By Sarah Nicholson 30 Jan 2019Collette’s new president Jaclyn Leibl-Cote puts a high price on first-hand knowledge so, just a few months into her time as head honcho of the 101-year-old company, she’s visiting Australia for a good look around.Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are destinations on her fact-finding mission and while she’s scouting for experiences to add to Collette’s Australian itineraries she’s also talking with the travel trade to understand more about what Aussies want when they head overseas.KARRYON sat down with the Rhode Island resident during her mid-summer stay Down Under to learn about Collette Tours, why the brand has been in business for a century, and how hosted holidays fit into a market bursting with travel options. HOW IS GROUP TRAVEL POSITIONED AT THE START OF 2019?We’re seeing growth out of all markets, the UK is a little softer because of what’s going on with Brexit, but as a company we have seen historical year-on-year growth because there’s a want for curated guided experiences.People take this kind of product because they want to learn, they want to connect to culture and be taken around by someone that’s an expert and very knowledgeable about a region, and balance that with free time and flexibility. HOW IS GROUP TRAVEL EVOLVING?Guided travel can have that image of lack of flexibility and no free time – on the go, go, go constantly packing and unpacking – but what Collette does well is evolving by listening to feedback from our travellers and what we’ve done to create more personalisation is establish “Choice on Tour”.As an example sometimes dinners are included in an itinerary, but you’re not going out to eat as a group, and there’s the choice of say five restaurants so every traveller can decide what they want when in a particular city.You have to listen to the traveller to stay relevant, and that’s how you bring in the personalised experiences, and I think we are ahead of the trend in that capacity. COLLETTE HAS JUST LAUNCHED RUSSIA, WHAT’S EXCITING YOU ABOUT THAT ITINERARY?A lot of people want to do Russia by boat, but a lot of boats in Russia are only three stars while Collette’s Imperial Russia tour is a solid four-star product.It also has a great pace and, to spend four nights in Moscow and four nights in St Petersburg, you have time to not only get into the must-sees and significant sites but there’s also that balance with the amount of free time you have to connect with the culture.If you’re on a cruise you only have a fixed time in each place, and don’t get the opportunity to wander around the streets on your own or sit in a café, but this is not a limitation we have with our new Russia tour. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HELP ADVISORS BETTER UNDERSTAND COLLETTE TOURS?We have our BDMs on the road and going in to educate on what Collette is, and we have a learning partner in products and on the sales side working on blowing up what our agent education looks like and reinventing that.There are multiple ways of learning now, there’s not a fixed old-school way of training on product or marketing, and what we’re looking at is how we can change the way we’re supporting the agent community based on the way they want to learn.That may be improving technology, or improving the video standpoint, but even going deeper than that to support the agent so they can continue to grow in their career and that’s something we’re working on now and will be rolling out this year. WHY ARE AUSTRALIAN TRAVEL ADVISORS IMPORTANT TO COLLETTE?These aren’t small dollars you’re spending when travelling from Australia, just the airfares alone cost a considerable amount, and we’re seeing so many more travellers in this market going away for an extended time and pairing experiences.We are seeing lots of Australians doing back-to-back tours – perhaps they are connecting a London and Paris with an Italy program, while adding a few bridging days in between – and agents are important to ensuring the experience is being looked at through one lens rather than multiple lenses.Sometimes Collette is a piece in a bigger trip and the agent community in Australia is critical because, by coordinating with them, there’s a huge sense of continuity. WHAT DOES SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL MEAN TO COLLETTE?collette-caresWith the environment we’re trying to figure out ways where we can be smarter and that comes down to partnering with hotels that are environmentally friendly, sourcing things locally, or including trains in more tours as there are a lot less emissions when travelling on trains than motor coaches.Right now we’re testing water bottles on some departures to lessen the amount of plastic travellers are purchasing because in some destinations, like Australia, you can drink the water from the tap by refilling.We also need to support the destinations we travel to and avoiding over-tourism by partnering with others in those regions, getting our travellers off the beaten track, and this doesn’t just reduce impact but it spreads the business around so more people in a community benefit. 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