To me it seems not so long ago that Tauck World Discovery celebrated its 75 th anniversary. But yesterday the pioneering tour operator, known until 2000 as Tauck Tours, held an intimate luncheon in the Wine Cellar room at New York’s 21 Club to commemorate 80 years in business. Indeed, as you’ll read later on, that Wine Cellar, a legacy from the 21 Club’s days under prohibition in the 1920s, was a particularly appropriate place to celebrate Tauck’s anniversary.
As I learned yesterday, Tauck offered its first tour on July 12, 1925, so we’re technically a few months early in toasting the company’s longevity. And if you really want to get picky, founder Arthur Tauck Sr. actually ran his first tour in 1924, when he invited a few friends and acquaintances to join him on one of his sales trips in New England in his Studebaker touring car. You see, Arthur Sr. began as a bank clerk, then developed a specially designed coin tray, which he ended up selling to banks throughout the Northeast. Travel for him started as a hobby, simply part of his other job, but it ended up as a vocation.
Indeed, Arthur Sr.’s first tours were more of a lark – a way for him to share his experiences on the road. They also may have been a way for younger people of that era to get away and enjoy themselves a bit (including have a few drinks, which were prohibited at the time). It’s probably no accident that some of Arthur Sr.’s first trips were to Canada, where alcohol was legal. Arthur Tauck Jr. also tells a story about a time when his father was stopped by several men with guns looking for liquor being smuggled from Canada. They couldn’t believe Arthur Sr. would have such a nice big car to use just for travel, instead of transporting illicit whiskey and other alcoholic beverages (thus the connection with the 21 Club’s speakeasy of the time).
Over the years, Arthur Sr. racked up a number of firsts in the tour business. He offered the first motorcoach tours of U.S. National Parks (1926), the first fall foliage motorcoach tours to New England (1927), the first cruise and motorcoach tour to Nova Scotia (1927) and the first tours of Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula (1935). Tauck also was the first company to be awarded a federal Tour Broker license (1935).
Needless to stay Arthur Jr. stuck to the travel business his father started. He made his own mark in 1958 by launching the first air charter tours to Nova Scotia. He followed that up with the first air-land programs to America’s West (1961) and the first U.S. motorcoach tour of the Trans-Canada highway (1965). Along the way, he convinced Canadian Pacific Railways to give him block hotel space for his charter tours. Today, Tauck continues to fill those same hotels, now run by Fairmont, in Banff and other Canadian Rockies destinations.
In 1962, Tauck began four-island tours of Hawaii, and became the first operator to include helicopter sightseeing on Kauai in the tour price. In 1978, the company became the first operator to offer Heli-Hiking trips in the Canadian Rockies. Tauck then launched the first small ship-land inclusive programs in 1984. In 1991, it moved outside North America for the first time with trips to Europe that followed off-the-beaten path itineraries known as the “Yellow Roads of Europe,” after the yellow or more minor roads depicted on Michelin road maps. The company followed that up by expanding its offerings with trips to Asia, Africa and even Antarctica.
These are changing times for Tauck. The company officially transitioned its ownership to the family’s third generation only this year, and Robin Tauck is increasingly taking a lead role in developing the business, along with her brother Peter and brother-in-law Dan Mahar. Arthur Jr. still plays a central role as a legend in residence, when he’s not spending time in his home near Playa del Carmen in Mexico. But the company continues to introduce revolutionary destinations and products to the market.
Tauck Bridges, the company’s family travel unit, which was launched in 2003, is developing new itineraries, most recently to Costa Rica. Indeed, Tauck Bridges is introducing a whole new generation to the company’s wide range of travel products. Mahar says 70 percent of guests are new to Tauck, while one in four travel agents selling the Bridges product is new to the company.
Meanwhile, Tauck World Discovery last year introduced new programs to Russia (the largest launch in the company’s history, according to Robin Tauck), along with a tour including the Rose Bowl, plus new riverboat excursions in Europe. For 2006, Tauck is planning to introduce new programs to India, Egypt and Japan, among other new destinations.
I’ve been lucky enough over the years to have spent significant time with several members of the Tauck family. For instance, I had breakfast a couple of years ago with Arthur Jr. in Venice during a AAA conference. We talked about our football rooting interests (the New York Giants) and much, much more, but ironically very little about travel. And I will always remember what a pleasant experience it was just sitting down with to him to chat.
A few years before that, I spent a whole day with Peter Tauck as we drove around inspecting a Chilean winery near Santiago, as well as a possible boutique hotel for a future Tauck itinerary. And just last year I had lunch in Hong Kong with Robin Tauck, just minutes after she gave a wonderful speech at the ASTA Congress about family owned companies and women in travel.
Over the years I’ve interviewed all three Taucks many times, as well as Dan Mahar. They are truly an engaging family, interested in travel, culture, sports and all manner of things. Certainly no one can say they are one-dimensional. The Tauck family story also is clearly one of the most interesting in the travel industry. Fortunately, the company has finally published a small volume which details that story for posterity.
So take a moment to join Tauck in celebrating its 80 years in business. Better yet, take a look at what the company has accomplished. For a family owned business to still be around after so much time has passed is truly remarkable. For a tour business to continue to operate at such a consistently high level is even more amazing. So Happy Anniversary, Tauck! And may the next 80 years be equally as rewarding.
James Shillinglaw, CTC
Editor in Chief