Breakaway Tours co-owners Charlene Troggio and Chris Lacivita have watched, experienced, and influenced the group-tour landscape for over three decades. The female duo organizes and operates tours across the country with an emphasis on built-in free time so that travelers can explore autonomously and forge their own memories on the road. Now in its 31st year in business, Troggio reflects on Breakaway Tours’ past and looks to the journey ahead as the company continues its mission to inspire unforgettable experiences across the country.
Q. Tell us about Breakaway Tours.
A. This year, we’re excited to be celebrating our 31st year in business. We’re a woman-owned business, and I work closely with my business partner Chris Lacivita. Our brick-and-mortar office is based in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and we have three full-time, two part-time employees, and a few employees who are on the road with groups. We are certainly working with less than we had two years ago pre-pandemic, but we’re recovering and grateful that we made it through—and hope things continue to improve.
Q. What types of tours do you specialize in?
A. Our tours focus on the lower 48 states. If people would like, we also organize group tours in Alaska and Hawaii, but those are usually cruises or packages. Most of our tours include destinations along the East Coast; however, we do a lot of tours in the Southeast. We’re motorcoach focused and in “normal” times we would run about 200 tours per year. In 2021, we hosted 48 tours, and in 2022 we are on track to hit 70 tours. So, things are definitely not quite back to normal yet following the pandemic but improving. Every trip we facilitate has a tour director on board to escort the group and meet the preferences of what the travelers are looking for and want. For example, if they prefer not to have their tour directed, we can simply provide all the information and confirmation they need.
Q. What sets your company apart from other tour operators/planners?
A. Over 20 to 25 years ago, we started including tour components that give and allow our customers to have more free time. In both large and smaller cities, we like to prescribe a lot of activities that each destination requires or is known for as far as included attractions, and then we always try to give the customer some free time to explore on their own, too. It’s always our goal to give free time within a destination that we feel is safe and easily accessible.
Our tours also do not include every meal because we feel like everyone has different tastes. So, for instance, we just hosted a Connecticut trip where we let the people loose in downtown Mystic to select their own restaurant, and they loved that. There are also times we might provide a gift card to a certain restaurant or other times our groups know to pick out their own dining experience and go in on their own.
The beach trips we run are also very, very popular. On those tours, we bring groups to an oceanfront hotel at destinations like Ocean City, Virginia Beach, and Myrtle Beach. They’re very successful because of how self-guided those experiences are. We drop them off and let them loose on a Sunday and then depart the following Friday morning. On Myrtle, we also will take one side trip to Barefoot Landing because, of course, the 60 miles along Grand Strand between Little River and Winyah Bays is not as easy to get around without motorcoach support. In Ocean City and Virginia Beach, groups are able to explore on their own, use public transportation, or walk if they’d like.
Q. Are there any particular challenges your business is facing right now?
A. Right now, we’re struggling to get a New York City program back. I think you all have probably heard about the global pandemic, the crime wave, and all of these challenges. But, you know, just this week I submitted a proposal for a group that wants to go back to NYC so we’re hoping that, maybe in 2023, we’ll have a New York City program once again.
Q. What is the best advice you would give to someone starting out in the tour planning field?
A. Just be flexible and keep aware of all of the changes around us. Of course, you know, let’s face it—when we started, we were using typewriters. We also didn’t have cell phones or the internet. We had to use tour books. We had offices full of filing cabinets. Today, that’s all gone.
I would recommend being aware of the tech that’s available—and utilizing it. Also, tools like social media and any other means of advertising. We’ve also always just tried to stay in the know of pop culture and what’s interesting to people right now. Often, there’s been things that have been popularized online or on TV that people will find interest in, relate to, or want to know more about. For instance, right now, we’re getting a lot of requests for Graceland and Tupelo tours—and that’s because of the movie “Elvis.”
Q. How have travelers’ expectations and/or interests changed over the past few years?
A. Well, for starters, travelers have certainly gotten more and more into the concept of having free time. Another huge change, especially this summer on our beach trips, is family travel. Not only are they families but also groups with family members of all ages. Case in point: we had eight elementary-age kids on a recent Myrtle Beach tour. I don’t know if it’s families realizing they can travel more economically due to the price of gas and taking advantage of group rates the hotels, or, perhaps, they just don’t want the hassle of driving themselves. We’re kind of in the middle of a sea change here between our traditional older and more senior travelers in groups to not just boomers, but younger families. So, I think that’s a big, big change we’re seeing today.
Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A. For me, it’s the enthusiasm of the travelers and the fact that we get to help facilitate the opportunity to see and do things that our travelers would have never dreamed that they’d be able to do. I also find the congeniality among the tourism family very rewarding. We have so many real, true friends we’ve made at conventions and at our site destinations. We’re treated so well and we get to do things for work that other people save up to do as a vacation. There’s really no other industry like tourism.
Q: What’s on the horizon for Breakaway Tours?
A. I know a lot of other tour operators and businesses that are having trouble figuring out how they’ll retire or build out a succession plan. However, we’re very fortunate that my granddaughter, Charlie, will be taking over the business. She recently graduated with a degree in tour and travel and has been working with us for four years. We’re so happy to have Charlie on board.
Charlene Troggio is the co-owner of Breakaway Tours, 724-658-9200, breakawaytours.biz.
Main image: A Breakaway Tours group stops for a tasting at French Lick Winery in Indiana; credit: Breakaway Tours
Article by Erica Zazo