When David Cook graduated from University of British Columbia, Canada, he thought he'd go to law school. Then one day, he spotted a newspaper ad for Collette, which was hiring Tour Managers. Banking on his knowledge of Canadian history and geography, he responded, interviewed, and was hired. Cook served as a Tour Manager for roughly six years, primarily in the Canadian Rockies, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, before accepting an incredible product manager opportunity—designing and contracting all tours for the UK, Ireland, and Italy.
Wanting to return to the West Coast, he landed in Sales about 15 years ago; in 2010, he was promoted to Regional Director of Sales – Western USA, covering the Pacific side of the Rocky Mountains. His career is a bit of a rarity.
"I've been in travel for 21 years now. I was hired by Collette in 1999—the only company I've ever worked for."
Throughout two decades Cook has seen many changes, with COVID-19 being most disruptive. The most fascinating change he's noticed is what guided touring has become.
"Pacing is critical to the design of tours. People want to spend multiple nights in one destination—not see all of Italy in one tour: Tuscany, the Italian Lakes, the Amalfi Coast, Sicily ... They want the in-depth experience. Size is also part of that. Small-group tours were not too common 20 years ago. People want to experience culinary aspects of a culture as much as the other aspects. It's a different world now. Our job is to give clients good tools and we're up to the task. The broader worldview of travelers requires us to design tours to places we've never offered before."
Cook recalls a river cruise FAM on the Rhone River, years ago. "I remember finishing that up and thinking to myself, 'Yeah, this is probably not going to catch on.' It's a big part of the American market now."
Great experiences are one of the things that's kept Cook busy for 20 years. "We really are in the business of making peoples' dreams come true. I get this every week of my life! You can tell when you've really succeeded in making dreams come true. It's one of the beautiful things about the industry. In my Tour Manager days, I often took veterans to Normandy. Those memories will always be with me, for sure."
When Cook went into Sales, he began building a staff of his own to represent the company. That creative sales team led Collette in growth for multiple years. "The achievement—it's really gratifying to hire someone, bring them in from outside the industry, and see them grow and succeed in the business; to see what you have over the years; to see them develop and flourishing in the business, with the same opportunities I had."
Opportunities—personal, professional, for Collette's travelers—fill Cook's world. Most of his professional experience was in Europe. The first time he went to Africa, he was almost overwhelmed.
"Kenya was incredible! It opened my mind to so many new possibilities. I tend to be so Eurocentric in my travels and this was an exclamation point. It really emphasized what I hadn't seen. An entire tour without an art museum or a church: It was incredible!"
A couple of years ago, he visited the Grand Canyon—though he'd been to Arizona more times than he could count. "It was as breathtaking as any experience in the world—right there on my doorstop—and I had never done it before. I'm humbled by how much of the world I haven't seen. It's a powerful motivator to do what we do."
Cook ponders the challenges of travel and tourism—among them being in Paris during 9/11—and his experiences yet to come. "I have some terrible shortcomings in my professional résumé. I have never set foot in either of the great states of Alaska or Hawaii. I've clearly still got some work to do! Especially on the West Coast, these are a huge part of the business. I've never been to South Africa. It's on the list. It's not a question if I'll ever get there, but when. If that's how an individual sees the world—when, not if—they have a good mindset to succeed in travel."
Admittedly, it's a big world.
"That's part of what motivates you to stay in the industry. There are more adventures to be had and places to be explored. You'll get there someday!"
Written by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director of Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of Groups Today.