The coronavirus pandemic severely disrupted tourism in 2020. But Collette was able to return to touring in the summer.
Dan Sullivan Jr., CEO of the family owned company based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, reflected on the pandemic and Collette’s response.
Q. Where is Collette in terms of recovery?
A. We were the first tour operator to get back on the road in early July, and we were very careful to only run tours in destinations where we could meet the service standards promised in our itineraries, so the ability to deliver in destination was never in doubt. Nearly nine out of 10 of our travelers this year indicated in post-tour surveys that they would be willing to travel again under the current conditions. We believe that speaks volumes about our ability to meet guest expectations and deliver an outstanding tour experience that balances flexibility and wellness in a complex travel environment.
Q. In light of the pandemic, what changes has Collette made? What is Collette doing to keep guests traveling?
A. We have been pleasantly surprised with the number of guests that are excited to travel and are yearning for more borders to open so that they can get back to doing what they love. As part of our Traveling Well Experience, we are emphasizing physical distancing and mask wearing as key pillars. Currently, we are ensuring there is ample space on the motorcoach by keeping 50% of the seats unsold and open allowing all guests to spread out and feel comfortable. We are providing face coverings for all guests and where social distancing cannot be maintained, face coverings are required, including during the coaching portions of the itinerary. High-touch areas are being cleaned and sanitized multiple times a day, and anti-bacterial gel is available at all times.
Q. Do you foresee more changes coming?
A. Our team consults with health and security experts all around the world to ensure a healthy and enjoyable travel experience on tour, and we have remained in constant contact with those experts for the past nine months, to ensure that we’re ready and able to prepare for any changes to the market.
Q. What tour markets are making the strongest comeback? Are certain destinations/regions more appealing than others to consumers in these virus times?
A. Throughout the second half of 2020, we were able to get back to travel on some domestic U.S. tours. In terms of future interest, the overall booking trend seems to be less about travel style and more about destinations that feature wide open spaces, countryside, mountains and national parks. We’re seeing an interest in Iceland, Finland, Ireland and the Western United States. As we look further down the line into the later summer and fall of 2021, many of the traditionally strong destinations are re-emerging like Greece, Italy, the Canadian Rockies by Train, Japan and Australia and New Zealand. The Oberammergau Passion Play itineraries are seeing incredibly strong sales over the past month for summer of 2022 and we anticipate a fairly rapid sell out of that space.
Q. What is Collette’s message to people who are considering booking tours?
A. Right now is really the time to buy for future travel, with so much flexibility. Current booking promotions are including free changes to your departures date and itinerary up until 60 days prior to departure for those booking travel in 2021. Our Travel Protection Plan remains unchanged — cancel for ANY reason up to 24 hours before departure, and the guest will get their full money back. We are offering our guests both choice and more flexibility than ever. Lastly, with so much optimism around the progress with vaccine approval and availability, we anticipate that all of the pent-up demand for those that lost an entire year of travel will boil over into stronger than normal bookings in the coming months. If groups really are intent on travelling in 2021, they should book now to be sure you’re able to get a seat on the tour.
Q. If you had one piece of advice for fellow tour professionals today, what would it be?
A. We were one of the first tour companies to operate and are successfully doing so right now — gaining valuable experience to continue to adapt to the needs of our guests. We’ve remained guest centric during this experience, giving back more than $115 million in refunds, and taking care of our group leaders and guests throughout the crisis. When choosing a tour operator to work with for your groups, you want to take comfort in knowing that you’ll be well taken care of during difficult times like these.