years of experience with natural disasters
and their aftermath.
“We all worked together,” said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays. “We caught a break with this storm,
but we were dealing with a horrific scenario in the hours leading up to landfall.
From Rodolfo Lopez Negrete [CEO of the
Mexico Tourist Board] on down, communications were excellent, the best in years.”
The logistics of moving large numbers
of tourists in the Vallarta Nayarit region
that day out of harm’s way were staggering. Some reports put the number as high
as 15,000; Tim Mullen, president of Apple
Vacations, said Apple Leisure Group alone
had 2,200 guests to evacuate.
“We have an Emergency Plan and an
Emergency Committee in place for outly-
ing events,” Mullen said. “We update the
team and its procedures annually. The team
jumps into place as critical events develop.
We hold periodic meetings during the
events and hold post-event meetings and
The plan and the team worked like
clockwork that day. After the first pre-
check meeting, Apple’s emergency plan
for Puerto Vallarta switched into action si-
multaneously at the headquarters of Apple
Vacations, Travel Impressions, Cheap Ca-
ribbean, AMResorts and Amstar, the desti-
nation management company.
Certain committee members were preassigned to communicate with clients,
travel agents and vendors. Amstar contacted clients by calling their hotel rooms
or speaking with them when they stopped
by the resorts’ hospitality desks.
“As a standard practice, our personnel
gathered the latest information on schedules from airlines, shelter locations and
evacuation procedures as well as airport/
infrastructure status from government officials,” Mullen said.
Internal websites were constantly updated with information on airline- and hotel-change policies.
Agent portal sites such as Apple’s Travel
Agent Cafe and The Juice, the company’s
corporate blog, were updated with the same
information, “so we could maintain a con-
sistent message across all media,” Mullen
Similar action plans played out across
Classic Vacations and Pleasant Holidays.
Federico Moreno-Nickerson, Classic Va-
cations’ director of product development
for the Caribbean and Mexico, said, “the
Mexican government has a detailed plan
to deal with natural disasters, which are a
common occurrence there. Mexico is no
stranger to earthquakes or hurricanes and
everything that comes with them.”
In the case of Hurricane Patricia, “the
national utility company had 1,000 work-
ers ready to move into impacted areas,”
Moreno-Nickerson said. “Local govern-
ments and municipalities have checklists
and evacuation plans for shelters, and each
hotel knows where its designated shelter is.”
Shelters are most often situated in
schools, convention centers, classroom
buildings on university campuses and in
interior ballrooms of hotels, away from
“And everyone knows in advance where
they are supposed to go,” Moreno-Nickerson said.
Classic had 40 clients in Puerto Vallarta
when the crisis began building and few
dozen slated to arrive later on that day.
“We were constantly monitoring NHC’s
hurricane forecasts,” he said. “When the
storm moved to a hurricane-watch level,
our teams got to work. It was all hands on
deck. One team worked with our ground
operator to determine evacuation options.
The second team contacted clients and
travel agents to advise them about storm
Classic’s motto in situations such as hur-
ricanes is to “be proactive,” he said. “The
biggest preparations take place leading up
to the storm. By the time the storm arrives,
most of the legwork has been done.”
Some guests were able to fly out before
the airport in Puerto Vallarta closed at
“After that,” Moreno-Nickerson said,
“guests were told they could be bused to
Guadalajara fours hours away and stay in
a hotel there that we had booked for them
and fly out the next day, or they could ride
out the storm in Puerto Vallarta in a safe,
designated off-site shelter that had been ap-
proved by the civil authorities.”
By late afternoon, as the storm clouds
gathered, downtown Puerto Vallarta was
all but deserted, and buses full of travelers
bound for Guadalajara encountered mas-
sive traffic backups.
Still, Classic got all its clients evacuated
or into shelters well before Friday evening
when Hurricane Patricia was due to make
Pleasant Holidays’ well-rehearsed contingency plan had its crisis team in place
and ready to go when the NHC weather
maps plotted a probable path of destruction headed for Vallarta Nayarit.
“We contacted the travel agents to get
customers’ cell phone numbers, which we
sent to each hotel and to our ground operator, who served as the eyes and ears for us
there,” Richards said.
The crisis team members contacted the
54 Pleasant customers who were in the
possible eye of the storm as well as fam-
ily members back home to keep them ap-
prised of the situation.
Pleasant posted alerts and updates on its
website and gave customers the option of a
bus to Guadalajara or to the shelter at the
Patricia was packing 165 mph winds,
when it made landfall at 6: 30 p.m. on Oct.
23, but fortunately, it hit a sparsely populated section of the coast between Puerto
Vallarta and Manzanillo. Many guests who
had been evacuated from coastal hotels,
many were able to return that same night.
The storm broke apart quickly over the
coastal mountains, diminished in wind
speed and left minimal damage where it
made landfall, none in resort areas.
The sun came out the next day, the airport and cruise port reopened, and it was
business as usual.
“We got lucky with this one,” Richards
said. Yet there was a sense that even had the
storm made a direct hit on tourist areas,
the impact on travellers would have been
“There was a good plan in place,” Rich-
ards said. “The ability to communicate
continuously was key.”
Perhaps the most interesting Xcelerator
innovation will be evident when an agent
searches for a trip for a returning client.
Through the power of cognitive comput-
ing, the agent will be able to query using a
natural language search.
For example, Laboy said, an agent could
enter a search for a “family friendly” resort,
“This system will allow the agent to be
able to become an expert on a much greater
area of the world than they might have oth-
erwise,” WayBlazer CEO Felix Laboy said.
Xcelerator was designed
over two years, with an investment that Trisept President John Ische would only
say was in the millions. Xcelerator itself is not a booking
tool. Rather, it will work symbiotically with
Vax and suppliers’ own booking platforms.
So far, 36 suppliers have signed up, among
them Trisept’s sister company Funjet, Universal Studios Vacations and brands associated with Globus, Norwegian Cruise Line,
Royal Caribbean International and Trafalgar.
Agents using Xcelerator will be able to
jump directly to booking sites. Once a trip
is booked, Xcelerator will assimilate the
various bookings into a unified itinerary. It
enables agents to more easily prepare itin-
eraries that involve not only hotels, airlines
and car rentals that already work with Vax,
but also cruises and guided tours. The tool
enables agents to merge multiple reserva-
tions into one payment summary.
Several agents at the Mark Summit said
they were at least as excited about the client
profile tool, which goes beyond ClientBase.
Paula Schendel, a supplier relations man-
ager for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, called it
“customer relations at its finest.”
To develop what Ische described as “deep
customer profiles,” Xcelerator will track
bookings and searches done on behalf of a
client. It will also offer agents the opportu-
nity to feed in a vast array of information.
Using check boxes, they’ll be able to record simple preferences, such as whether
a client likes all-inclusive resorts, condos
or cruises, plus higher-level data, such as
By Robert Silk
CANCUN — Xcelerator, the soon-to-launch travel agent platform that will integrate itinerary management, payment
summaries and detailed client profiling
while facilitating bookings,
drew plenty of enthusiasm
from agents who got a sneak
peek during the Mark Travel
Corp. Summit here last week.
“This is amazing,”said Sue
Linderholm of Value Travel in Edina, Minn.
“It’s going to save us a lot of time.”
The tool, to launch Nov. 30, was devel-
oped by Trisept Solutions, the company be-
hind the Vax VacationAccess agent booking
WayBlazer, the travel industry cognitive computing startup created by Orbitz
founder Terry Jones, is also involved in the
project and is leveraging its partnership
48 NOVEMBER 2, 2015 WWW.TRAVELWEEKLY.COM
Continued from Page 1
Xcelerator aims to make it easy for agents to tailor clients’ trips
Tourists board a bus
to be transported to
a shelter, bracing for
WayBlazer CEO Felix Laboy
is in the Hot Seat,