Collette Rides A Wave With 50% Growth From Canada

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

(l to r) Patricia Marques, Manager,
Travel Services, CAA National with
Courtney Iannuccilli, Collette’s Vice President of Marketing.

Advisors were invited to take home spices from the Collette launch event.

TPI advisors George and Heather Collins.

Ron Lonsdale with Susan Bowman,
Vice President, Industry & Marketing Relations, Transat.

The list of centenarians in the global travel industry is growing ever shorter. With the failure of 178-year-old Thomas Cook this week and the fact that 261-year-old Cox & Kings appears to be on the brink, U.S.-based guided travel company Collette may be the last century-old operator standing.

But CEO Dan Sullivan Jr., who was a driving force in taking Collette from a regional tour operator to a global company, says the company is in a very different position – healthy, vibrant and debt-free as it enters its 102nd travel season.

“We’re having a very strong year,” Sullivan Jr. told Open Jaw during a launch event in Toronto that attracted more than 100 travel advisors. 

“We’re up over 50% in Canada for 2020 and a similar percentage in other markets. I don’t think any of our competitors can say that. Agents have been very supportive, I think partly because we don’t work with Costco and other discounters. And the product has never been better.”

More Than 20 New Tours For 2020

The product offering has never been bigger, either. For 2020 Collette is offering 160 itineraries in five different touring styles on all seven continents. There are over 20 new tours for 2020, to destinations including the Galapagos, Portugal, Costa Rica, the Christmas markets of Europe, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Finland and Japan. 

Much of the growth is in the Explorations product line, introduced in 2008 to appeal to a growing demand for smaller group sizes, fewer structured activities and more free time. Expanding Explorations has been a key goal for Sullivan Jr.’s daughter Jaclyn Liebl-Cote, who took over as President in 2018. 

The father and daughter work together closely, and both say their differences are complementary. “I learn so much from his experience and I think I bring a different perspective. I’m always telling him, ‘Come on, take a risk!’”

Today’s guided vacation traveller wants much more than sightseeing, Sullivan Jr. says, and Collette, led by its product design team, is answering the call.

“We just get better and better at providing unique experiences for our guests, and they keep asking for more,” he says. “In Maine, for example, we meet with lobstermen and learn about their lives, and about how they prepare the catch for eating. People love the experience of getting a window into the lives of others.”

‘Impact Moments’ Add Depth & Understanding

Each Explorations itinerary includes an ‘Impact Moment,’ where guests can connect to their destination in a deeper way. Examples include: a visit to a café in India that employs women who have endured and survived horrific acid attacks; taking city tours in Edinburgh led by formerly homeless people; and visiting an enterprise in Hoi An, Vietnam where people with disabilities create lanterns and other crafts.

Diana Ditto, Director of Product Design for Collette, says guests love these experiences. “It’s not the focus of the trip, but it’s a real value-add. Our clients are well-educated, positive people who are thrilled to give back a little while having an amazing experience.”

Another example of enriching tour is what Ditto calls “controversial topic discussions,” which take place on most Explorations tours. That means discussion of legal prostitution and marijuana in Amsterdam, why it took until the 1970s for women to get the vote in Switzerland or the causes and ramifications of the Vietnam War in that country.

“Travel is about learning and broadening, and we don’t want to shy away from difficult topics. So we get them out in the open and discuss them in a positive way,” Ditto says.

Reflecting the launch theme of ‘New Places. New Experiences. New Season.’ Collette offered agents the opportunity to take home spices from a mini spice market, roll their own temaki sushi and experience Greek dips and Italian charcuterie. Tango dancers were also part of the international theme.

Last word goes to Ron Lonsdale, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Collette in Canada. “We have a great team in this market and have had amazing support from the travel trade from coast-to-coast. We value all of our retail travel partnerships, compensate fairly for your work and send your clients home with a smile on their face.”

(l to r) Ron Lonsdale, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Canada;
Jaclyn Liebl-Cote, President; Christian Liebl-Cote, Senior Vice President of Global Business.

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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