|Jeff Clarke, CEO and president of Travel Impressions, kicks off the opening session of Travel Impressions' "Best of the Best" awards Friday in Cancun. // Photo by Joe Pike|
Jeff Clarke, CEO and president of Travel Impressions, didn't wast any time addressing the elephant in the room as he kicked off the general session of Travel Impressions' "Best of the Best" awards by discussing the controversial split between the company and Sandals Resorts International.
"If the day comes when someone wants to make a decision to remove themselves from the largest tour operator out there, a decision they made illogically, then that's fine. The one thing I learned from the Sandals debacle is how deep this partnership with Travel Impressions was with all the support we got, the calls I was getting from everywhere," says Clarke.
In early October, Sandals Resorts International representatives sent out a news release announcing that Unique Vacations Inc. (UVI), an affiliate of Unique Travel Corp., the worldwide representative of Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts, would terminate its selling agreement with Travel Impressions.
"Although they were putting us in timeout for something we didn't do, we are proud of what we did for Sandals over the years," Clarke says. "We helped them grow. We had a huge contribution to the success of that brand. We walk away with our heads hung high for what we did."
When asked what he meant by the "timeout" comment, Clarke told Travel Agent, "I just meant that their decision to pull us had nothing to do with performance. It was something else."
But there has been speculation among travel agents that the split had to do with Travel Impressions' affiliation with AMResorts. Travel Impressions and AMResorts are both owned by the Apple Leisure Group.
"We have two choices," continued Clarke. "We can let them win or we can work together to move that volume to other players. I even had that conversation with Mr. (Gordon 'Butch') Stewart. 'You left us no choice.' We need some of that business to go to our other resort partners who are sitting in this room. If not, we miss an opportunity."
Clarke did tell Travel Agent, however, that he would love to see the two companies reconcile in the future.
"Of course I hope we one day work together again," says Clarke. "The bottom line is travel agents love Sandals, travel agents love Travel Impressions and travel agents mostly love booking Sandals through Travel Impressions. So I hope we reconcile because at the end of the day it's all about the travel agents."