Exclusive Interview with Collette Tours
Jaclyn Leibl-Cote is President of Collette Tours
The longest running and most reliable US tour companies, which celebrated its centennial in 2018. Jaclyn manages Collette’s day-to-day operations, working with its global offices, teams on the road and all over the company. Jaclyn started with Collette in 2005 and has held numerous positions within the company. Jaclyn spent many years designing product and also has spent time on the road managing tours in the United States and Australia. Jaclyn has even guided tours and worked in the customer care center as an inside sales representative so she’s very sensitive to customers’ needs. JAX FAX’s “Been There, HAVEN’T Done That” columnist Barry Goldsmith interviews Jaclyn about Collette’s unique customer service “Pandemic Policy” that redefines serving the customer – and Collette’s plans for future Post-Pandemic travel that’s now on its way.
Goldsmith: Jaclyn, I’ve been creating and leading commercial tours for most of this century working for many different tour operators and I’ve never heard of company that takes care of – and protects its clients – like Collette has been doing during the Pandemic. Please tell us about it.
Leibl-Cote: I’m proud to say that Collette is the industry leader when it comes to full money-back cancellation policy for any reason. In fact, it’s been around for over three decades but it really came to play during the Pandemic in which Collette even refunded the travel protection (insurance) premiums, too.
Goldsmith: Why wasn’t Collette’s outstanding travel protection policy better known in the travel community?
Leibl-Cote: The most important thing is we were there when our clients needed us most – just like we’re always there for the clients when they’re touring with us around the world. Full refunds — within 24 hours of departure – were always available if a client became ill. It’s especially the right thing to do when the world became ill – and borders closed – and no one could travel. That’s one of the reasons why we have a high rate of repeat clients – and we’re well known for our generous cancellation policy within our network of travel advisors and agents.
Goldsmith: I’m glad I’m spreading the word. I’m curious I heard that you’ve refunded hundreds of millions of dollars. Is that correct?
Leibl-Cote: The actual amount is $140 million.
Goldsmith: Let’s look to the future and post-Pandemic. How is Collette doing now, for the rest of 2021 and into 2022? I heard travel is really picking up.
Leibl-Cote: Business is definitely picking up. We’ve had to hire more call agents. In fact, we’re even ahead of where we were before the Pandemic at the same of the year in 2019. In fact, we’re even selling out tours for the rest of 2021. September and October of this year are huge.
Goldsmith: Which tours are selling out?
Leibl-Cote: All tours going to US National Parks, Safaris (which is like traveling in a bubble away from crowds) and many of our domestic tours. Maine and New England are very big this year. We’re even booking Egypt and Peru and the Galapagos. And people are starting to go back to Europe.
Goldsmith: Which countries are in Europe are selling best?
Leibl-Cote: As borders open Italy is coming back as is Ireland and Iceland.
Goldsmith: Are there European countries coming back that do not begin with the letter, “I”? (Sorry about the joke.)
Leibl-Cote: In fact, I’m surprised at some of the destinations that quickly selling out — for instance — Croatia. In fact, for the first time we’ve even chartered a private yacht our smaller groups.
Goldsmith: Do you see any new trends in travel especially to Europe? I heard that already some of your 2022 tours are selling out. Such as your May tours to Holland’s once in a decade Floriade the Holland’s sensational flower show are sold out the tours for 12 days – are selling out before the ones for 10 days. Why do you think?
Leibl-Cote: Clients are opting for longer vacations – frequently booking two together. Paris combined with Rome – and Italy combined with Greece. They’re also spending more – I think they’re compensating for the year and a half of not going anywhere. And by the way, another once in every ten years event is on the way to selling out – Germany’s Oberammergau’s “Passion Play.”
Goldsmith: While perusing your many brands of European tours — I notice that many offer extending tours by pre-and-post tour add-ons of a few days. I guess that’s for a younger crowd who don’t have the luxury of taking off more time from work. I also notice that you have many new destinations in familiar countries like Italy.
Leibl-Cote: Older clients do tend to book longer trips – plus they’re the demographic with the highest percent vaccinated. And to answer the second part of your question – yes, we do have new destinations in popular countries such as our Exploration Tour to Italy, which includes Puglia – “The Amalfi Coast and Puglia” –a great Southern Italian region in Italy’s “heel.” Puglia has great but seldom-visited cities such as Lecce. We’re also taking our clients out of tour buses and discovering new sections of cities – touring by walking through fascinating neighborhoods experiencing Europe close-up.
Goldsmith: Yes, Lecce is one of Italy’s great, undiscovered Baroque cities – and undiscovered means less crowds. You also mentioned another way to travel to Europe, see new sites and avoid the summer crowds.
Leibl-Cote: That’s right, instead of traveling to Europe during the high summer season – traveling other times of the year offers more and different sightseeing opportunities such as touring Christmas markets in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Goldsmith: I’m glad you mentioned traveling off-season. One of the most thrilling sites in all the 117 countries I’ve visited in my all my trips around the world is something that can’t even be seen in summer – just in one city in just one time of the year. It’s Paris at Christmas time – with the white lights illuminated the trees for miles along the Champs Elysees. The ultimate Christmas present. Have you seen it?
Leibl-Cote: No, I haven’t seen it yet – but I’m very eager.
Goldsmith: Let’s go!