Earlier this summer, Go Ahead Tours made its big push into Canada with a brand new office in downtown Toronto. Since then, the company has experienced “tremendous growth” in the Canadian market, with travel agents at the forefront of its success. We sit down with Johan Astrom, Vice President, to discuss its Canadian expansion plans, and what sets Go Ahead apart from other tour operators.
1. Go Ahead officially opened an office in Canada in 2015. Why did it take so long to branch out in the Canadian market?
Go Ahead has been serving Canadian travellers for many years. As the company continued to grow in the U.S., being on the ground in Canada was a natural step. We see so much potential in the Canadian market, and feel strongly that our physical presence in Toronto has better positioned us to understand the different needs and expectations of our Canadian customers.
2. How has business been since opening in Canada? Has the Canadian market responded favourably?
We’ve experienced tremendous growth in our Canadian office – in fact, to accommodate the needs of our travellers, our team has been growing so rapidly that we moved into a larger office in downtown Toronto earlier this year. Come and visit us at 80 Bloor Street West for a coffee and talk travel!
With more than 175 tours across all seven continents, Go Ahead offers everything from food & wine tours to walking tours in Europe, and African safaris to an Antarctica cruise. However, one area that has been especially successful is our Canadian History tour portfolio.
Earlier this year, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, together with our student travel division, EF Educational Tours, we brought more than 9,000 Canadians to France on a tour dedicated to Canada’s military history. The response to this tour was incredibly positive.
Another bright spot for 2017 was our celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, when we invited our Canadian fans to share their Canadian pride with the world for the chance to win a free tour. Our travellers submitted hundreds of photos to our Facebook contest donning their best Canadian gear while on safari in Africa, exploring Scandinavia, listening to classical music in Italy or even from their favourite Canadian city.
3. How would you describe Go Ahead’s product? Who do you cater to?
With over 50 years of experience it’s how Go Ahead views travel that sets us apart. Our customers are curious about the world – it’s not about age, it’s about attitude. They may be going abroad for the first time or they might be an experienced globetrotter, but either way, our tours are all about making it easy for our travellers to get to the heart of a destination. We’ve come to know that the best way to learn about the world is to truly experience it.
Our ‘Right Size Advantage’, which promises to keep an intimate size allows for a greater degree of ease and comfort for our groups, and grants access to more authentic, and sometimes remote experiences.
With over 50 years of experience we have built strong local networks around the world. Each tour comes to life through our local Tour Directors who will not only provide guided sightseeing trips but also share their local knowledge of regional culture and history. We also feel that it’s incredibly important to allow our travellers to have free time to explore their own interests and create their own adventures.
4. How important are travel agents to the company? And what agent incentives do you offer?
Continuing to build our relationship with travel agents is an integral part of our continued success in the Canadian market. Canadian customers view travel as a very personal thing, and often that means they may already work with a trusted travel agent that they’ve worked with for years. By continuing to grow our relationships with agents, we feel confident that travel agents are really able to see what sets Go Ahead Tours apart from other tour operators and see the value that we have to offer to their clients.
Of course, we offer commission for travel agents. We’re even offering special Black Friday deals for travel agents to share with their clients, and some additional incentives for agents who book clients on Black Friday – stay tuned for details! By investing in our partnerships with travel agents, we feel that we have a very bright future.
5. What’s new for Go Ahead in 2018?
In addition to many new tours in 2018 we’re very excited about some special tours being launched in 2018. There’s a strong appetite for tours that allow travellers to explore their personal histories so Go Ahead collaborated with Ancestry.com to launch a portfolio of heritage tours with itineraries to Ireland, Italy and Germany. The journey begins with an AncestryDNA kit, which analyzes DNA and provides a breakdown of a person’s ethnic background. Go Ahead travelers will then have the opportunity to build their family tree and discuss their results with an expert from AncestryProGenealogists during a pre-trip family history review. Every journey will be led by a local Tour Director and Ancestry Genealogist.
We are extremely excited for our partnership with Canada’s History Magazine and the Canada’s Great War Album tour that we have created together. Mark Reid, Editor-in-Chief of Canada’s History, will join this tour that begins in the Vimy region and makes it way to the Normandy Coast. The intention of this tour is to trace the last 100 days of the war, during the centenary.
And last but certainly not least, following the popularity of our Vimy Ridge tours, we are very excited for our D-Day 75th Anniversary tours. Visiting memorials, trenches and museums, travellers will explore the important role Canadian forces played in the success of D-Day. Additionally, we have a tour through Italy that focuses on the role of Canadian forces during the Italian Campaign during WWII. We will have departures in June, to honour the anniversary, as well as in November, to commemorate Remembrance Day.