understand about the industry. They taught me different aspects of the business. I can’t say I would be here if they didn’t give me that shot.
Can you share with our readers about the innovations you’re excited about in the travel industry?
You probably heard us talk about this, but one that I’m super excited about right now is the new learning management system. You know, in this industry, people think it’s so easy. But it is not easy. There’s a lot you have to know. So we’ve prided ourselves on being one of the strongest training companies out there.
But even looking at how we train, we realize we could do it better and that there is so much and how do we really break it down in a way that makes it more systematic and course-like. So our new learning management system, which we will be launching in 2022 will really take people from A to Z. It will start with the basics and eventually work up to the more difficult things.
So people can feel more confident. Advisors can only sell if they’re confident, if they know the stuff they need to know in order to share with their client. That’s why consumers go to travel advisors. If they’re not knowledgeable, they’re not going to close the sale. So we feel like we’ve really created a new way. A lot of people have tried, but I don’t think anyone that I’ve seen in the industry has done it the way we’re going to do it. It really is going to be more interactive with quizzes along the way. You can take it at your own pace. So I think that’s really going to be a game changer.
So how do you envision this might disrupt the status quo?
I think what it’s going to disrupt is the fact that our competitors have tried to use their strengths or weaknesses in a way that was not as factual. I think we’re going to really ensure that when people understand our systems, they understand it from the beginning to the end and there’s not going to be any ability to interpret things wrong.
I also think it’s going to really challenge our competitors to step up to the same level and really look if they have the right tools for advisors. We don’t mind being a disruptor. We don’t mind being a leader and we don’t mind when people copy us because it’s a form of flattery.
As you know, COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share five examples about how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting within the next five years?
One, we’re already in it, but we’re gonna continue to figure out how to live virtually in our communications. I think we’re going to have to be more efficient, use the tools better, and we’re going to get outside our comfort zone. There was the comfort zone of brochures. There was the comfort zone of all in-person calls. So I think we’re all going to have to adapt to reaching our clients. As much as we will continue to do in person stuff, we’ve still got to master the art of virtual connection.
I also think that the idea that people are going to travel and just lay on a beach has changed. People now value experiences more than they ever have before. You know, we’re seeing that before COVID maybe 50% or less of our customers would take an excursion. But right now it’s over 75% who are taking excursions. People have sat around long enough and they don’t want to miss out on experiences.
I also think we’re gonna see a high propensity for group travel. People realize they want to share those experiences. They’ve missed being with other people. I don’t think these are just short-term changes. I really think this is just going to be the great realization of COVID, of not taking things for granted. So group travel is definitely going to grow. We’ve already seen it increasing. Not just the destination weddings or the corporate travel, it’s the, “Hey, I got five families and I want to go together”.
The fourth one I would say is sustainability. I think we all realize that we’ve seen the world get better when we shut it down. I think we’ve seen such an improvement in our system that we don’t want to lose that. So how do we become a more sustainable form of travel? I was so happy when they got rid of all the plastic on all of the different things they were covering during COVID and realized this is so bad for the environment. I realize we need to be safe, but that is so bad for the environment. So I think we’ll see more on sustainability.
What would be the fifth one? I’m running out of ideas. So I’m gonna give you four.
Can you share with our readers, how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think that we have really connected to the human spirit and we have gotten back to the basics of relationships. There are two things that come to my mind. One is we have learned the importance of diversity and inclusion. I think we all thought it was a buzzword, but now we need to really live and breathe it and really come up with more important ideas about how we connect with everybody. So that’s been really important to us.
The second thing is we’ve always been a company that believes in gratitude, but we’ve taken it to another level. We have not been afraid to use gratitude in ways that are more open and not just behind the curtains at our company. So I think the more we can do simple things, thank you’s and starting a meeting with a sense of gratitude. Like, why are we here? Yeah, we might have a problem and this meeting is all about the problem, but getting everybody to realize let’s start first with the positive and we will fix whatever is wrong after that. It’s so quick to judge or so quick to dive into what’s wrong and sometimes if you can find the good first, the bad is easier to fix. So bringing people back to realize that we are humans. You heard us talk about our mean tweets. It does hurt. By poking fun at ourselves a little bit like that we also hope to realize that if we support each other and we build each other up, we’re gonna do a lot better than if we tear each other down. So we’re doing our part through humor, and through true reflection.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.