Chris Coillet has been in his current role as Vice President of North America with Back-Roads Touring for 8 months. He started in Hospitality after finishing university in Australia and completed his apprenticeship as a chef. He moved to London when he was 20 and decided to pursue a career that would give him the opportunity to fulfill his passion for traveling. He took every opportunity to travel around Europe, and after a few years headed home to Australia where he started for the Flight Centre Travel Group as a retail consultant, then made the jump in wholesale. After few years he was asked to head back to London to help grow the wholesale brand in England. 3 years ago Chris was asked to head to NY to head GOGO’s Worldwide Traveler brand. Back-Roads Touring was a major partner of Worldwide Traveler, and eventually he became the North American Vice President, a role that has opened many opportunities for him.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Tell us about your role at Back-Roads Touring.
Chris Coillet (CC): As VP, I look after all aspects of our presence in North America. From Business Development, Sales, Marketing, and PR, right through to customer engagement to ensure we are delivering on all of our promises.
One of the best things about this role is no two days are the same and there is always something exciting happening.
TRO: What made you turn away from a career as a chef and pursue a career in the travel industry?
CC: As much as I loved the kitchen and the lifestyle that came with it when I was younger, it wasn’t very conducive to my love for traveling. Not knowing if your time off request was going to be met with a smile or the need to hide behind a chopping board as pots and pans were thrown at me made the decision pretty easy.
I would imagine that my original reason for getting into travel is the same as most people’s… I wanted cheap travel! They never mentioned the long hours, crazy customers, sleepless nights, horrible pay, and the lack of actual traveling when you first start.
I wouldn’t change a thing though, I’m so incredibly lucky to be able to go to work every day in an industry and for a company that I’m so passionate about.
TRO: What sets Back-Roads Touring apart from other small group touring companies?
CC: We call it the ‘Back-Roads Difference’. Over the 27 years we have been operating, we have worked very hard to create a touring program that is built using our unique DNA. Our tour DNA is made up of the following:
- Having a maximum group size of 18
- Itineraries that use scenic back-roads and not freeways
- Inclusion of authentic local experiences
- Leisurely paced itineraries that allow our guests to really immerse themselves in a region
- We only use charming local accommodation (Castles, Villas, Chateaus)
- Visiting top restaurants, award winning chefs, or unique styles of cooking for any included meals
We operate 57 different tours across 32 European countries, and each tour is built around our unique DNA to ensure no matter where our guests travel the get the same Back-Roads experience.
TRO: Tell us about how Back-Roads Touring has grown and changed since you started with them 8 months ago.
CC: 8 months isn’t a very long time, but 2015 is already a record breaking year for Back-Roads in North America! We are seeing so many people embrace the concept of small group touring and the benefits it brings when compared to the more traditional large group escorted tours.
One of the areas that has changed the most is our distribution model: we had previously been aligned with one wholesaler, but now we have a network of wholesale partners who are just as excited as we are about the year ahead. I have just implemented a new marketing and PR strategy designed to raise brand awareness amongst travel agents, and also to help them by providing tools they can use to help grow their business.
TRO: What can travel agents expect when they decide to book a tour with Back-Roads Touring?
CC: They can expect that the whole process from initial inquiry right through to their customers coming home will be handled extremely efficiently and professionally, but with a personal touch. Whether they work with our team in London or with one of our partners here in the US, they can rest assured they are working with highly experienced and talented people who are there to ensure everything runs smoothly.
On the other hand, and maybe more importantly, we guarantee that their clients are going experience one of the highest quality products on the market. From the moment they meet their tour guide, all the way to when they disembark at their last stop, they will come home wanting more.
TRO: What is one aspect of Back-Roads touring you want agents to be more aware of?
CC: It would have to be the experiences that we include on all of our departures. We ensure that every tour is filled with authentic local experiences that help immerse our guests into the region they are traveling. The days of sitting on a 50-seater coach and being told to look left then right are done, people don’t just want to look and listen anymore. They want to touch, learn, and get involved in the experience. Unlike some of the other tour operators, everywhere we visit and everything we do is included in the tour price; there are no optional extras.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
CC: That’s a tough one, but I would have to say Brazil. The food, the drinks, the people, the nightlife, the beaches, the culture: I find it hard to think of any place that offers what Brazil does, and does it with such passion.
TRO: What’s new and exciting coming our way from Back-Roads Touring?
CC: We are gearing up for the launch of our 2016 program which includes new tours, new destinations, and even new styles of touring. 2016 will feature tours in Portugal, Morocco, Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway, as well as expanding tours in countries we already offer.
I am extremely excited for our new charming waterways program which includes traditional gulet sailing around the Turkish coast, sailing around the Greek Islands, Croatian Wilderness sailing, and our luxury barge tours in France.
To learn more about Chris Coillet and Back-Roads Touring, visit them online at backroadstouring.com.