Coffee Time with Industry Vets: Phil Cappelli

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Phil with his kids.
Phil with his kids.

Think you know Phil Cappelli, think again….

There’s more to Phil Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations, USA, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask him those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the man behind the suit.

Following 16 years in the luxury escorted travel industry, Phil Cappelli, who began his career in the travel industry with Tauck as a reservations supervisor in 1998, was named president of Insight Vacations, USA in 2014. Phil would love to call his room at Ashford Castle home for the rest of his life, and he enjoys traveling one-on-one with his kids. Not so much all three of them together. We’ll let him explain in the Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
My very first trip was to Ausonia, Italy, not far from the legendary Montecassino Abbey. I was 11 years old and my grandfather took me to visit to my family’s farm south of Rome. I remember that trip like it was yesterday—I was treated like royalty and I can vividly remember my aunts, uncles and cousins waving American flags when we arrived. I still get choked up thinking about it, and that experience left a sentiment that I carry to this day; it sparked my love of travel and taught me that you can feel right at home despite being thousands of miles away. I’ve been back to the farm many times since then, and even took a group of travel agents there for lunch several years ago.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
I have been so blessed to have many to choose from, but in spite of the exquisite landscapes, stunning historical buildings and magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve witnessed, it’s the local people that truly stand out. If I had to pick one single memory, I would choose visiting a school in “rural” Cambodia. The children were so delighted and excited to welcome us to their home, singing together and dancing around. I’ll never forget the look on this little boy’s face when I gave him a rubber ball—or the look on his sister’s! I had given her a lovely little doll, you see, and she was miffed; she wanted that ball!

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
I worked for a consulting firm prior to my first travel job and my “aha” moments didn’t actually come until I had already started my career in travel. Early in my career I spent a significant amount of time on the road and learned that I greatly enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people. I was actually fairly shy before the travel industry pulled that right out of me, believe it or not. If it weren’t for travel I would probably be a computer programmer—my personality has been heavily shaped and influenced by my travel experiences.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
My wife Sarah and I married 20 years ago and we enjoyed a 2-week honeymoon in the summer of 1996. We went to Disney for a week, spent a night at the gorgeous Chesterfield Palm Beach, and then made our way to paradise on an unforgettable Western Caribbean cruise.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
It’s usually difficult for me to pick one, but there was a clear winner last year. My wife and three children (Katie, Nick and Philip) went to Tahiti, and the opportunity to spend so much quality time connecting with my family meant the world to me. Being able to do so in the lush tropical surroundings of Tahiti was truly magnificent! Katie, my oldest, was preparing to start her freshman year at the University of Alabama so the trip was a special way to celebrate her accomplishments and spend as much time together as possible before she began the next chapter of her life.

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
Iceland, India and Japan are all at the top of my list.

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
Not always, but I am always on the lookout for something unique! I just picked up a beautiful silver leprechaun at Ashford Castle last week.

You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
Ha! I used to always bring back a magnet because my wife Sarah enjoyed collecting them. I traveled so much that they eventually took over the fridge, and now we have a stainless steel refrigerator so they don’t even stick!

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
I often use this time to work and catch up on my e-mail. WiFi availability on planes has been a real game-changer for me, and I love the ability to catch up on my work and prepare for each trip. I’m also a big fan of Audible.

Phil and his wife—his favorite travel companion.
Phil and his wife—his favorite travel companion.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My wife, but I also enjoy traveling one-on-one with my kids. Not so much all three of them together.

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
Easy – my room in Ashford Castle! It’s a truly extraordinary hotel (well, castle) and property. I can’t say enough about Ashford Castle and the people who staff it. It is absolutely perfect.

If you were a destination, which would it be and why?
Italy! I didn’t have to think too hard about that one. The country and people of Italy have it all, but they also don’t take themselves too seriously.

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
I’ve enjoyed so many wonderful meals, but the oysters at a local farm between Split and Dubrovnik were simply amazing! After bringing over the family’s white wine, they practically had to kick me out. The strangest meal I’ve ever had is a tie between haggis and tripe.

What can’t you travel without?
My sneakers!

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
Michael Jordan.

Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
Beach.

City or countryside?
The country, but close enough to drive to the city, much like my home in Connecticut.