Collette makes a difference locally and globally
In 2020, Collette’s newly relaunched small-group travel style, Explorations, is going to feature impact moments for travellers to make a difference as they discover and explore the world. These moments include supporting social enterprises and non-profits, such as the Sheroes’ Hangout, a cafe in India staffed by women who were victims of acid attacks.
“We’ll go there and guests are still getting a Collette experience, they’re still getting something immersive, they’re still getting a delicious meal, but then on the other side of it, just by utilizing a vendor like that, we’re [supporting] a great community endeavour in a sustainable way,” John Sutherland, manager of corporate social responsibility at Collette tells Travel Courier. “We can keep going back and the more we go, the more benefit there is to the local community.”
The initiative is part of a wider focus on social responsibility and the impact Collette’s tours have on the destinations the tour operator visits.
“I don’t think our goal is necessarily sustainability, so much as it is responsibility and making sure that we’re responsible to the communities, the environment and the people that we come across when we’re going to our destinations,” he says.
Overall, Sutherland says travellers are increasingly more concerned about social responsibility and the values behind the products they’re buying.
“Our guests share the value of wanting to see the travel product benefit the communities that they’re going to,” he says. “And then the other thing is, we take seriously that our guests trust us to make good decisions for them in the types of products that we’re putting together and selling. When they’re buying from us, we’re picking the hotels, we’re picking the guides, restaurants, and we want to do that in a way that shows that we have our values in place and we’re supporting the communities that we go to. We think our guests are trusting us to help make good decisions for them.”
What’s new and what’s hot?
Since relaunching the Explorations product in August, which features immersive experiences with a maximum of 19 people per tour instead of the classic 44, Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, president of Collette says the response has been tremendous.
“Really, what it is is the best of what we do, so it is the guided travel experience, but what it allows you to do with a maximum of 19 people is it allows us for example to choose restaurants that you may not be able to do with the standard number,” she says. “From a design standpoint, and an experience standpoint, we’re able to just choose different inclusions that we may not have a chance to look at for other kinds of product. It’s been around since 2008 so it’s technically in its 11th year now, but we’re going to continue to really focus on it and expand it.”
One of the tours that’s doing well in this range is The Northern Lights of Finland itinerary, which lets guests overnight in an igloo.
“We’re just seeing that in year one, just sky rocket, it’s doing really well,” she says. “So it’s again that experiential travel. It’s cold, but people are going and they’re just bundling themselves up to have those kinds of experiences.”
Across the board, she says tours in Europe are strong, particularly in Italy.
“Italy is usually always pretty hot, but we’re seeing it really surge again in terms of 2019,” she says. “Vietnam is just one of those destinations that we’re seeing do really well, which is great to see. I think it’s a lot of that immersion experience, which you hear a lot about. We’re seeing the likes of Vietnam doing really well, and Japan is booming.”
As for a destination she’s excited about, she points to Colombia as each area has a different feel to it, from the warmth of Cartagena where it’s more Mediterranean to the greenery of the coffee plantation region in Pereira.
“I think it’s a hidden gem in the sense that it comes with a lot of stereotypes from the 80s but that is not what Colombia is at all when you travel there,” she says. “I was there a year and a half ago designing that tour program, and it’s just a really great destination and one that I think when people go and visit and actually experience will surprise and wow people.”
Although Iceland has been booming, she says it’s a year-round travel destination with plenty to do in the off-season.
“You have the chance to experience the destination in multiple ways so that’s what I like about Iceland,” she says noting the company offers three different itineraries including an Explorations option that takes in northern Iceland, where many tour operators don’t visit. “I was in Iceland last year in January and it was amazing. The Northern Lights are pretty spectacular. Now I want to go back because I want go out in the summer because I want to see that greenery.”
Connecting with the agent community
As for travel agents, senior marketing manager Stephanie Miranda says there are a number of ways Collette works with the trade, but the biggest is helping advisors understand their clients.
“Identifying which client would be the best for one of our tours, so helping them with the qualifying process, and then giving them the tools to make sure that they’re offering the right product and service for that client,” she explains.
Currently, Collette has seven business development managers across Canada, the most the more than a century-old company has ever had in this country.
Along with developing relationships with the team of BDMs, she notes another helpful tool for agents to utilize is the annual Agent Resource Guide, a brochure which includes everything from the benefits of partnering with Collette to ways to maximize earnings.
“It’s basically a selling guide for Collette specifically for travel advisors to use,” she says. “So not just product information in there, it’s everything from how to maximize their sale to the resources that we have available to them, whether that be digital, our pre-and-post extensions, all of the options for their clients so it’s really a soup to nuts piece that advisors can use.”
On the learning side, Collette also offers monthly webinars ranging from product knowledge to personal development for travel advisors.
“It gives them value-added information that they can use to grow their business,” she says. “We have all of those on demand and available for advisors to watch on their own time. They can watch them live on a monthly basis, but then they’re available afterwards as well.”
The newest initiative is a Canada-specific travel advisor network closed group on Facebook to connect with agents.
“This is a way for us to really get information to them quickly instead of relying on email. I know that advisors have very limited time, and they’re getting hundreds of emails in a week,” she says. “We wanted to offer a way for advisors to get quick up-to-date information on Collette and they can have once central location that they’re going to get this information. We’ve seen communication really improve with our travel advisor community through Facebook.”
Giving back locally and globally
With a focus on the environment, community, people and the travel product itself, Sutherland says Collette also has a corporate social responsibility platform. The tour operator actively gives back both locally and globally whether it’s supporting literacy and food programs in its Pawtucket, Rhode Island, headquarters or funding non-profits doing similar work around the world.
“A lot of what we fund globally are school meal programs. There’s a lot of evidence that giving kids a nice hot meal in the middle of the day helps them learn and is effective for them to go to school, as sad as that may be for people like us living in a first world western country,” he says. “Just having a hot meal to get at school is a good reason for kids to go and for their parents to send them. It tends to improve education rates and attendance rates.”
He says Collette employees are also active volunteers in the community, amounting to 6,400 hours last year as an employee group.
“That’s another way that we give back to the local community. Our employees are really dedicated to volunteering, they average about 10 hours per person volunteering a year,” he says.
“Last year we wrapped up A Million Meals campaign, which was a three year program to donate a million meals. We actually hand packaged I think 450,000 of them ourselves through a partner called Rise Against Hunger.”
Selling Collette 101
A guide to helpful A resources for travel advisors
• To access Collette’s webinar database, check out: https://www.gocollette.com/en-ca/landing-pages/2017/webinar?site=collette-ca
• For Collette’s Agent Resource Guide, head to: https://issuu.com/collette_vacations/docs/19_8e59v_agent_resource_guide_ebroc
• To join Collette’s private Travel Agent Network Facebook Group, visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ColletteAgentNetworkCA/