Collette to resume New Orleans, Gulf Coast tours

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- In 1972, Daniel Sullivan, Jr. visited New Orleans for the first time and it became one of his favorite places ... he loved the music, the great variety of restaurants and the rich cultural melting pot of the 300-year-old city.

It was also the year Collette Tours -- which was run by Sullivan's father, Daniel Sr., at the time -- started running a regular series of tours to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. According to Sullivan, that series turned into one of the perennial favorites of Collette's clientele.

So when New Orleans was hit with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Sullivan, now president and CEO of Collette Vacations and a major participant in industry restoration projects like Tourism Cares for Tomorrow, a charitable foundation formed by the Travelers Conservation Foundation and the National Tourism Foundation, couldn't just stand by and do nothing.

"When Katrina first hit and devastation was all you were hearing, Dan stood up and said, 'We will be back in New Orleans in the spring!' " said Cyndi Zesk, Collette's vice president of marketing. "I think at the time people thought he was crazy. But he kept right on top of it, kept looking at how he could get [Collette] back in there. And he was true to his passion. We're going back and we're bringing both tours."

This spring, Collette is reinstating its New Orleans Getaway, which journeys through the city, as well as its New Orleans and the Deep South itinerary, which includes surrounding areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Since post-Katrina recovery is still ongoing in those areas, the company is donating all the profits from the tours to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund of the American Red Cross.

"Our clients love the Cajun culture. We take them to Lafayette [La.] for a Cajun dinner. We take them to Preservation Hall so they can enjoy the entertainment that captures the flavor of New Orleans. We want to get people down to play up that heritage," said Sullivan. "Hopefully the rest of the industry will join in and do similar things. Once we get tourism flowing and the economy going, great things can happen."

Of course, adjustments had to be made in the itineraries. "We had to make changes because Biloxi, Miss. is not ready yet [for an overnight stay]," said Zesk. "But we're still going out and visiting, still going shrimp boating. But then we go back and overnight in New Orleans."

To get things started, Sullivan himself will go back to being a tour director when the company holds an event with the New Orleans Metropolitan CVB. On Jan. 27, Sullivan will guide a tour showing the progress of the rebuilding efforts. Regular departures will resume in spring at a date yet to be announced.

For more information, contact Collette at (800) 340-5158.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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