GLOBAL tour operator Collette believes there is huge potential for its product in the Australian market, with CEO Dan Sullivan and Head of International Business, Christian Leibl-Cote last month heading Down Under for the inaugural Collette Forum in Cairns. This highly anticipated gathering – which COVID-19 has forced to be postponed five times – provided an ideal opportunity for the industry to get together, commiserate and celebrate the bounceback which is now undeniably under way.
Sullivan and Leibl-Cote believe the pandemic has provided a significant reset in the local distribution sector, creating an “amazing opportunity for everyone”.
“Previously you had companies that were there for decades and decades which controlled things…now everyone is on the same level right now, we’re starting over from scratch”. The family-owned business, which has now been in operation for 104 years, has had a distinct advantage over some of its competitors through the pandemic, in that a longstanding policy to not actually own any coaches, hotels, cruise ships or other infrastructure meant when things closed down Collette was able to quickly wind back most of its spending. In addition, all customers with impacted trips were fully refunded – to the tune of more than US$170 million – so there are no future travel credits hanging over the business.
Sullivan told travelBulletin the company had decided to invest in Australia. “Australia, for us, is going to be one of our largest markets,” he said. “Canadians and Americans, we have to make them understand what touring is, whereas Australians know what touring is, and they love it.” Pre-pandemic, Australian bookings comprised 5-7% of Collette’s bookings globally, with the company targeting this to increase to 20% in the coming years.
Collette’s top selling destination out of Australia is currently Japan, with the company’s global portfolio covering a wide range of destinations and travel styles including small groups, which are particularly resonating in the current environment. Sullivan and Leibl-Cote cited fundamentals of the local market including Aussies’ propensity for long-haul travel and extended leave entitlements. “Typically an Aussie averages 24 days with us,” they said, compared to just 10 days for US customers and 17 out of the Canadian market, with many Australians doing back-to-back trips to maximise their time away.
While Australia’s pandemic policies have left it about six months behind the rest of the world in terms of recovery, things are really taking off in other markets, with Collette now already experiencing about 83% of 2019 booking levels as pent-up demand for travel bubbles up. They also cited other key advantages of the Collette offering, including the ability to cancel for any reason within 24 hours of departure – something which really builds confidence among travellers to book. Collette uses its own team on the ground in each destination, meaning “we control every part of the product,” Sullivan and Leibl-Cote enthused.