TUI Sells a Couple of Its German Brands: TUI, Europe’s largest tour operator, has sold two of its brands—Berge & Meer and Boomerang Reisen—with combined turnover of €276 million ($303 million), to Hamburg-based equity investor GENUI. Direct sales specialist Berge & Meer specializes in tours and cruises, often as white label products for other tour operators. Boomerang Reisen offers tailor-made long-haul trips to North America, South America, Oceania and Africa. Of the move, TUI Group CEO Fritz Joussen said: “The transaction will sharpen TUI’s tour operator business and our position as a vertically integrated tourism group. Berge & Meer Touristik and Boomerang Reisen pursue different business models and have a different strategic alignment. Both therefore hardly generated any synergies with TUI’s other business sectors.”
Connect Launches Strategic Solutions Division: Well-known in the meetings, events, sports and tourism industries, Connect has launched a Strategic Solutions division that will focus exclusively on the development, creation, and implementation of customized projects to generate meeting and event business acquisition for destinations, hotels and venues of all sizes. “We see a growing need within the meetings and events industry for customized services outside of those that Connect currently offers,” says Chris Collinson, president and founder of Connect. “The Strategic Solutions team is staffed to provide the same high level of service that Connect provides within our event portfolio to clients with ongoing business development and special project needs.” The Strategic Solutions division will be headed by Vice President Patrick Higgins. Higgins is an industry veteran who most recently served as vice president of meetings and events at Connect, where he launched Connect Sports in 2013. Prior to that, he was a senior sales executive at convention and CVBs in Salt Lake City, Palm Springs and Reno/Tahoe.
Great Rail Journeys Acquires Vacations by Rail: UK based Great Rail Journeys has signed a deal to buy escorted and independent rail specialist Vacations by Rail for an undisclosed sum. The combined business will offer a global portfolio of escorted rail itineraries and an expanded collection of independent rail vacation to customers in both the UK and the United States. It will also give the UK market exclusive access to Vacations by Rail’s products in North America’s National Parks and Alaska. Great Rail Journeys has a workforce of 150 people and offers nearly 400 itineraries in 50 countries globally. Established in 2004, Vacations by Rail offers its North American customers escorted rail tours, luxury rail journeys and custom itineraries to destinations across North America. Great Rail Journeys’ president of North America Heather Leisman will assume leadership of the combined North American business. VBR co-founders Todd Powell and Cole Dannewitz will join the existing GRJ executive team and move into new roles.
Abercrombie & Kent to Open DMC in USA: Abercrombie & Kent is launching a destination management company in the United States. To be headed up by managing director Marty Behr, the new office will begin operations January 1, 2020 at a yet-to-be site. The company will provide ground operating services to travel advisors, tour operators, cruise lines, and meeting and incentive groups. An Abercrombie & Kent spokesperson said that this will be the first time the company has provided shore excursions in the United States, although it has operated such services worldwide in destinations such as Egypt. Meeting and incentive groups will also be a key focus for the new company. According to Abercrombie & Kent, the company has been getting more and more requests from luxury travel advisors to design itineraries for corporate meetings and incentive groups.
Groupon Buys AI Company: Groupon, which sells product across the tour and travel spectrum—as well as in a wide range of consumer products—has announced it has acquired Presence AI, an AI-powered text and voice communications tool that enables and facilitates messaging between customers and merchants. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Groupon said that consumers––especially millennials––vastly prefer messaging and chat-based communications over phone calls.* Presence AI enables merchants to answer to that trend by offering a 24/7 business assistant that integrates with a merchant’s existing scheduling software––or replace pen and paper––to accept and manage bookings, provide instant answers to customer questions, remind people when it’s time to re-book and much more. According to its news release announced the acquisition, “Groupon increased bookable inventory 12 percent year over year and booked tens of millions of diners, concert goers, spa visitors and more in 2018. As the company transitions towards universal bookability for certain services, Presence AI’s technology will provide merchants with the capabilities to support this booking vision.”