With six brands under its umbrella and operations on the water and on land, there’s a lot to talk about at Tauck.
Sitting down for a few minutes with TMR at the US Tour Operators association meeting in Providence this month, Tauck president Jennifer Tombaugh ticked off what’s coming in 2017: new ships, new tours, new destinations. But what’s not new is the company’s focus on family travel—and that’s drawing more travelers than ever.
Tauck is adding two new river cruise ships, ms Grace and ms Joy, and sending the refurbished Sapphire and Emerald to new destination, including a new Seine program for 2017. Its four new itineraries for small-ship cruising—Athens to Venice, Spain and Portugal, Norwegian Coastal Villages, and The British Isles—already are more than 50% booked, Tombaugh said.
Within the United States, a partnership with storyteller Ken Burns has helped push sales of the U.S. National Parks, celebrating their 100th anniversary, by “easily middle double digits,” Tombaugh said. “If there were more lodges in the national parks, we could sell more. And the same thing goes in the Canadian Rockies.”
(That’s a sentiment echoed in the Wall Street Journal last week, in an article titled “Yosemite Slammed: Record Crowds Make America’s National Parks Hard to Bear.”)
Farther afield, two new itineraries will head for Cuba, and a new Morocco program is doing quite well.
“We had (the Morocco program) in 2009 and then we stopped doing it,” Tombaugh said, “but we relaunched it for 2017. We’ve just seen continuous demand. There’s great interest in the people, the colors, the rich history, and the new Four Seasons is opening. It’s pretty awesome. So much of the Renaissance thinking of southern Spain was based in Morocco, and it’s a perfect place to start a tour.”
TMR has reported that Tauck will reconfigure and re-launch more than half of its river cruise fleet over the next two years. Five ships—ms Swiss Emerald, ms Swiss Sapphire, ms Swiss Jewel, ms Esprit and ms Treasures—are being updated with larger cabins, a higher passenger capacity, and a second onboard dining venue. Swiss Emerald and Swiss Sapphire will be ready for the 2017 season in France; the other three will relaunch in 2018.
There are also a number of new tours in the Tauck Bridges family portfolio, including an eight-day “Alpine Adventure” in Switzerland and Austria, and an eight-day “Italia Bella: Rome to Venice” tour.
“We’ve had a really strong year, and while we’ve certainly see a pause, some skittishness, we’ve also seen consumers being more resilient than ever,” she said. “For 2018 I see a lot of opportunity in the parks in North America, and in small ships and family programs.”
And does she see the role of the travel-agency distribution channel holding steady?
“At the end of the day, the vast majority of our business comes from travel agents,” she said. “People want to book our programs but they also want to do something before or after.
“Time is the most precious commodity and how you spend that time really matters; it’s important to work with someone who is a true advisor. And frankly, when you get into river cruising, it’s so competitive. You want someone who really understands what you are looking for and can figure out how to match the right trip with the right client.”
To that end, Tauck launched a new training program for travel professionals in the spring. “We wanted to just give travel professionals a foundation before diving into our products. We had never really provided a one-stop source for understanding who we are, what our values are, and how those values translate into everything we do.”