Here is an incredible journey that had a humble and noble beginning, more than 70 years ago in Kenosha. That’s when Edmund La Macchia began to reunite families, arranging their transport by steamship from Italy to America.
Now La Macchia Enterprises, based north of Milwaukee in Bayside, is a several billion dollar entity that is an established player in the global travel market.
That’s for better or worse, as war talk, terrorism fears and a weak economy all become hurdles of frustration.
Under the La Macchia umbrella is The Mark Travel Corp., whose business units and affiliates organize vacation packages. The first, Funjet Vacations, was established in 1974.
Another component is Trisept Solutions, which employs 200 in Wisconsin. It develops and sells technology for booking travel arrangements; this software is used by travel agents.
One-half of the 1,800 Mark Travel employees, worldwide, live in Wisconsin. About 500 other employees were laid off after Sept. 11, 2001.
“It changed the way we thought about our business and our future,” Bill La Macchia Jr., CEO of La Macchia Enterprises, says of the history-making terrorist attacks.
Staff describe it as a time when international vacation packages were easier to manage than the domestic ones. “People scattered, trying to rent cars and get home on their own,” publicist Randi Becker explains.
Although La Macchia believes the U.S. government “did the right thing by providing relief to airlines,” it shouldn’t continue – especially at the expense of others in the travel industry.
In order for the industry to compete fairly, he says prices can’t be based on monopolies that provide rates to consumers that are not available “in other distribution channels. That has to change,” and will, if airlines “clean up their own shops” by downsizing and making tough decisions, as Mark Travel did, “instead of having others bail them out.”
“Otherwise, eventually no one will make a profit,” says Ron Jacobs, vice president and general manager of Funjet Vacations.
Mark Travel has about 2.6 million passengers a year, compared to 140,000 when business began in 1974. It has about 550 charter flights out of Wisconsin per year, and about 4,600 flights nationally.
As of 1999, about 14 percent of all air-package travel in the United States was with a Mark Travel company. Funjet’s first charter flight was to Jamaica, in 1975, “an air and hotel charter – no one really did it like this before then,” La Macchia says.
Although Edmund La Macchia died in 1963, La Macchia Travel Agency still exists at 618 55th St., Kenosha, and is operated by a son, Eugene. Bill La Macchia Sr., another son, is 60 and president/CEO of Mark Travel.
The Milwaukee-area business began after Bill Sr., while managing travel agencies there, became frustrated with the level of services available to him and his customers. So he decided to begin his own vacation package company, Funjet.
By the late 1980s, Bill Jr. says his father was figuring out how to improve the reservation process for travel agents. “Everything was done manually then,” he says. “We developed our own booking engine. That’s what propelled our growth.”
The booking system apparently was ahead of its time. Internet bookings, Bill Jr. notes, didn’t begin until 1995. Now newer Trisept Solutions technology allows travel agents wider and more efficient access when online.
Travel agencies are “the backbone of our existence,” Jacobs says. “They have a genuine concern for their customers, they add value, and they will not go the way of the dinosaur.”
What else won’t change? “The business still is about providing the best service to our customers and the best booking systems for travel agents,” Bill Jr. says.
“It’s just about price if you just want airfare or a hotel room,” he says of his competition, acknowledging the tough-to-beat pricing of self-booking services such as Orbitz and Expedia.
It is the company’s hope that more travelers will “recognize that good service matters” and be willing to pay for it.
What works to their advantage?
“There’s a philosophy that we’ve instilled in our employees,” Jacobs says. “We provide a 24-hour service, and people may not think about that until something goes wrong. We are there, at the destination. The dot-coms don’t offer that.”
It means someone is working on the group’s behalf if travel is delayed, to extend lodging and/or to rearrange flight plans.
Becker notes that a crisis response team was in place well before the incidents on Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world forever. “We’re also weather chasers,” she says, always aware of tropical hurricanes and other weather patterns that can disrupt a holiday away.
The company takes pride in bringing tourists and practical assistance to struggling countries. Maybe that means supporting eco-tourism in Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic, donating medical supplies to a relief effort in Jamaica or school supplies to an orphanage in Cancun.
Overall, it is work that is not a vacation for La Macchia executives. But they are proud of being based in Wisconsin, and of providing more than a mere ticket to fly.
So where has Bill Jr. been lately?
“We don’t travel to exotic places – we don’t have the time,” he says.
Besides Funjet, Mark Travel Corp. brands include Adventure Tours, AeroMexico Vacations, Blue Sky Tours, MexSeaSun, Mountain Vacations, Southwest Airlines Vacations, TransGlobal Vacations, United Vacations and US Airways Vacations.
Affiliated companies include Funway Holidays, MGM Mirage Vacations, Showtime Tours, and Vegas and More.
For additional information, go to www.marktravel.com or call (414) 228-7472.