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The beginning of a new decade is a time when many companies and industries take stock of where they are, what they have done and where they are headed in the future. So, when asked where he thinks the travel industry is headed, the CEO of tour operator, Tauck, Dan Mahar, didn’t hesitate when he said “upward.”
“The industry is in the midst of recovery, but it is resilient,” said Mahar. “This decade has taught us a lot about survival.”
This kind of positive thinking is what has led the tour operator through 85 years of ups and downs in the travel industry.
CEO Dan Mahar (left) and Arthur Tauck Jr. // (C) 2010 James Engelbrecht/Andrew PennerA Storied PastIt only took two years as a traveling salesman for Arthur Tauck Sr. to realize he had the expertise necessary to show people the beauty of New England. In 1924, after a banking mishap during which he spilled a cigar box filled with rolled dimes and his boss missed a date while helping Tauck clean up the mess, he was fired. However, Tauck invented a new coin tray that would prevent accidents like the one he experienced from occurring again.
CEO Dan Mahar (left) and Arthur Tauck Jr. // (C) 2010 James Engelbrecht/Andrew Penner
Although Tauck eventually got his original job back, he realized he could make more money selling his new design. He traveled throughout New England selling his coin trays and, at the Wigwam Summit Restaurant on the Mohawk Trail, just east of the Berkshires, Tauck realized that the only people enjoying the scenery of the beautiful New England countryside were traveling salesmen like himself — and that gave him another new idea.
The first “Tauck tour” was six days, traveled 1,100 miles, was all-inclusive and cost each passenger $69. Although no additional trips were planned, word of mouth spread and soon a new business was springing up.
Throughout the years, Tauck hit many milestones, and the budding operation also hit several bumps in the road. Tauck Tours, as it was known back then, was given the first tour broker license in the travel industry in 1935, and the company survived the Great Depression by launching a new tour, the 14-day Across America tour. But, in 1942, World War II forced Tauck Tours to close.
“We had to shut down during World War II to expend resources on the war effort,” said Mahar.
The company was closed for five years. Although Arthur Tauck Sr. sought out new work during the war, the business remained alive in his spirit and in those of his clients with his innovative idea to create interest-bearing travel certificates, rather than refunds, that travelers could use once the business reopened. And in 1947, Tauck was up and running once again.
Arthur Tauck’s son, Arthur Tauck Jr. took over the business in 1958. Keeping his father’s spirit alive, he has battled the airline industry in the U.S. Supreme Court, launched the first private air charters and created a global tour operation.
Survival of the FittestOver the last 85 years, the tour operator has happened upon a strategy of launching new, innovative programs during tough times something that has kept the company going through both the Great Depression, World War II and the last decade.
After the war, Tauck Tours regained its footing with different types of tours, including Eastern Canada. Arthur Tauck also focused on quality and maintained a close relationship with his clients.
“He kept close to the customer, even back then,” said Mahar.
This philosophy has spawned an enriching company culture that continues to grow.
“It’s how we as a group operate our business with a complete focus on the company, and we move forward,” said Mahar. “After Sept. 11, we focused on quality. We controlled costs and spent less. But we also continued to improve and innovate with our river cruising products and the launch of Tauck Bridges.”
In addition to new products and cost-cutting measures, the culture and philosophy of the company, with a focus on its clients, is a guiding light for Tauck.
“We’ve always had a mantra to do the right thing,” said Mahar. “Both Arthur Tauck Sr. and Arthur Tauck Jr.’s spirits are what continue to guide us all. There is a commitment to and a passion for the guest, geared around trust and doing the right thing. This trust has been the guiding force behind the company.”
Thankfully, the Taucks’ inventive spirit led the company through 2009’s economic downturn.
“How we operated after Sept. 11 was a great lesson for how we decided to operate in 2009,” said Mahar. “We enhanced our tours, launched new itineraries, completed a new reservations system and launched a new river cruise boat, the Swiss Jewel. Now, we will be in better shape for 2010.”
Tauck even launched a new tour product, Culturious, in 2009, which was also a success.
“We thought, ‘Let’s get people on [these itineraries] and not pay attention to the numbers,’” said Mahar. “We filled the itineraries and got great customer satisfaction. We are here for the long term.”
Wave of the FutureToday, Tauck is still a family-owned and operated business and, in its growth, the company is still led by its mission, developed in the early years of its business. The tour operator, said Mahar, is dedicated to creating authentic, enriching travel experiences that enhance people’s lives by broadening their knowledge and fulfilling their dreams.
“Our mission is set, and we don’t waiver from it,” he said. “It guides what we do and don’t do.”
Mahar believes that, even with the economic woes of the last year, the return to travel will be faster than in the wake of previous disasters.
“My gut read is that the older travelers will come back first because of a more acute awareness of time, then the boomers and then the Gen-Xers.”
Tauck will be prepared for every generation as they begin to travel again.
“Exceeding company expectations is what fuels me,” said Mahar. “It is fun to develop dreams for people. We are creating experiences that are going to make people joyful. There aren’t many businesses that can say that.”
And Tauck Bridges, a collection of family itineraries, is one of the ways in which the tour operator aims to exceed expectations. Bridges trips have comprised one of the fastest-growing segments of Tauck’s business in recent years, and Mahar credits the success to Bridges’ unique approach.
“We build each Bridges trip around shared enrichment, in which family members reconnect by building bonds — or bridges — as they experience the joys of travel together,” said Mahar.
This year, a new river cruise will be added to Tauck Bridges offerings. The Tauck Bridges eight-day river cruise, Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure, begins in Budapest, Hungary, and travels the Danube to Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Durnstein and Linz, Austria; and Passau and Regensburg, Germany, with a full-day excursion to Salzburg, Austria.
Tauck Culturious, which targets baby boomers with a more active, immersive and interactive experience within more focused geographic regions, is adding new itineraries in only its second year of operation.
“The fact that Culturious was successful in such a tough economy is a credit to the quality of the trips and the validity of the Culturious concept,” said Mahar. “We’ve crafted a new way to travel that truly resonates with the boomer segment of the market.”
For the coming year, Tauck is more than tripling its Culturious departures and expanding its operating season from primarily the fall months last year, to every month in 2010 except January and July.
Tauck will also add its first-ever Israel itinerary. The 14-day Israel and Jordan tour will include a combined eight days in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem before concluding with six days in neighboring Jordan.
Mahar hopes that these itineraries will resonate with clients.
“Impacting people in a positive way is what motivates me personally,” said Mahar. “Tauck is a company that does a lot of things right, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
When asked where he sees the travel industry going in future decades, he said there are no limits.
“To the moon!” he said. “Tauck will be running daily departures.”
Tauck 800-788-7885 www.tauck.com
Click here to view a list of new Tauck Culturious itineraries.