If there’s one thing Collette has learned during its 102-year tenure as a travel provider, it’s that bigger isn’t necessarily better. That’s why a key focus for the Pawtucket, Rhode Island-headquartered company is its small group Explorations product, where trip sizes range from 14-24 travellers, opening the door to more intimate opportunities in a destination.
Collette president Jaclyn Leibl-Cote says being able to cater to experiential experiences gives travel agents the potential to grow their client base.
“There aren’t a lot of small group tour operators, barely any that are preferred or in the travel agent space – a lot of them are direct-to-consumer organizations that sell a lot. That’s a huge opportunity for travel agents to take market share from those direct-to-consumer companies and be able to see and have happy travellers who want to come back because it’s a great in-depth experience,” she tells Travel Courier. “You can really find new customers that they can have as repeat customers who are going and doing this more experiential type of travel that they didn’t even realize existed.”
Whether it’s walking through remote lush green jungles of Costa Rica or leading a dog sled team across the snowy landscape in Finland, the itineraries provide access to unique places and intimate experiences larger groups may not be able to access.
“The exotic destinations are a likely match for that, but also people are looking for smaller groups in the guided travel space so expanding in Europe is definitely something that makes sense for us,” she adds.
As for the role of travel agents, she says they are the key to help clients decipher all the available options and to match them with what best suits their needs and interests.
“The Internet has been a great tool for people to have information at their fingertips, but it’s also too much information that sometimes people don’t even know where the truth lies or it just becomes so consuming trying to figure out of all the 30 sites that you looked at, what you then should do,” she says. “I think the travel agent community helps to narrow the focus for consumers and travellers, wherever it is they’re looking to go to, whether it’s Europe, North America, South Pacific, and really understanding what is it that they’re looking to get out of a trip and then being able to work with them and place them with the right travel company that’s going to provide the service and the experience that they’re looking for.”
In order to better sell the product, she says it’s important to know what sets Collette apart from the competition. Among the main differentiators is the consistency of the product.
“A lot of times you have tour companies that can come in at a great price and show a very good product, but what you don’t realize is they may bookend their hotels,” she says. “The first hotel and the last hotel are going to be really ‘wow’ hotels, and they might go a little lower quality in the middle because what you’re going to remember is the beginning and the end. What we provide is definite consistency in the tour product.”
Another pillar is the value of the product offered.
“On a 10-day itinerary, we average two options that people can purchase above and beyond that during free time – other tour companies average anywhere from six to 10 options to be sold and when you look at the options that we’re selling, we include a lot of that stuff. It really is value for money.”
Finally, she says they have continued to innovate in the ways they create choice, flexibility and personalization on tour, including e-vouchers for Uber trips on select itineraries to offer travellers the freedom to explore at their leisure.
“Over 75% of our tour itineraries have what we call choice on tour, where people can choose how they want to spend their mornings or their afternoon or their day,” she says. “This is just a hypothetical example, in Paris you could either do The Louvre or Versailles, it’s your choice. Some people may hate museums, and they don’t want to go, but you force them to.”
SO, FOR CLIENTS READY TO JUMP INTO TRAVEL, HERE’S A LOOK AT WHERE TO TRAVEL IN 2020 WITH COLLETTE:
SAY BONJOUR TO FRANCE
“My pick is the Journey Through Southern France tour, part of our small group Explorations brand. I mean seriously: French wine, fine dining, truffle hunting and meandering through some of the greatest wine valleys and appellations in the world. This is a true sensory adventure! The Guggenheim of wine. I had the supreme pleasure of taking this tour last fall. My highlight had to be truffle hunting with celebrated chef Marc Larrue followed by lunch he made in his centuries-old home in the hills of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Nothing like it. Say no more. Mic-drop.”
— Brett Walker, General Manager Canada, Collette
“We’re seeing a significant trend in guests who are interested in France. It’s incredibly diverse in terms of the experiences that it offers from visiting Normandy, to relaxing on the beach, to taking part in the Bordeaux wine region. The history that it offers, eclectic options for food and wine, as well as its rise in popularity, make it a top destination for the upcoming year.”
— Diana Ditto, Director of Product Design, Collette
WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN
“I will be bit biased, as we did this tour last year, but Treasures of Egypt is one that continues to spark great interest and desire for many people, and it’s a must-see and -do. Travelling to Egypt was high on my list for many years. Our Collette itinerary and pace was excellent throughout the tour. Spending time at the Pyramids of Giza, then combining it with a four-night river cruise on the Nile and then visiting the Valleys of the Kings and Queens in Luxor made this tour spectacular. In addition, sailing to the oasis of Kitchener Island aboard a felucca (wooden sailboat) was also a highlight reel moment. I strongly believe we will continue to see significant growth with this destination in 2020, as Egypt is a remarkable country with a fascinating history and story that accompanies it.”
— George Christakis, Head of Sales Canada, Collette
FEEL THE PASSION AT PLAY
“The big thing for this year, which has been in the making for years is the Oberammergau Passion Play, so that happens every 10 years, and we sell a lot of that, so that’s been selling for the last couple of years. It’s not new in the sense that we participate and sell this region every 10 years, but that’s definitely a big theme we’re going to see this year. For me, I actually did the Oberammergau tour back in 1990, so I would definitely go back because it’s a great region for all the other places that it goes to, as well as Oberammergau. It’s just a great part of the world.”
— Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, President, Collette
“The recent bushfires in Australia were tragic, and the impact on the natural landscape, wildlife and people can’t be understated. It was horrible to see what was happening, and selfishly, I can’t help but recall the amazing time I had travelling Downunder. This was my ultimate adventure. We need to encourage people to travel to this incredible country. The great news is we have just come up with a new small group tour to the South Pacific: Australia & New Zealand Uncovered. This tour is now on my Bucket List. Secondary visits are on the rise, whereby by travellers want to revisit places to take a deeper dive to connect and experience more of the antiquities, culture and flavour of their favourite country.”
— Ron Lonsdale, Vice President of Canada, Collette
DISCOVER COSTA RICA
“Costa Rica continues to be a top destination for Canadian travellers who have a rich passion for nature, animals, and the jungle.”
— Diana Ditto, Director of Product Design
“Out of the Canadian market, small group travel is very strong. The tours that we have like Costa Rica and those destinations, you see a lot of the Canadian market that is interested in that small guided travel experience. So, we definitely see that out of there.”
— Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, President, Collette
CROSS OFF A NEW DESTINATION
“We launched Russia for this year, we launched a new Patagonia tour product for this year, we have Egypt and Jordan that we launched for this year. Patagonia just looks breathtaking, and that tour is well paced. I just think that being there would be awesome. That or Russia. You know St. Petersburg in Moscow, I just think to be travelling by train and all of that would be pretty neat.”
— Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, President, Collette
As a primary sponsor of the 2020 Agents’ Choice Awards readership survey, presented by Canadian Travel Press, Travel Courier and PressToday, Collette is offering a delightful discovery tour through the sights, sounds, and tastes of “The Big Easy” on its six-day Spotlight to New Orleans tour for two.
For a chance to win this prize – or others – simply take part in the Agents’ Choice Awards survey at travelpress.com/agentschoice.
Closing date for voting in Agents’ Choice 2020 will be April 3.