PROVIDENCE, RI — Legroom in the jitney was minimal to non-existent and if you got too hot, you stuck your head out the window (which was really easy, because the windows had no glass). The route was a meandering journey from Boston to Florida and the whole trip took three weeks. The cost? US$68.50.
And for a handful of lucky travellers on Collette’s first-ever tour back in 1918, it was undoubtedly the travel opportunity of a lifetime.
Celebrating its centennial this week in its home state of Rhode Island, the tour company is looking back on those early days with pride as it moves forward into its next century.
Innovation, evolution and change: “That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we plan on doing for the next 100 years,” said Collette CEO Dan Sullivan, Jr. at last night’s gala, the first night of Collette’s Global Travel Forum marking the company’s 100th anniversary. The two-day forum, June 21 – 22, is taking place in Providence, RI, just a short drive south on I-95 from its headquarters in Pawtucket. More than 400 travel industry professionals and media are here for the event.
That first jitney trip back in 1918 was quite a ride from the sounds of things, says Sullivan. “There were no highways. There wasn’t even Route 1. It was all post roads. And once you got south of Virginia it was mostly dirt roads. One day it had been raining and the hotel made them come in through the back door because of all the mud.”
Alongside the jitney at yesterday’s ‘The Future of Travel’ sessions was a luxury sedan, to show just how far Collette has come in 100 years. The sedan service to the airport (and back) is a Collette perk and one of the many selling points that has kept this company in business, and thriving, for so long.
“You’ve got to keep changing, you’ve got to keep innovating. You’ve got to create that product for tomorrow,” said Sullivan.
Part of that innovation is a change in leadership. On June 20 Collette announced that Sullivan’s daughter, Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, is taking over as President and is on her way to becoming the third generation of the Sullivan family to head up the company as CEO.
The succession plan will see Leibl-Cote working alongside her dad for the next several years. She will then become his successor and the third generation of the Sullivan family to occupy the role of CEO of Collette.
Leibl-Cote started at Collette in 2005, working in the mail room as a teenager. Since then she has occupied many roles within the company, spending time in sales, working as a tour manager and tour designer, and most recently as the Executive Vice President of Product and Tour Management.
“Jaclyn is out there in the industry and it is really great to have her as the face of Collette,” said Sullivan.
Leibl-Cote says a family business makes for a special kind of company. “It defines the culture of who we are and how we treat our guests. Our guests are family.”
She adds: “My love for Collette began a long time ago and I have a deep connection to this company. It was a huge part of my upbringing and I did many Collette trips growing up. A 10-year old is not our key demographic but I took tour after tour as a kid, because my dad wanted us to meet our partners and have them meet us.”
Leibl-Cote says family businesses “are not always easy, but they are tremendously rewarding.”
Collette has seen record growth in the past several years and now offers tours and product on all seven continents.