Jim Tedesco a proven leader with strong connections in the travel community, and currently serves as the Vice President of Sales for North America at Back-Roads Touring. He is the winner of two Magellan Awards by Travel Weekly, has twice been named a “Rising Star in Travel” by Vacation Agent Magazine and Agent@Home Magazine, and currently sits on the USTOA Associate Member Advisory Committee. With 10 years of travel industry experience, he has a proven track record of taking ideas from concept to market with successful results and continues to develop positive relationships with travel agents and suppliers across the globe. After 9.5 years of leadership within the Flight Centre Travel Group Retail and Wholesale divisions, he joined London-based Back-Roads Touring in July of 2016 as their Vice President of Sales for North America. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and a Master of Business Administration in Management from St Thomas Aquinas College.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What motivated you to pursue (quite successfully!) a career in the travel industry?
James Tedesco (JT): There really is no other industry like the travel industry. I sort of fell into it by accident after giving my resume to a friend who happen to work in it. Once I got hired, though, I knew I never wanted to leave. I always remind myself that the travel industry is where people come to create their life stories, so to be part of creating that, and to also experience it, fuels me to continue a career in one of the most exciting industries there is.
TRO: Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day role at Back-Roads Touring Co. (BRT).
JT: From a high-level perspective, my main role is to ensure our Back-Roads Touring Co. brand is one that shows growth and maintains its high level of consistent satisfaction among passengers originating from the North American market. That all happens in many different strategic avenues. I work each day to ensure we are growing our number of brand advocates within the travel agent community so they feel comfortable recommending our product, and work towards ensuring our product is available through a properly trained wholesale distribution network so agents have multiple ways to book our product and earn more commissions. I also ensure we are growing our overall brand awareness via marketing and sales campaigns, trade media agreements, trainings and trade shows, and of course, sales calls to our travel agent partners.
TRO: For BRT, the name of the game is small, intimate group tours. Why focus so heavily on smaller groups?
JT: The name of the game for us is more about “authentic” and “local”, and that is a point of differentiation when comparing inclusions to some of the larger coach tours. They all provide something unique to your customers, but our core philosophy around small group touring is about ensuring our guests see the destination through the eyes of those that know it best, the locals. The itineraries are not about point A and point B, they’re about the experiences that lie between those points, all of which are included in the tour price. When you do this with just 15-18 passengers per scheduled departure, it becomes much easier to craft experiences that focus more on an authentic journey where you are meeting owners of local, family-owned wineries and cheese creameries and quickly become friends with your tour leader as they provide you the answers to questions you never even thought to ask. Our Mercedes Mini Coaches are also a huge part in the local experiences we provide, as they can go anywhere a car can. We are not limited to really exploring local regions, and since our rule is to never be on the motor coach for more than 90 minutes at a time for a maximum 4 hours per day, we are able to further the authentic experience by stopping in charming little cities the locals call home along the way. It’s one of the many reasons we hear our guests say they never felt like they were on a bus tour. They felt as if they were traveling with friends.
TRO: Can you tell us about some of the destinations and specialty tours offered by BRT?
JT: We are truly the experts in small group touring through Europe. We have brilliant tours that all cap between 15 and 18 people through Great Britain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, France, Croatia and Slovenia, Central Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltics, Russia, Morocco, Spain and Portugal, to name a few. We also offer specialty tours on luxury barges through the canals of France, including Bordeaux and Champagne. The barge tours cap at 22 passengers as they have 11 cabins on board. We also offer a special sailing tours around the islands off the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, as well as seasonal departures around the Chelsea Flower Show and the Goodwood Revival.
TRO: Back-Roads Touring Co. also offers tours specifically tailored on exploring the history of World War I and II. Could you tell us about those tours and how BRT creates custom battlefield itineraries?
JT: Our battlefield tours are arguably the most authentic tours we offer. Our tour leaders are qualified and knowledgeable and welcome the challenge from any history buff to trade stories and questions. We offer a 3-day WW1 Battlefield Weekend and a 4-day D-Day Weekend which are great add-ons for any traveler who wants to tour France by themselves for a few days, but then add on an escorted option for the battlefields. When making reservations for this tour, we always ask travel agents to provide us any information on the family should they wish to pay respects while at the cemeteries. Our leaders will do the research in advance to ensure they know exactly where the grave site is for your client. We do a lot of tailor-made (private itineraries) tours for the Battlefield tours, and depending on the level of information provided by the family, we can create a private, custom itinerary to follow in the footsteps of their loved ones.
TRO: BRT also has quite the catalog of culinary experiences. What was the motivation behind offering so many different cooking and tasting experiences for your guests?
JT: As I mentioned earlier, we want our guests to feel as if they are seeing the destination through the eyes of the locals. We offer many inclusions in our tours to see, photograph, and experience the local regions we visit, so why not let them taste it as well? Cuisine is one of the most authentic experiences we can offer when traveling like a local and not like a tourist. Our included dinners are true to the region, and that’s why we are the only operator with recurring reservations at Rick Steins Signature Seafood Restaurant in Padstow during our Corners of Cornwall tour, a must-stop when passing through. It’s also why we include a cooking class with a local chef at the villa in Chianti they stay at during our Tuscan Treats tour. Whether it is an included meal, or a local experience, tasting the destination is all part of the authentic experience you get on a Back-Roads Touring Co itinerary.
TRO: What is your personal favorite destination to date?
JT: Well I’m Italian, so I am head-over-heels in love with the regional itineraries we have through Italy. I love how cuisine and culture perfectly meet on all the tours we offer there. Cuisine plays such a big part in Italian culture, so what better way to showcase the destination than making sure we jam pack it with culinary inclusions. I can confidently say, though, that all our tours have a special place in my heart. They all offer a consistently unique, local experience and the proof is in the pudding. Our repeat clientele rate is extremely high. Italy may be some of my favorites, but I love them all.
TRO: What is on the horizon for Back-Roads Touring in 2017?
JT: We will have some exciting announcements in the near future but for now, the excitement is around our new tours for 2017, which include our Impressions of Russia tour, Iberian Inspiration tour, Iconic England tour (where Downton Abby fans will get to visit the Highclere Castle), The Lakes and Mountains of Italy and Switzerland tour, and Scandanavia and the Baltics tour.
For more information on James and Back-Roads Touring Co., visit them online at backroadstouring.com.