Collette Vacations

Early this year, Collette Vacations held a webinar titled, “Collette vs. the Competition,” for travel agents interested in discovering what distinguishes this oldest of major U.S. tour companies from its competition. And indeed, those tuning in would find that Collette Vacations has a special place in the escorted tour marketplace.

For instance, nowadays agents are able to offer their Collette Vacations tour clients Door to Door, a complimentary roundtrip home-to-airport sedan service. Launched exactly a year ago, this personalized service—including gratuities—is included on many air-inclusive bookings, and effective in May, will be offered with air-inclusive tours to every destination that Collette Vacations visits. The value-added service is available in many U.S. cities within a 50-mile radius of more than 90 U.S. gateways.

The webinar pointed out that Collette offers thousands of guaranteed departure dates as far out at 15 months from now, dates that are assurance that a tour will operate on its scheduled day and not be dropped for lack of participation. “We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for 2010,” said John Galvin, Collette’s chief financial officer, “and we have more guaranteed dates for this year. [Actually], the trend we are seeing right now on a weekly basis is running better than 50 percent increase week after week.”

Webinar participant Allison Villasenor, who wears a Collette Vacations’ coat of many colors as project manager of the Smithsonian Journeys Travel Adventures, Explorations, and Collette Foundation programs, said that, “We are recognized to deliver quality trips that include everything, and great value for money with more included than higher priced products.” She more recently tells us that the company’s programs to the South Pacific (mainly Australia and New Zealand) and the Canadian Rockies are traditionally strong among Collette’s worldwide offerings, and “…this year, the Oberammergau Festival is the big driver in substantially increased bookings for Europe.” Collette is offering a choice of seven all-inclusive land programs that feature reserved seating for the six-days-a-week Passion Play performances. Many vacations include weaving in other destinations such as in the 13-day Exploring The Alpine Countries tour ($3,749 pp dbl) or the 11-day Alpine Explorer with the Glacier Express ($3,499 pp dbl). Oberammergau is also combined with touring in Italy or Croatia.

To celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2006, the company launched a $2 million, 5-year initiative, the Collette Foundation, which connects company employees, vendors, travelers and global partner communities in a shared mission to improve the quality of life for children in countries from Africa to Asia to Latin America.

In Kgautswane, South Africa, for example, the Collette Foundation donated 100 hippo-rollers, which are barrel-like containers that help people—especially women and children—to collect, transport and store drinking water by rolling rather than carrying the water home. So how does this foundation play into the company’s tours?

“Starting in 2008, we incorporated visits to foundation projects into our tour programs,” says Villasenor. For example, guests on the 11-night Peru: Ancient Land of Mysteries (from $2,449 pp dbl) are able to visit a Cusco home for girls, while those taking the 8-night Copper Canyon Adventures (from $1,549 pp dbl) visit a Foundation-supported orphanage in Chihuahua, Mexico. “On all tours,” she adds, “clients do indeed step off the trail to sit with the children and share language skills or little songs. And what clients have seen is not forgotten, for participants almost always follow their visits with letters, photos and shipments of essential supplies.

“On a FAM trip to South Africa, group organizer Tony Pragnell was so taken with the hippo-roller project and different school visits, that he signed up 70 people to lead his own tour.”

Learning vacations are hot, and Collette Vacations has carved out a corner of this niche marketplace with its Smithsonian Journeys Travel Adventures, a brand created in partnership with Smithsonian Journeys. According to Villasenor, the senior manager of the program, this niche is designed to be “…an innovative, value-priced and fun approach to educational travel, offering a more in-depth exploration of a destination, including noted speakers and experts who enhance every journey.” For 2010, 12 programs are available on escorted tours to often exotic destinations such as Egypt, Vietnam, Cambodia, Turkey, Iceland and the Yucatan in Mexico. These are offered along with perennial favorites like Washington, D.C., and Newfoundland, Canada.