What is your key strategy for this year, and why?
We continue to push ahead aggressively across all areas of our product portfolio, including our land tours and river cruises, but a key focus for us is the expansion of our small-ship ocean cruises. We’ve added four itineraries there this year alone, and last month we announced plans to double our passenger capacity over the next several years. Our small-ship cruises are the first segment of our business to sell out each year, so we’re thrilled to be increasing capacity. It’s a great opportunity for Tauck, and a great opportunity for our travel agent partners who are looking to grow their Tauck business.
What are your newest destinations or products?
I’m just back from our new tour of Morocco, our 10-day “Magic of Morocco” trip, and it’s amazing. In Europe, we have new land journeys in Italy, Portugal and Croatia. Domestically, we have a great new tour of Colorado, and we have a number of new cruise itineraries, including a new Tauck Bridges family river cruise, plus new small ship maritime cruises to Spain and Portugal, the British and Irish Isles, Norway and along the Adriatic from Venice to Athens. We will be adding Cuba to our small-ship cruising portfolio in 2018.
How do you determine which new destinations to go into next?
Consumer demand certainly helps to drive the introduction of new tours and cruises, whether we’re operating for the very first time in a new destination or adding an itinerary in a region that we already serve. We get great feedback on possible new destinations directly from our guests and our many supplier-partners around the world, through our global network of travel agents, the many trade associations we’re active in, and reports in the travel media. So, as soon as interest in a specific destination begins to surge, we’re ready to leverage it.
The other key factor is the destination itself, and whether or not it has a compelling “story” to be told.
Our small-ship cruising brand has been in significant demand, and we’ve expanded our partnership with Ponant, our partner for 25 years. We’ll be doubling our small-ship cruising business over the next four years through them.
When you go to a new place, what do you do to create a product that’s ready for today’s consumer?
We’re very fortunate to have a global network of suppliers, who often already have a presence within a destination that’s new for Tauck. That said, a lot of the work comes down to having “boots on the ground” and getting our tour architects into the destination. In developing new itineraries, we always look to provide our guests with access that they can’t get on their own. Developing a new Tauck itinerary is a complex and exhaustive process that typically takes nearly two years, requires an interdepartmental team of Tauck employees, and involves a minimum of two “practice runs” before our first departure with guests.
Any unique opportunities in light of domestic or global happenings?
We continue to see incredibly strong bookings in North America. This year, Canada’s 150th anniversary is contributing to the trend. More specifically to Tauck, the recent airing of BBC Earth’s popular documentary series “Planet Earth II” has fueled great interest in our Tauck Earth Journeys portfolio.We just renewed our partnership with the filmmaker Ken Burns, who has a new series on the Vietnam War set to air on PBS this September. We expect the excitement surrounding the series to boost interest in the trips we offer with Ken.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2017?
We continue to invest in agent training initiatives, including Tauck Academy sessions and webinars. We continue to operate our Tauck Agent Advisory Board, and to explore new ways to use technology to better connect with our agents. Our Tauck Agent Rewards program is very popular. I’m also excited to share that Scott Peters is our new Tauck Small Ship Cruising Specialist, and he’ll be working with agents to help leverage the growth we’re anticipating with our small-ship cruises.