Born in Kent England, I grew up in a travel obsessed family. The son of a Tour Operator who set up the first private car and driver tours across the Indian Subcontinent, and living a short hop from France, the world always felt like a small place. Having traveled extensively in India, South East Asia, China and Japan, I moved to Beijing in 2008. It was my first experience living and working overseas, and it’s fair to say I caught the bug. Over the next 10 years I lived in London, Hanoi and Bangkok where I worked for a regional Destination Management Company developing and operationalizing products and experiences for Tour Operators and clients around the world. In 2018 after the birth of my son, my wife and I decided it was time to move back to London and start a new chapter at Blue-Roads Touring. A big reason for making the move was the opportunity to own the full customer experience – from first contact through to the operation on the ground. The full product ownership we have at Blue-Roads and our ambitious plans to bring our small group touring experience to North America and Asia spoke to me, was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down!
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hi, Ed. How are you today?
Ed Pettitt (EP): I’m good, thanks. Happy to be speaking with you.
TRO: You’ve recently joined on with Blue-Roads Touring in 2018, citing that the full customer experience is important to you. How does this philosophy drive Blue-Roads direction in the travel industry?
EP: The Blue-Roads difference is about enabling experiences that our customers couldn’t have without us. On every departure we strive to give access to authentic local sites and personalities, through routes that go beyond the traditional ‘highlights’ and take our customers closer to the real destination. Thanks to the small size of our groups (18 passengers in Europe and 14 in Asia) we have unparalleled opportunities to create tours larger operators could only dream of. Coupled with our fantastic on-road team headed by our Blue-Roads Tour Leaders, we not only create, but can deliver something quite remarkable. Each and every route is developed in house and each Tour Leader is hand selected, trained and empowered. It is this level of control over the customer experience that is truly exciting.
TRO: There’s been a quite a bit of change lately for Blue-Roads Touring, formerly known as Back-Roads Touring. What can you tell us about these changes?
EP: It’s an exciting time for us in North America. As of January 1, our North American brand has been changed to Blue-Roads Touring. As we continue to grow, it was important for us to have a name that speaks more closely to the North American customer. Blue-Roads was a term coined by an American writer, William Least Heat Moon, who wrote about his 13,000 mile journey across the United States using nothing but the roads marked in blue in his atlas. It was on these roads – otherwise known as the non highways – that he met the real people and culture of the land he passed. While we have been in business for over 30 years, we’re still fairly new to the North American market. The name change will allow us to increase our footprint in the North American market, explain our product difference, and really start to make a name for ourselves here.
TRO: One of those changes is Blue-Roads moving into the Asian and North American markets. How has this been received by travel agents and clients?
EP: It’s been received extremely well. Our customers love our small group experience in Europe so taking that to Asia – and from 2020 North America – made a lot of sense. As with all our destinations we believe in quality over quantity, so it was vital we captured the essence of Blue-Roads in a very different region. After all, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are quite different from Italy, Spain and the UK! What is the same is the essence of what a Blue-Roads customer is looking to experience – and in Asia we are visiting fantastically rich countries with long histories, jaw dropping natural landscapes, vibrant cultures and of course wonderful cuisines. The feedback so far from our first touring season has been very positive and we are thrilled to see that our customer feedback is highlighting the same positives in both Asia and Europe. This summer we will launch our first North America range, with departures from Spring 2020. We have 7 regional itineraries in development and are very excited with the experiences that are being created – so watch this space.
TRO: You grew up traveling all over, what do you think are the most important lessons you’ve learned in all these years experiencing the world?
EP: Travel is an excuse to meet new people and learn new things! In the age of Instagram, there is a demand to ‘tick-off’ the latest must see destinations, but I maintain the memories that last and the experiences that count are the one-on-one interactions, the unexpected meetings and the conversations over a drink that true travel enables. Having had the chance to live and travel all of the world, it is this fundamental simplicity that jumps out.
TRO: Blue-Roads Touring focuses on smaller groups and getting off the beaten path that most tours follow. Does this bring in a particular type of traveler as client?
EP: Our tours bring in a few different types of travelers. Our client is one that wants that special, one of a kind, immersive experience but at the same time wants the comfort and safety that an escorted tour brings. We also find that our customer is the typical FIT traveler who does not think of themselves as an escorted touring customer but may be a bit timid to rent a car and drive on the other side of the road. A small group allows them to see the regions they want, without feeling like they are on the typical big bus tour. I should also mention that 30% of our clients are solo travelers. I think they find comfort in knowing it’s a small group and by the end, everyone is best friends. It’s easy to get lost in the mix with a larger group.
TRO: How can travel agents get more information about how and where Blue-Roads Touring operates around the world?
EP: We have a fantastic sales team in the United States and Canada but the easiest way would be to visit www.blueroadstouring.com or call 877-330-4850 and our reservation team can direct agents to their local BDM and provide contact information. TRO also has some webinars saved on their website which I invite agents to go have a listen to.
TRO: What should our readers be on the lookout for in Blue-Roads’ future?
EP: This summer we will launch our first North America range, with departures from Spring 2020. We have 7 regional itineraries in development and are very excited with the experiences that are being created – so watch this space.
TRO: Thank you for your time Ed. We hope to hear from again soon.
EP: It’s been a pleasure!