Dovetailing the Visit USA Expo tour, Travel Weekly sat down with Dan Sullivan, CEO of Collette, to find out what’s new and what’s next for travellers bound for Uncle Sam and what makes Aussie travellers “go Collette”.
TW: Thank you for joining us today, Dan. To dive right into it, I’m curious about what Visit USA means to Collette.
DS: Well, we’re the oldest USA tour operator, so a lot! We’ve been around 105 years and we’ve got a great history. We have great programs all over the US and run tours from Maine to California.
We have great city-stays like New York, Santa Fe, San Antonio, and Washington, DC. But we’re most known for touring like “Roaming Coastal Maine”, “National Parks”, and we even have a tour “Montana” featuring Yellowstone, which has really taken off. You know, we’re the only major tour operator running a Montana tour.
So we have regional; we have things like “America’s National Parks” that go through Scottsdale all the way through five national parks, to Rapid City and then to Denver. Then we got a lot on the East Coast; see the antebellum homes in Charleston and Savannah, or go“Colours of New England” for the fall foliage, or stay at the Grand Hotel on the “Mackinac Island” tour, bookended by Detroit and Chicago. So we have a lot of products!
A lot of products, indeed! So what is it about those products that resonate specifically with the Aussie traveller?
There’s so much to see in the United States; it’s like the size of Australia, pretty much. But the rugged beauty and the ease of getting around, I think, is what draws the Australian traveller to the US.
And when they’re touring, they get to go to places you couldn’t get to on your own because it’s so massive, and there’s so much to see. When you have a local guide, they explain the things that make a difference.
So say you’re in Maine. Yes, you can go and have a lobster meal, but you want to meet the lobster fishermen and say, “how do you do this?”, “why did you get up at four in the morning to go out fishing?” and “what’s it like in the winter?”. When you actually get to talk to those characters, it makes all the difference in the world.
I hear the lobster rolls in Maine are a must.
From the lobster roll to the baked, stuffed lobster, it’s tremendous.
It’s on the bucket list! How about the Australian travellers considering dipping their toes into the US for the first time? What kind of tours do you think would best suit their needs?
Well, most want to go to the national parks in the Grand Canyon, but some just want to go to Yellowstone for something shorter. A tour called “America’s Cowboy Country” does Yellowstone and Rapid City. You’ll see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, a great Indian sculpture, and much more. It’s so rugged and beautiful; people love it.
But not everyone’s the same. Australian tourists might want to see New York City, for example. And so we have a “Spotlight on New York City” tour, which will take you to Broadway for a show, and in wintertime, to Radio City Music Hall.
So, there’s so much! The good thing is that our tours are inclusive, so it incorporates things that become expensive if you don’t pre-package it.
What about those of us who have visited the US before but want to delve a bit deeper. What kind of tours do you suggest?
They may want to do music city tours to see the history of Elvis and Beale Street, and we do that. Our “America’s Music Cities Holiday” goes into Nashville and Memphis. You’ll see the Graceland house, stay right next to the Grand Ole Opry, and visit the historic Studio B, where many of the great entertainers have recorded their hits. And you finish in New Orleans, which is just, you know, music city with its jazz scene.
That’s a big, big seller to the Australian market too, but tourists may want to go to the historic homes down south in Savannah and Charleston with something like the “Southern Charm” tour. That’s great; you stay in a Jekyll Island Resort, which takes you back to the 1800s.
I did wonder if you’ve had an outstanding moment in your touring history of America, maybe a “hidden gem” that you’d like to share with us?
You know, you don’t necessarily expect some of those moments, like the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. You get to stay at this iconic hotel built in the late 1800s, and it takes you back to a time when touring was really only for the rich and famous.
You’ll have a great dinner at the hotel, but then there’s also ballroom dancing or just relaxing on the hotel’s front porch, which I believe is the largest front porch in the world. You just sit back in rocking chairs overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What else excites you most about travel to the US in 2023?
Well, the world has opened up, and Australians are flooding back into the world, particularly the United States. There’s so much to see, and as airfares come down, and they will over the next few months, you’ll see a lot of last-minute bookings.
I think they will be flooding back! That leads me to ask why Aussie travellers should “go Collette” for their US travel experiences. What sets you apart from other tour operators?
In terms of financial stability, we refunded over $260 million in cash to Australian travellers, which I believe is the best in the travel industry. So you know we protect the customer. When they’re booking, if they’re worried that they may need to cancel for any reason, travellers know they’ll be able to move their booking to another date or get a voucher. I think that separates us.
And then, it’s a five-star experience at a four-star price. There’s so much to do in the United States, it’s just one of the greatest destinations in the world, but we hit the bucket lists of what people want to do. Whether they want to choose a small tour experience with 18 to 20 people or the classic tours that will average about 36 people, or if they’re after a city-stay like New York, Nashville or Washington DC, we have all those programs.
One last question! So you have to have lobster rolls on the East Coast, right? But what’s one thing you must have if you’re going to the West Coast?
Alaska king crab. You can get it from Alaska down even to Washington State on the Pacific Northwest or, of course, on a Collette tour of Alaska. And you don’t just have to go to Alaska in the winter. You can go from the Northern Lights in the summer.
That’s actually another popular destination that we haven’t brought up yet; the “Alaska’s Northern Lights” tour. It’s spectacular!
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