Prior to opening his company in 1980, Doug Ellison spent fourteen years in high school education. As a teacher, he organized school tours that took place during breaks—tours that sparked his interest in travel. Ellison Travel & Tours was established with two employees and student group travel in mind. Today, the family-run, Exeter, Ontario-based company has three locations.
While the company covers a broad swath of the travel market, student tours have a big presence.
Exeter is two and a half hours from Toronto. Early on, it was "why deal with Exeter and not someone in the big city?" Then, technology came along and made it possible to run a business in a small community. As technology advanced, so did Ellison. The company even offers online booking, accessible twenty-four hours a day. "Once booked with us, we have access to client information and are able to assist—before or throughout travel."
Another smaller-town asset? "We always hold onto our employees." Some have been with Ellison almost since the beginning. In the company's student business, employees tend to deal with the same people year after year. "We've have had some staff work with schools for twenty years, until they stopped traveling. In Exeter, there's only Ellison."
About three hundred fifty of Ellison Travel & Tours' more than five hundred groups yearly are elementary, secondary, or university groups. In school business, the company annually does dozens of trips away from North America. The company markets itself as the largest operator of music tours in Canada. MusicFest Canada, for which Ellison Travel & Tours is the housing bureau and official travel agent, brings thousands of students together yearly for its "Nationals." Music groups have grown into children's choirs outside of school, and into bands and choirs at the adult level.
Then, there are deviations. Some people want to travel a bit longer; others want to travel early, then join their group. "We've been able to offer deviations to anybody booking on our tours. It's an option we could do relatively easily." Ellison notes his company enjoys multitasking. Whether for corporate or vacation business, clients are able to decide what they'd like and let Ellison's travel experts create their deviations.
Ellison is pleased to have good, conscientious employees. He finds people are more interested in working with you if you're passionate about what you do. Part of work is being satisfied with your job. Ellison gets "amazing" comments from clients, and from suppliers, about his staff. "They like dealing with our staff, because they're pleasant. Maybe it's part of our small-town roots." Maybe, too, it's part of being customer-focused, employee-oriented, and family-driven.
His daughter was living in Vancouver and had been working in the corporate world for a decade when, Ellison notes, "she decided she wanted to work for her old man, but didn't want to move home." Canada's West Coast was a good spot for further Ellison Travel & Tours presence, and the office opened there has grown. Back in Exeter, Ellison's wife includes among her duties managing MusicFest Canada; his brother is his accountant and general manager. And, of course, there are the many other dedicated employees who've helped build the Ellison name and reputation.
When you work well together and treat people right, word gets out and people stick around.
Written by Amy L Charles, the editorial director for Groups Today. Click here for the digital magazine version of the article.