This fall, Collette will be launching new tours to Sri Lanka.
Collette is feeling pretty bullish about the travel agency distribution channel, and it shows. On Sept. 1 it will roll out its Book Your Own Bonus promotion and More, More, More campaign, offering extra incentives for booking tours, plus a new $25 online booking bonus.
Also on tap for October are new modules for the E-Learning program for travel agents, launched last year; travel agents who take the program can gain both knowledge and discounted rates, and also a chance to be invited on fam trips.
The Providence, RI-based tour operator is looking to travel agents to help expand its traditional demographic, which averages about 65 years old, and help sell its Explorations and Spotlight tours, which are designed to appeal to a younger audience, said Collette Vacations EVP Paula Twidale.
Originally launched 18 months ago with 10 trips, the line already has been expanded to 12. It’s aimed at an audience that is “a little more time-deprived,” with trips that run 8 to 10 days, are priced right, and have more leisure time built in for personal exploration. The average customer is about 55.
“It’s a very resilient product in light of [the terrorist attacks in] Europe, a nice entry for a guest in that you have a tour manager to guide you but also have free afternoons at your leisure to break from the group and explore on your own,” Twidale said.
Collette this fall will be rolling out several new products to new destinations, including Sri Lanka and Vietnam; “as far as emerging destinations we have talked about Myanmar and Cuba,” Twidale said, plus a new Historic Hotels tour of iconic U.S. properties, like the Mackinaw Grand Hotel.
“Travel agents are fantastic partners for us,” she said. “We tell our customers to call their travel agents, they’ll work so well for you, they are so apprised of the situation [in Europe]—and we are paying them for you!”
Indeed, Twidale noted, Collette doubled down on its bet on travel professionals by moving away from marketing through discount clubs like Costco and BJs three years ago. “We took a hit financially but we recognized that agents were spending hours with our guests, and then they would go to Costco and book there. We wanted to support travel agents. It wasn’t fair to them to lose a sale after they did the work.”
Along the same line of thinking, Collette does not allow consortia to discount its products either. “That’s not fair to other agents or to us. We want the price to be the same wherever you go.” Nonetheless, Collette’s agency channel is growing every year. “We’re in your corner, creating programs that are beneficial to you, and proud of the relationships we have,” Twidale said.
In addition to her role at Collette, Twidale also serves as the first-ever female chair in the 44-year history of the United States Tour Operators Association. One aspect of her role is symbolic, “to encourage strong women in the industry. It draws attention when any organization that’s been historically male changes,” she said. But the nature of USTOA has always been welcoming; it represents 53 companies and 160 brands, and more than 700 association members.
As part of her role Twidale and other USTOA leaders visit Washington every spring to emphasize what tourism brings to the economy. The third-largest industry in the United States after agriculture and manufacturing, packaged travel is a $13.5 billion industry, she said.
“We’re an advocate for travel agents on the USTOA side and on the Collette side,” she says, “We’d love to sell everything through travel agents. At the end of the day we need you to get out our message; we need you to offer our products to your customers.”