We reached out to Tauck’s president, Jennifer Tombaugh, to talk about the company’s 90th anniversary.
Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): What are some of the highlights that Tauck travelers might be privy to during this very special 90th anniversary year?
Jennifer Tombaugh (JT): We’re very excited that this year will see the return of Heli-Exploring, the helicopter-assisted alpine trips we pioneered in the Canadian Rockies. Arthur Tauck, Jr. invented Heli-Exploring in the late 1970s, when he persuaded the owner of several heli-skiiing lodges high in the Rockies to open the lodges to Tauck guests over the summer months. We brought Tauck guests to the lodges via helicopter, and used the helicopters to bring our guests to different areas of the mountains for day hikes, then flew them back to the lodges for dinner and overnight accommodations.
Heli-Exploring really opened up the wonders of the Canadian Rockies to the average citizen, and we’ve hosted guests ages 8 to 80. Heli-Exploring is also a great example of the kind of innovation that Tauck has brought to guided travel since our launch in 1925, so it’s wonderful to have it back in our portfolio for our 90th anniversary year.
PVR: What is one of the more interesting announcements Tauck has launched for 2015?
JT: To be honest, it’s impossible to pick just one because we have so many great new experiences launching this year. We’re very excited to be introducing our first-ever trips to Myanmar and the Arabian Peninsula, we have three new once-in-a-lifetime Tauck events on tap for this year in Rio de Janeiro, New York City, and Vienna, we’re launching two new European river cruises plus new small-ship ocean cruises in Japan, Australia and Alaska, and we’re expanding our popular Cuba trip from eight days to 13.
PVR: What has Tauck done to keep itself relevant over the years?
JT: Guests increasingly desire access and enrichment. We’ve continually evolved our product line, not only adding new destinations over the years, but also refining our existing itineraries on an ongoing basis. We’ve also introduced entire new categories of travel, from river cruises and special events, to trips designed just for families and itineraries for active, boomer-age travelers. In recent years we’ve also entered into some amazing partnerships that have allowed us to add content that our guests can’t get on their own, or with any other tour operator. In particular, we’ve partnered with Ken Burns to enhance many of our domestic itineraries, and we’ve worked with the nature documentary filmmakers at BBC Earth to engage our guests more deeply on our safaris and other journeys that explore the wonders of the natural world.
PVR: What is Tauck planning to do to keep itself relevant for another 90 years?
JT: We’ll certainly continue to evolve our products to keep them relevant, but at the same time, we’ll remain absolutely committed to the mission and values that have been the basis of our success since 1925. For 90 years what’s driven us has been a shared sense of purpose to enrich our guests’ lives by helping them experience the world’s wonders. And we’ll continue to enlist the help and support of our network of professional travel agents, our global family of Tauck employees, and our incredible supplier-partners. Each is a critical part of the “Tauck ecosystem” that delivers the world’s finest guided travel experiences to our guests.
PVR: How has the tour operator landscape changed over the years in regard to its relationship with travel agents?
JT: For us it’s actually stayed remarkably consistent, because our guests have always had a true appreciation and strong desire for the highest levels of service. That’s what we provide on our journeys, and that’s what our travel agents provide through the booking process and beyond. The very same traveler who appreciates our “do-it-for-you” service on tour is equally appreciative of the service provided by our agents.
I’ve always said that Tauck is the perfect partner for travel agents, because we’re a premium-quality product that naturally pays generous commissions, and because we’re a fully-inclusive product with up to 100 different fully-commissionable components.
PVR: Do you believe travel agents will continue to be an important component of tour operator sales?
JT: Absolutely, and particularly when agents are faced with things like NCFs from other segments of the industry. Tour sales are an increasingly important revenue source for agents.
PVR: Now that travel restrictions to Cuba have eased, and talks are underway, what are Tauck’s next steps in regard to expanding its people to people programs?
JT: We’ve already expanded our Cuba program from eight days to 13 days, and some of the recently announced steps by the government – for example, allowing travelers to use their credit cards in Cuba and bring cigars and alcohol home from their travels – will only boost Cuba’s popularity. Exactly how and when the larger issues (such as loosening license requirements) will phase-in still remains to be seen, so those impacts aren’t quite as clear at present.
PVR: What destination is trending/emerging for Tauck and why do you believe that destination is top of mind for travelers?
JT: River cruising continues to be incredibly popular for us, and the demand we’re seeing is prompting us to more than double the size of our fleet over a two-year period. This popularity applies to all segments – singles, couples and, increasingly, families. Small-ship ocean cruising is very strong for us as well. Overall, Europe continues to be our single largest destination, and it is a solid, stable performer for us year-in and year-out, in much the same way North America is.
In terms of being “top-of-mind,” we’re seeing a tremendous amount of interest in Cuba following the White House’s recent announcements about normalizing relations there. All of the media attention has certainly raised its visibility. We’ve also seen a lot of interest in our other “exotics” itineraries to areas including South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, and as I mentioned earlier, we’re excited to be introducing our first-ever trips to Myanmar and the Arabian Peninsula this year.
PVR: Where do you see Tauck in five years?
JT: Our mission will be the same—to enhance our guests’ lives by delivering enriching, inspiring travel experiences. We’ll continue to innovate how we do that, and we’ll continue to evolve where we do that, but the same mission and the same values established 90 years ago by Arthur Tauck, Sr. will continue to drive everything that we do. How you see the world matters.
For more information on Tauck, visit tauck.com.
Don’t miss our coverage on Tauck’s anniversary, Tauck is Celebrating, in our February 2015 issue.