ACCE Alleviates Pain From ABC Demise
It was impossible to address the declaration of bankruptcy by one of ACCE’s travel sponsors, ABC Destinations, without encountering problems and friction for members and hundreds of travelers. When ACCE senior staff received the news from the company’s president in early October of the impending financial meltdown at ABC, they took deliberate steps to alert members and craft workable options for the 18 chambers that had reservations pending for more than 600 travelers.
The stakes were high, with $2+ million in payments made by travelers and chambers in jeopardy. One chamber alone had nearly 100 paid reservations at roughly $2,500 per ticket. It wasn’t just the money; many travelers had made plans with friends and families to extend their travels, based on the “core” itineraries of the ABC trips. Some of the departure dates for ABC’s fall schedule were less than three weeks after the company’s demise. The avenues to pursue were limited, given that the entire ABC staff had been terminated. Phones and computers were “locked” on advice of legal counsel.
ACCE’s Senior Vice President Chris Mead went to work immediately, serving as a one-man information clearinghouse for affected organizations. He arranged conference calls, sought answers from legal counsel and consulted with travel experts. He tirelessly sought ways to ease the pain for chambers that were first exposed to ABC through ACCE marketing channels. He tried to find alternatives to massive cancellations, traveler outrage and financial liability for chambers. The most important lifeline he grasped during this period was extended by former ABC employee Carl Monticelli. Despite losing his job, Carl wanted to help the chambers that he had introduced to ABC. He was answering chambers’ questions on his cell phone from home, without any expectation of compensation for his efforts.
Through Carl’s behind-the-scenes efforts, Chris was introduced to the Sakkara Group, an Egyptian-based travel conglomerate that had recently entered the North American market through acquisition. As chambers attempted to communicate worst-case scenarios and faint rays of hope to hundreds of hundreds of travelers, Chris Mead and Carl Monticelli brought the principals from Sakkara and Central Holidays (US subsidiary) to the ACCE offices. They hashed out a go-forward solution that ensured viable options for all 18 chambers and almost every traveler.
Central Holidays/Sakkara agreed to run every trip as close to identical to the originally booked tours – on the same timelines – as those originally booked through ABC Destinations. There would be almost no additional costs for either the chambers or the travelers. They didn’t have to do any of this. They were not connected to ABC and certainly had no responsibility or financial obligation. Central Holidays wants to establish itself as a group travel company that is committed to the chamber community. Through their exceptionally generous support and skill they demonstrated during the post-ABC crisis, they’ve done just that.
Were the solutions perfect for all parties? Given the timing and scale of the challenges, no plan could have been. Even given problems with re-booking hundreds of flights, lining up new guides and securing accommodations in Italy, Israel and other countries, the dreaded no-trip/no-refund outcome was avoided for almost every traveler. The chambers involved worked hard and successfully to make necessary adjustments in order to keep their travelers on the promised trips.
ACCE thanks Central Holidays/Sakkara for its wonderful work and hefty investment on behalf of our members. Virtually all of the revised arrangements were made under intense calendar and communications pressure. Many of the arrangements were carried out and adapted as the firm’s headquarters building in New Jersey was swamped by Sandy. Carl Monticelli’s personal commitment was unprecedented. ACCE is proud to welcome Central Holidays/Sakkara as a Corporate Sponsor and preferred provider of the Association.
This experience provided a powerful reminder to Fleming’s first rule of business: We can’t always control what happens, but we can control how we deal with what happens.