Collette turns 100, looks toward expanding existing city headquarters

Collette turns 100, looks toward expanding existing city headquarters

Collette volunteer Lesley Humphreys, of New York, takes a cup of rice and a scoop of dehydrated vegetables, which she pours into a funnel along with soy protein and flour that fills a food bag. Rhode Island-based tour operator Collette celebrated 100 years in business in 2018 by partnering with Rise Against Hunger to provide meals to those in need around the globe. The entire tour manager and sales teams from around the world gathered at the Rhode Island Convention Center on Jan. 11 to package approximately 50,000 meals for shipment. (Breeze photos by Charles Lawrence)

PAWTUCKET – When current Collette CEO Dan Sullivan Jr.’s father, Dan Sullivan Sr., bought Collette Travel from Jack Collette in 1962, there were a grand total of three full-time employees and three tour guides.

If employees stepped backward, they risked falling down the open stairs to the basement, jokes Alice Sullivan, chairwoman of the board for the company.

Today, that company first started a century ago, during the year the Red Sox won the World Series, has grown to 489 workers in Pawtucket and 648 total employees around the globe.

This month, the company is celebrating its 100th birthday with an outward focus, particularly on the many people who have helped bring it to where it is today. As part of a corporate social responsibility initiative, the company partnered with Rise Against Hunger in an effort to provide 1 million meals to those in need around the globe.

Collette is holding a month full of events to celebrate 100 years, including a global travel summit and gala focused on recognizing the customers, employees, travel agents, group leaders, tour managers and others who have supported the company.

With nearly 500 employees now working in two buildings on Middle Street, one at 180 Middle and another at 162 Middle, the company is doing everything it can to maximize space, including knocking down walls, said Amelia Sugerman, public relations manager at Collette.

The company purchased a third building at 90 Middle St. in 2015 and is considering options for expanding into that structure in the future, said Sugerman. The travel industry remains a volatile one, so it’s difficult to predict even the near future for a company such as this one, she added.

The 90 Middle St. building is currently used for storage as a warehouse and covers nearly 25,000 square feet.

The company has continued to grow and flourish in part because it listens to its customers about what they want and goes “back to the drawing board” if needed, said Sugerman.

Dan Sullivan, co-chairman of the Pawtucket Foundation and an outspoken proponent of keeping the Pawtucket Red Sox in Pawtucket through partial state and local financing of a new downtown stadium, remains committed to this city as Collette’s home, said Sugerman.

“We’re proud to be celebrating 100 years as the longest running tour operator in North America, and to call Pawtucket our home,” said Sullivan in a statement. “Our guests, travel agents, group leaders, and partners are the reason why we’re here today. We couldn’t have made it without them.”

This year, Collette executives expect to add another 50 jobs around the globe, as well as to launch more new products.

The headquarters for the guided travel tour company is situated near the banks of the Blackstone River, just upstream from where the American Industrial Revolution began at the Slater Mill.

Now in its third generation of ownership, Collette has members of the Sullivan family representing it throughout product, sales and marketing roles.

The company offers a variety of travel styles, including small groups, single hotel stays, faith-based experiences, river cruises, and rail journeys. Tours are offered on all seven continents. Collette founded its global foundation in 2007, and employees have given more than 5,000 hours of volunteer time to various organizations in the last year.

The following is a brief timeline of Collette’s history:

• 1918 – The first tour, a 21-day jitney bus trip to Florida. Cost: $68.50.

• 1940s – Dan Sullivan Sr. started working for New England Transportation and met Jack Collette.

• 1960s – Jack Collette sold Collette to Dan Sullivan Sr. and his brother-in-law, Arthur McWilliam.

• 1980s – Opened their first international office in Toronto, Canada.

• 1990s – Dan Sullivan Jr. became CEO.

• 2000s – The Collette Foundation was launched.

• 2018 – Collette celebrates its centennial anniversary, “100 years of business, 100 years of exploration, and 100 years of happy travelers.”

Thirty-six bags are placed in boxes ready to be delivered to Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization.
Ben Desmarais carries a big bag of rice to refill the filling stations.