Collette celebrates centenary

It’s only three years since Collette launched in Australia, but that was just the latest step in a proud century-long history which was celebrated in Providence, Rhode Island last month. The touring company, which now operates to all seven continents, debuted in 1918 with a three-week tour taking 14 intrepid passengers from New England to Florida and back in a ‘Jitney’ van purchased by founder Jack Collette. The tour cost the princely sum of $68.50 per person!

The company was led by Jack Collette for the next 44 years, but really started growing in the 1960s after it was purchased by Dan Sullivan Sr and his brother-in-law, Arthur McWilliam. Sullivan took the then small business global, expanding its portfolio with the help of his family, who continue to lead the business to this day. Sullivan’s son, Dan Sullivan Jr took over in 1990 and just last month he in turn appointed his daughter, Jaclyn Liebl-Cote, as the company’s president to lead the business into the future.


Collette now has more than 600 employees across the globe, including about 380 in its Providence head office plus sales operations in Canada, the UK and Australia and tour managers in its worldwide portfolio of destinations. The walls of the company’s Rhode Island headquarters are adorned with constant reminders of Collette’s mission “to enhance life’s journey by creating extraordinary travel experiences” across a host of departments including product development, marketing, reservations, administration and sales. The operation also has a strong focus on “giving back” with the non-profit Collette Foundation currently supporting child nutrition and education projects in Cambodia, Fiji, Canada, Kenya, Egypt, Peru, South Africa and Australia.

Last month’s centennial saw several hundred key worldwide partners invited to join the party, including travel agents, wholesalers, suppliers and media. As well as a gala dinner the major event at the Rhode Island Convention Centre included a Global Travel Forum, with expert speakers and panels discussing the current industry state of play and the future of travel distribution. Australia also had a strong presence, with presenters including Flight Centre executive GM of product, Nick Lucock and Fairfax travel editor Anthony Dennis.

Clearly Collette is optimistic about what is ahead, with the company’s head of global business, Christian Liebl-Cote, telling travelBulletin 2017 had been a “fantastic year for touring”. The privately-held Collette doesn’t reveal details of its finances, but Liebl-Cote confirmed global growth was in the double digits last year, with Australia significantly outstripping other markets in terms of its performance. And looking forward that is expected to continue as Collette innovates its product range including the pending launch of its new ‘Explorations’ small group product which has been revamped to have a maximum of just 19 passengers per departure. Explorations complements Collette’s other product ranges including classic, river cruising, faith-based and ‘spotlight’ city stays. An office in New Zealand is also firmly on the agenda once the Australian operations are bedded down, Liebl-Cote confirmed.