Anne Majumdar

Big birthdays don’t always have to be about receiving awesome presents – they can be about giving something back too. That’s exactly what US-based tour operator Collette is doing as it approaches its centennial.

Speaking to KarryOn, president and chief executive Dan Sullivan explained that philanthropy has long been part of the company’s DNA.

Travel company Collette focuses on philanthropy KarryOn

Collette president and chief executive Dan Sullivan – pictured here in Peru

“We formalised the foundation in 1997 and it became global in 2006 with the Collette Foundation – all under the umbrella of Collette Cares,” he said.

The company has almost 600 employees, with each team asked to research philanthropic projects around the world. They then select one which it then works on.

The process brought Australian project Drum Atweme into the fold.

Travel company Collette is focused on giving back KarryOn

The Drum Atweme project in Australia is supported by Collette.
Image source: Collette Cares

The program aims to create a “positive influence” and “healthy atmosphere” for Aboriginal girls through the use of traditional music. There is only one rule for the girls to be in the program – they must remain in school.

“It really builds up their confidence, their self-esteem and skill set,” Sullivan explained. Many of them go on to perform at conferences or for tour groups, including those guided by Collette.

“We aim to do that with different projects all around the world.”

The focus is largely on children and education, with many of the projects seeking to end malnutrition in destinations as far flung as Poland, India and Ecuador.

Travel company Collette is focused on philanthropy KarryOn

Collette staff join forces with Rise Against Hunger.
Image credit: @timmydos (Twitter)

Collette is also involved with a global program called Rise Against Hunger which has set a goal of feeding one million people over the course of the next year.

Staff get four hours each month of paid time off to get involved in charitable projects. Everything is carried out on a voluntary basis so “every dollar donated goes directly to funding global projects”.

“We also encourage them to get out on tours to see destinations and projects for the themselves,” Sullivan said.

Collette's Nutrition and Hygiene Education Initiative aims to provide the tools for sustainable gardening to Cambodian people.

Collette’s Nutrition and Hygiene Education Initiative aims to provide the tools for sustainable gardening to Cambodian people.

Sullivan firmly believes that travel can change the world.

“Travel is a great educator,” he said.

“When you travel, you meet people who, no matter their religion or culture, want the same things – peace, education, what’s best for their kids.”

However, Sullivan warned the industry must tackle the loss of unique cultures before it is too late.

“You never want to lose cultures – you want to keep every tradition,” he said.

“That’s what people want to see. When they go to Iceland, they don’t want it to be like Sydney. They want to see what it’s like and why it’s different.”

Travel company Collette is focused on philanthropy KarryOn

Iceland is a hot destination for Collette

Meanwhile, the Australian market is “building momentum” for the company.

“Australians are great travellers and we’re a good match,” Sullivan said.

He identified the main challenge as many people “don’t realise” what guided touring is.

“Once they start experiencing guided tours, they love it. It affords them access to places they couldn’t get into alone but at reasonable rates,” he said.

These types of experiences come thanks to the company’s buying power, it’s focus on immersion and also the knowledge of its guides, according to Sullivan.

“We’ve been doing it for 100 years next year so we know where to go and we know the right spots,” he said.


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