Almost every traveler who goes on a Collette tour travels with the company again. Jim Edwards, Collette’s vice president, U.S. affinity development, relishes discussing with potential clients why Collette earns such raving reviews.
No substitute for 100 years’ experience
Some tour operators come and go. Not Collette. “As many people know, Collette last year celebrated 100 years in business,” said Edwards. The American-owned, family-operated company has an unparalleled record of stability at the top. Three of its four presidents have been members of the Sullivan family, including current president Jaclyn Leibl-Cote. Leibl-Cote’s father, Dan, and her grandfather, Dan Sr., led the company before her.
Cancellation? No questions asked
“Our travel protection is probably the No. 1 benefit group planners mention,” said Edwards. “It provides cancellation — with full refund — for any reason 24 hours before departure.” At a recent Select Traveler conference, a bank travel manager told Edwards about a traveler who had had to cancel their trip. Since they had booked with Collette, that traveler was allowed to cancel for a full refund less the cost of the insurance.
“The bank manager didn’t have to fight with an insurance company,” said Edwards. “They just called Collette, explained what happened and we refunded with their method of payment. It doesn’t even require any paperwork to process.”
Travel protection can cost several hundred dollars, depending on the tour. Banks, chambers and other organizations realize the value, and some will add travel protection and its cost to any tours they offer, Edwards said.
Founding member of the ‘FDIC of group travel’
Collette is a founding member of USTOA, a nonprofit, professional organization representing the tour operator industry. To be a member, a tour operator must be vetted for financial stability and pay a significant membership fee. Among USTOA’s roles is travel protection: Should a USTOA travel company go out of business, other members work to assure that its customers don’t lose money or their travel plans. Edwards says group travel planners should make note of this protection, considering that people travel with bank, chamber and alumni groups because they assume those organizations have vetted their travel providers.
“In my opinion and the opinion of many others, USTOA offers the only consumer protection in the group travel industry,” said Edwards. “I wish every group leader would vet companies a little better and use only USTOA members — I think it would solve a lot of problems. I use this analogy: How many people would put their money in a bank that was not FDIC-funded, where deposits are not protected?”
$15 million liability coverage
Accidents and injuries do happen, but if a traveler is hurt on a Collette trip, the bank, chamber, school or other Collette partner is covered by Collette’s $15 million liability policy. Edwards points out that the coverage could save an organization from the devastating legal costs of a lawsuit.
Face-to-face tour consulting
Collette has representatives in the U.S. who work with bank, chamber and alumni groups. Many of these partnerships are more than 20 years old.
“They are there from start to finish. Everything is done in face-to-face presentations. Most companies only have three to a dozen reps; in the U.S. alone we have 43. Not many people want to spend $4,000 per person [Collette’s average] on a trip and never meet someone from the tour company personally.”
Collette’s representatives act as consultants, offering ideas and advice. Because many planners juggle multiple jobs, they appreciate the personal assistance. For example, instead of a planner sorting through Collette’s 170 itineraries, a representative might suggest several that are currently popular and fit the particular group’s interests. “Most planners appreciate that consultant approach and rely on our representative to make their job easier in fulfilling their members’ travel dreams,” said Edwards.
Assistance with marketing
Collette prints four-color mail pieces and covers a portion of the cost, making it easy for group planners to do more than promote the trip in a club newsletter. It creates landing pages that include itineraries, photography, videos and other trip details. These pages can be added to a client’s website or posted to social media.
Full-time tour managers take ownership
Collette employs many full-time tour managers around the world who have outstanding knowledge about their destinations, as well as local guides who know the ins and outs of the highlights and restaurant scene in the particular area.
In addition to the full-time tour managers taking ownership of the tours they lead, this approach gives Collette more control over the quality of its tour product.
Innovations, like Choice on Tour
In addition to adding new destinations, Collette has also expanded trip experiences. Among its newest innovations is Choice On Tour. “Most organizations have an included sightseeing tour, but we decided, ‘Let’s have an included tour but give folks a choice,’” said Edwards. “For example, on our Canadian Rockies tour, you can ride a snow-coach on a glacier that is 1,000 feet thick or go up 7,000 feet and walk across a glass skywalk to look down on the mountains and glacier.”
All in all, Edwards said, Collette’s experience pays off for group travel leaders in many ways. “When you’ve been doing this such a long time, you have the trial and error behind you and it is just a matter of refining what you do and making it better.”
Business or personal, Edwards goes Collette
Customers Make Great Travel Companions
It’s no surprise that Jim Edwards travels a lot. In 23 years with Collette, he’s visited six of the seven continents and about 60 countries.
What might surprise is how he and his family vacation. “I always travel with a Collette group, even on personal trips,” said Edwards, vice president, U.S. affinity development.
Among his all-time favorites is a tour he, his wife, their sons, then ages 23 and 11, and Edwards’ brother-in-law, took to London and Paris about three years ago. He and his wife had visited both cities, but like so many travelers, were happy to return.
“People go back to them again and again,” he said. “They both are easy to get in and out of and there is always so much to see and do.”
In London, they enjoyed the theater and historic sites. Edwards tamped down his fear of heights and rode the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel that affords wide views of the city. The group took the Chunnel to Paris, where, as in London, they stayed in city-center hotels and dined in restaurants that were all booked by Collette’s tour design teams.
Edwards overcame his aversion to heights again to have dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower, a treat only offered by Collette and a handful of other tour operators. Travelers on the trip included three generations of a family from Cleveland, the Edwards’ hometown. There were also a number of retirees.
“Our 11-year-old was the youngest on the trip and the older travelers thought of him as another grandchild,” Edwards said. “We’re starting to see more diversity in the demographic as well as multigenerational groups. I always tell my fellow travelers I’m with Collette. I love talking to them, finding out why they booked Collette and how they heard about us.”
Collette celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018. The family-owned business is the longest-operating tour company in the U.S., and offers 169 tours to 59 countries.