|Priscilla Alexander: Most important with the merger was that those at Protravel ‘would be protected above all else.’|
Protravel International is merging with Tzell Travel, a Travel Leaders company. That’s no small news for the luxury travel industry. Protravel garners $850 million in revenue a year. The merged operations within Travel Leaders Group, which is pending government antitrust approval, would represent a combined annual sales volume of over $2.35 billion, according to Travel Leaders executives.
And so Luxury Travel Advisor immediately sought out Priscilla Alexander, president of Protravel, to find out how the mega-deal between the two luxury powerhouses was conceived. Alexander is no stranger to Luxury Travel Advisor; she was profiled on our cover in April 2005, the year the publication launched.
“It’s not difficult to tell you how it came about,” Alexander told us. “I was approached by [Travel Leaders Group CEO] Barry Liben, whom I have known for quite a long time in what I would call a respectful relationship with a friendly competitor. And while we were competitors, there was at least, I believe, a high degree of respect between the two companies.”
That Protravel and Tzell Travel are both based in New York often brought Alexander and Liben together for industry events. In such cases, “you either find a way to communicate properly or there’s some level of personal comfort that you have with each other.”
When Liben approached Alexander about a potential deal over a year ago, she said something immediately clicked in her head that it was worth pursuing, worth listening to and worth thinking about because she felt the corporate cultures were similar.
“One of the most attractive ideas about Travel Leaders as opposed to investors in general is that I didn’t have to ever explain to them the culture of my business or the ethos of how we operate. It did not have to be translated into words and then to ideas that they would understand. They already knew that.”
The most important thing to Alexander, she said, “is the treatment of the people who have been loyal and have helped to build up the company to the size of what we are and maintaining a certain reputation over the years, that must be protected above all else.” For that reason as well, Alexander announced the news personally to as many people within Protravel as possible or else sent them a letter.
“After explaining to them what we were doing and why I was doing it, I tried to find a comparable situation for them that would suit them in terms of what they understand. If you look at New York City and you look at the Starwood Hotels & Resorts, they have Ws in New York. They’ve got a Luxury Collection hotel. They have a Sheraton and they have Westins, all under the same holding company. But they compete with each other. They are going after the same kind of audience and others are not but they’re part of the same holding company.
“At this point I see Protravel and Tzell as two separate brands. I hope that in the future we will see some things that we may be able to share or not but at this point more than ever it’s that we’re part of the same family. But we have our business to do and they have their business and it’s a big city out there and it’s a lot of business out there. We haven’t stepped on each other over the years, and there’s no reason why we will now.”
Of note is the fact that while Tzell is part of the Signature Travel Network, Protravel will remain a member of Virtuoso. “Our Virtuoso relationship is intact and as happy as ever,” said Alexander. “In the last two years, we’ve had the largest year-over-year growth of all [Virtuoso’s] members. We do have a very strong relationship with Virtuoso and it is almost part of our DNA.”
The deal with Tzell feels natural to Alexander. “Often there is just an intuition. Something tells you that this sounds right and it’s going to work and other times when people approach you just walk away and it just doesn’t have the right ring to it. From the minute this idea came about there was something right about it and that’s what makes this future together very exciting. I think we’re going to have a great run together.”