Collette Vacations: A travel company with a compassionate soul

Bhuddiat monk prays in Nepal by Bob Taylor

CHARLOTTENC, March 22, 2014 – An 11-mile rally near London more than 170 years ago changed the face of travel forever. In July of 1841, when Baptist minister, Thomas Cook, arranged to take 540 temperance campaigners from the Leicester Campbell Street railway station in London to a rally in Loughborough, he launched the concept of group tours.

Crowded street. Old Delhi, India  (Photo: Bob Taylor)
Crowded street. Old Delhi, India (Photo: Bob Taylor)

By the 1860s he was offering “grand circular tours” to exotic destinations such as Switzerland, Italy, Egypt and the United States.  In the early days of travel a grand tour of Europe was part of a gentleman’s education and could take two or three years to complete. By the time Thomas Cook was able to do his mass travel concept, the idea was modified to become a sort of “if-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium” approach.

Today, those “grand” tours still exist, but travelers have become more discerning and modern jet plane services allow travel to be more focused.

Nearly 80 years after Cook’s “experiment” in England, Jack Collette modified the idea for American travelers by filling a jitney bus for a tour from Boston to Florida.  The journey spanned three-weeks. It took a week to go from north to south, another week of sightseeing and a third week to return.  Total price, including transportation, meals and accommodations was $61.50.

Collette Vacations has come a long way in the 90-plus years since that first trip to Florida.  Today, the company offers escorted tours to every continent, the jitney has been replaced by jet planes and air conditioned motor coaches and, though the travel is still a great value for the money, $61.50 won’t cover one day’s worth of expenses.

Young Maya girl, Belize  (Photo: Bob Taylor)
Young Maya girl, Belize (Photo: Bob Taylor)

Collette’s employees are passionate about their business.  Perhaps the great Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson expressed it best when he wrote, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”  It is a philosophy shared by everyone at Collette.

Executive Vice-President for Sales, Kevin Kramich, says, “We sell fun.  We sell dreams.  The entire world is our product.  What could be better than that?”

Though Kramich is the quintessential salesman, there is something deeper, something more innate about his personality that transcends simply traveling the globe.  It is a universal commitment that exists within the soul of every Collette employee, all the way to its CEO, Dan Sullivan, Jr.

It is impossible to see much of the world without coming to the realization that a large percentage of our planet is comprised of humanity that has dire needs for the basic essentials for survival.  Not just a small percentage of the people who inhabit the earth, but a majority of the world’s population.

Dan Sullivan, who has been traveling all of his life, was on a trip to Peru in the fall of 2006 when he was dismayed by what he saw at a Peruvian school.

Women's co-op, India  (Photo: Bob Taylor)
Women’s co-op, India (Photo: Bob Taylor)

As Sullivan recalls, “I was troubled by their diets, made up of mainly potatoes. I was disturbed by the fact that their school lacked the basic supplies needed to engage the children in learning. And, I was disappointed in myself knowing that while I have traveled extensively, I somehow managed to miss the opportunity to help the partner communities we visited.”

Mayan women in Belize,  (Photo: Bob Taylor)
Mayan women in Belize, (Photo: Bob Taylor)

Inspired by the need to give back to the world that had given so much to him, the Collette CEO went to work.  On the eve of the company’s 90th anniversary in 2007, Sullivan launched the Collette Foundation, an employee-run, global initiative connecting Collette employees, its partners, travelers and communities worldwide to improve the quality of life of children.

Today, roughly 150 employee volunteers, 25-percent of Collette’s workforce, manage projects that bring renewed hope to children in 15 countries including four projects in the United States and Canada.

“As the CEO of Collette Vacations, my mission has always been focused on trying to show the best our world has to offer, on giving travelers a unique perspective or insight into a destination,” says Sullivan.

The Collette Foundation is the second organization founded by the company as a means of assisting people who are struggling to survive throughout the world.  The first, the Alice I. Sullivan Foundation, established by Dan’s mother in 1997 provides grants for work with the homeless, youth mentoring and issues affecting seniors.  It also coordinates employee donations of time and talent.

A Mother Teresa Center, India  (Photo: Bob Taylor)
A Mother Teresa Center, India (Photo: Bob Taylor)

Many of Collette’s itineraries include visits to one of their projects if a particular destination is near one of the sites.  One example is Mother Teresa’s Charity Home in Agra, India.  Another is Tenderfeet Education Center in Kenya which was developed to aid orphans and other vulnerable pre-school children in Nairobi.  Collette’s involvement runs the gamut from supporting orphanages and schools, to water projects and cultural programs.

It is an opportunity for Sullivan to immerse his clients into the cultural heritage of a country that often goes unnoticed.  Many times such visits create awareness for travelers that are life altering in a unique up-close-and-personal way.  A list of Collette’s projects can be found on the foundation’s blog.

Another positive aspect of Collette’s benefits for its clients is the internal insurance it offers.  Not only is the coverage reasonably priced, the most valuable feature is that it allows travelers to cancel for a full refund for any reason right up to the day before departure, no questions asked.  When the attacks of 9/11 took place in 2001, Collette refunded millions of dollars as a result of their unique insurance policy.

When it comes to providing value for the traveling dollar combined with cultural awareness, not only for the traveler, but for people throughout the world, Collette Vacations is difficult to beat.

Mr. Cook would have been proud to see what his traveling innovation have accomplished nearly 200 years later, and Collette Vacations certainly would not make him a “doubting Thomas.”

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club.

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor

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