In Celebrity Travel Chat with Colleen Kelly, Colleen interviews fellow travel experts and celebrities about their areas of expertise and their own personal passion for exploring the world.
Some of Dan Mahar’s best memories are learning to waltz with his daughter at a palace in Vienna, encountering a bear in the Grand Tetons National Park, climbing the Adirondacks and gliding down the Danube in a riverboat. Travel is a central part of Mahar’s life, and he’s been fortunate to share these and many other adventures with his wife and five kids. Mahar is CEO of Tauck, a 90-year old, family-owned travel company that leads tours in more than 70 countries. He has an insider’s view of the travel industry. And he has traversed the globe with Tauck, which offers land tours, guided sightseeing excursions, culturally immersive trips, river cruises, small ship cruises, family adventures and more.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
- Your trips take people all over the world, from Africa to Antarctica to the Middle East. Have you personally traveled to most of the countries where Tauck offers trips? Which are your favorites to visit and why?
I haven’t been everywhere but I do get around! Perhaps our favorite place to get away as a family is the Canadian Rockies. We are more of a “mountain” family – much to the chagrin of my wife who loves the beach. The area from Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper is simply majestic; the Fairmont hotels there are singularly unique and provide outstanding service. And there is so much to do and explore. I also love Italy because there is history around every corner, the food is terrific and the energy and style of the people is always a welcoming change.
South Africa has so much to offer and I like that it’s a direct flight from the US. Cape Town is beautiful and Mandela’s story is simply inspiring. The game lodges in the north are extremely comfortable, seeing animals in their natural habitat is one of life’s most unique and real experiences and the tour guides are great.
- What are your favorite destinations in the U.S.?
My family really enjoys Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.
We visit annually either in the winter or summer. We also enjoy Lake Placid, as my wife and I had our first date here during college. The village is classic, the views pristine and there is such a history there having hosted two Winter Olympics. Also, there are so many Olympians in training, that you cannot help but be inspired to get out and explore.
We also enjoy Boston – it’s such a friendly, big and young “town” that is great to walk around and explore.
We recently started downloading “scavenger hunt” apps by Stray Boots as a way to learn about neighborhoods in these cities. For similar reasons, we enjoy Washington, DC and Philadelphia, too. Colonial America’s capital cities offer so much to families today.
- Do you travel frequently with your five kids? What are some of the most memorable places you’ve visited as a family?
My wife and I love traveling with our kids. It’s a small “dinner party” wherever we go! We take multiple trips together annually as a family. A few memories come to mind: Learning to waltz with my daughter Ellie at a private palace in Vienna; watching a true American West rodeo in Cody, Wyoming; seeing our first bear in Grand Teton National Park; riding atop a Tauck Riverboat with our kids seeing centuries of history as we glide down the Danube River.
I would also like to share another Mahar tradition. I take each of our kids on a 1:1 trip when they’re in the 5-6 age range and my wife does the same when they’re in the 10-11 age range. It’s amazing to see the world through their eyes and the conversation is always so interesting and memorable. They feel so “proud” to be traveling alone with their adult parent and I can recall so vividly all the conversations we had along each journey with the kids. I have biked the San Juan Islands; golfed in the Canadian Rockies; climbed a peak in the Adirondacks; biked Acadia and explored a ski town with each of my kids and these memories are some of the best I have had and will last a lifetime.
- What kind of travel experiences do you prefer — outdoor adventure, relaxation, sightseeing, memorable dining, etc?
I love the mountains. The clean air and incredible views are powerfully inspiring to me. They make me want to get out and explore even more. Fortunately, all of our kids are really interested in the mountains, too. We enjoy hiking, biking, rafting, golfing and more in the mountains — together. My oldest son had an internship in Banff this summer after his freshman year in college so I’m glad to see the trend continue.
I also enjoy exploring new cities: walking the streets, taking in the architecture, people watching and absorbing the energy of the city I’m in.
I’m not a very big “beach person” because I cannot sit still.
- For many travelers, fall is a favorite time to hit the road. Why is this such a popular season for travel?
The weather is cooler and there are typically fewer crowds at many locations in the United States and around the world during this time. Plus, in many places you have beautiful fall foliage to enhance the visual display of nature’s beauty. Those are some reasons why Fall is a wonderful “shoulder season” for travelers.
- As CEO of a tour company that has been around for 90 years, you’ve undoubtedly seen many industry trends come and go. What are some interesting travel and consumer spending trends that you’re seeing right now?
People of all ages are seeking to learn more when they travel – the stories and anecdotes that bring people closer to where they are traveling. Parents seek to provide experiences for their children, hoping they will stimulate curiosity, a trait that can provide many long-term benefits no matter what their children’s path may be. Parents also recognize their children are growing up in an increasingly global world and they want their children to be comfortable meeting new people and learning about different cultures. People also are interested in the “access” to new, exclusive experiences and simultaneously look to avoid increasing crowds at many of the world’s most popular attractions.
- What are the most popular types of trips Tauck offers? Which types are best for families with children?
North America and Europe are the most popular destinations in the world and we offer immersive journeys by land, river and small ship coastal exploration across each continent. For families, those are primary areas of interest.
The American West is very popular. America’s National Parks are a key part of our country’s heritage and they offer beautiful and fun adventure-packed experiences such as hiking, rafting, paragliding and more. The two main itineraries Tauck offers are the Yellowstone/Grand Tetons area and the Southwest: Grand Canyon/Bryce/Zion and Lake Powell.
Europe’s capital cities are also very popular for families. They offer rich histories combined with arts, exposure to languages, culture, food and the opportunity to meet people from around the world. London/Paris has great history, performing and theater arts, and cultural relevance in the world today. Our #1 itinerary for families in Europe is Venice, Florence and Rome. River cruising is also increasing in demand as it offers a new and interesting way for families to travel.
- What were your reasons for creating Tauck Bridges, which serves the growing family travel segment? Why do you think it’s important for families to experience travel together?
There were two reasons that led to the creation of Tauck Bridges and both were consumer trends – not travel trends. The first is that kids are growing up in a fast-paced, increasingly global world. Digital and online media has undoubtedly connected us all in more ways imaginable. And with that, people have developed a greater curiosity about different cultures around the world.
The second trend was a desire for parents to have more time with their kids in an uninterrupted manner. Kids are busier than ever. Sports are year round, and in many cases they’re committed to many after-school activities. There are fewer dinners around the table, and parents still want to connect with their kids.
Travel is the perfect antidote to the above two trends. Parents can truly connect with their kids and together enjoy special immersive experiences. At the core of all of our Bridges itineraries is our goal of “shared enrichment” – it underscores everything we do. We remove the logistical challenges of travel so that families can truly connect while having amazing experiences together.
- Do you have any tips for families who would like to start traveling more before their children are grown? What’s the best way to get started and continue to make travel a priority?
Brainstorm with your kids about what their interests are, and consider yours as parents, too. From that, develop a “roadmap” of experiences and places you want to visit.
Also, it’s important to “share the spirit:” a phrase coined by my wife about encouraging parents to really infuse a sense of spirit and wonder into their vacation choices. Kids respond to the enthusiasm and it makes for a more engaging experience together.
- I understand that Tauck offered its first tour in 1925 in New England — a fall foliage tour that still runs today. How has your company managed to succeed and adapt for so many years in an ever-changing industry?
We have been family owned and led since 1925 and that has allowed us to maintain a strong focus on several key values and philosophies. Those include always doing the right thing in a corporate sense, and also maintaining a strong focus on the “details” that are really so crucial to ensuring a memorable and transformative travel experience for our guests.
At the same time, we have always been travel “pioneers” and we keep introducing new ways to travel and fresh perspectives on how to enjoy “old places.” This dual focus on timeless values coupled with a commitment to “always looking ahead” has enabled our company to thrive after 90 years.
And we’re very lucky to have an amazing group of employees who are passionate and committed to what we do.