Chairman and co-owner
What is your key strategy for this year, and why? How has it varied from years past?
We had to set aside long-range thinking for a period of time while we worked hard to recover from the downturn in business for 2016. I am pleased to say that in the last 10 months we have taken 2017 from a pernicious drop in sales to a year (barring any untoward events) that will show record sales and profits.
What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace, and why they decided to launch them now?
International river cruising along with small ship adventures have been with us for nine years now, and we have added to this mix of travel style each of the last eight years.
Can you take us behind the scenes? How do you determine which new destinations to go into next?
We have tremendously strong feedback from our travelers. Eighty-six percent of them fill out and return a trip-end survey. We are continually amazed at what people “want to do next” — and this information, of course, goes directly to our tour development teams. Each team comprises several members of the executive staff as well members of the tour development team.
Once you decide to go into a new place, what do you do to create product that’s ready for today’s consumer?
After members of the international and domestic tour development teams get their direction they spring into action. Our goal has always been to build a five-star experience using four-star rated lodging and meals. Whenever we retain the services of a receptive operator in a particular locale, we make sure that they are the finest in their respective areas.
Are there any key challenges this year for your business?
Yes. As I stated earlier we did not expect 2016 to come to a screeching halt after a very good year in 2015, but for those who have been around long enough know that you always have to be ready to address the unexpected. We changed direction quickly and I am pleased to say we will have weathered the storm, as long as outside events don’t jeopardize our recovery.
Any unique opportunities in light of domestic or global happenings?
Cuba has given most of us a dramatic new opportunity. Watch for continuous changes to the way we present this dynamic new destination. All of us [fellow tour operators] are in the same position here. Mary Stachnik and I returned from Cuba this past week and can tell you the changes taking place in what we experienced there are coming at a mind-boggling speed. Locally, we have seen a renewed interest in national parks since the 100th anniversary in 2016. And destinations such as New England during their autumn foliage season are coming back into vogue.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2017, and what are they doing to compete in this important distribution channel?
The washout of less-than-impressive agents is complete. The current agency community is tough, product-knowledgeable and attuned to the wishes of their travelers. More and more agencies are selecting a particular niche and sticking to it, making them even more effective. We are paying closer attention to our consortium partners, who have really gotten this distribution methodology down pat.
Our plans going forward have given special emphasis to the agency community — who have eyes and ears for their territory, and on the whole, are performing brilliantly.