Destination America Expands and Restructures

by David Cogswell
Destination America Expands and Restructures

The company’s territory extends throughout Latin America, where it has been building its portfolio for the last several years. Photo: Shutterstock

Business has grown so much for Destination America that the company has expanded its forces and divided its executive functions.

The Travel Corporation (TTC) recently hired Graham Bendelow as vice president of contracting; and appointed Christophe Ghaye as chief product development officer of Destination America, which is its tour operation for the Americas.

The new hire represents a restructuring of Destination America’s executive team. TTC has split one of its previous executive positions into two.

A transformation
The expansion of forces is part of “a significant transformation of the company,” according to Richard Launder, who is both president and CEO of Destination America, and director of The Travel Corporation USA (the American branch of the U.K.-based travel conglomerate). Launder is the man both Bendelow and Ghaye report to.

“We are bringing in additional folks to up the game,” said Launder, “to be as competitive as possible in a very competitive industry.”­­­

Ghaye has been with TTC for 15 years, in charge of both developing new product and contracting with suppliers. With the joining of Bendelow, Ghaye will be freed up to focus entirely on product development, while Bendelow will take care of contracting.

It is an increase in the specialization within the company, according to Launder, allowing each to concentrate on a smaller area than under the previous structure. “If everyone is doing everything, they may do well,” he said, “but not great.”

Though Ghaye used to handle both functions for Destination America, the two jobs require very different kinds of skills. “Product development is not just creating itineraries,” said Launder. “It’s about finding special and unique experiences, going out and finding things. It requires a very curious mind.”

In today’s experience-oriented tour market, product development specialists are challenged to go far beyond the requirements of earlier times. “It’s far more immersive now,” said Launder. With the increased desire in clients to interact with locals, product development includes finding interesting people and situations to share with travelers.

“It’s quite different from negotiating with hotels,” said Launder. “One requires curiosity. One requires negotiating skills. You can blend the two. Christoff Ghaye has been with us many years. He was an all-arounder, trying to do all those things. Now, he gets to have a more specialized role.”

Bendelow comes to Destination America from the company’s arch-competitor in the domestic America tour market, AmericanTours International, where he worked for 20 years, the last eight of which as vice president of product development.

Who is Destination America?
Destination America is the operator of all of the ground operations in the Americas for the Travel Corporation’s tour brands, such as Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and Contiki.

Though the largest portion of the business is focused in North America, the company’s territory extends throughout Latin America, where it has been building its portfolio for the last several years. One by one, it has been introducing its tour brands to the region.

According to Richard Launder, “Destination America is the operations department for The Travel Corporation in the Americas. It does product development, supplier contracting, hires the travel directors, does operations, and manages all the aspects of the on-the-road experience.”

When any of the TTC-branded tour operators does tours in the Americas, Destination America is the ground operator. The company also does the ground operations on American tours for a number of other tour operators, which partner with Destination America to offer white label tours to their own customer bases. Destination America also handles custom groups for travel agents.

Domestic travel is booming
Domestic North American tours have been doing well in recent years. In North America, travelers are flocking to the national parks. Also, perennially popular are the Canadian Rockies; the fall foliage of the east coast of the U.S. and Canada; and the American South, including Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. Alaska is also selling extremely well.

In Latin America, Peru is the anchor for the continent, as the company builds its continental infrastructure piece by piece. 

“Brazil has its ups and downs because of various issues both political and economic, and even safety,” said Launder. But a recent open skies agreement with the U.S. is helping to bolster travel to Brazil; and recent moves by the Brazilian government have simplified and eased the process of obtaining visas, helping to boost the flow of Americans traveling to Brazil.

Destination America is also building its business in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and the Galapagos. “Business to South America has more than doubled in the last five years,” said Launder. “South America is still a relatively small part of what we do. North America is where the real action is. Americans like to travel there. And Australians, Europeans and Asians all want to come to America. It’s still an incredible draw.” 

Meanwhile, Destination America is challenged to keep sharp to stay ahead of the game. “Destination America has evolved,” said Launder. “It’s always transforming. To do that, you need great people.”

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