When I was a young boy living in Emmen, I was always wandering off. My mother sewed tags to all my clothing, with my name and phone number, so that I would always find my way back home. My early fascination with cars and trucks made it no surprise that when we arrived in Canada I went to work at a car dealership in Guelph, Ontario. I worked for Tom Hardy’s Pontiac & Buick and then for Morris Pitman’s Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. Starting as their mechanic I worked up to the Shop Foreman and then to Assistant Service Manager. I could finally drive these dream machines.
Around this time, I met a gentleman by the name of Dick Elliott. He had a bus company and asked me to drive a bus for him on a part time basis. That developed into a full time job that changed my life. I drove a coach for over 10 years and this experience turned out to be my stepping stone into the travel industry.
Eventually, I went to work for Mat Leidl and Dave Huddle, who owned United Trails Coach Company and All Star Tours and spent the next 17 years either driving coaches all over North America or back in the office planning the coach tours. Mat and Dave taught me so much and I loved sharing my many experiences with so many great people. It was an amazing time. At that time, the cost you paid for the trip covered the room and board and a seat on the coach. Anything else was considered an extra cost and to be totally honest, I didn’t like always standing with my hand out collecting the guest’s money. Finally one day I went to Dave and Mat with a list of suggestions I thought would enhance the guest’s experience. The first point I had, and one which I felt strongly about, was to ask the guest to pay for everything up front, including the gratuities, meals and tax. They thought I had finally fallen off the deep end and recommended that perhaps I should start my own operation. So Anneka and I did just that. That was back in 1980 and I still have that original list!
Since that time, Anneka and I have never looked back. We introduced our early guests to coach and cruise journeys. We would drive to New York and on the way, would spend a night at a lovely family-owned hotel. When we arrived in New York, Anneka would bring the guests onboard the ship while I went and put the coach into storage during our one week cruise to Bermuda and back. We then expanded into long stay journeys to Portugal and Spain with Jose Duarte during the winter months. It was actually Jose who first introduced the idea of European river cruising to us. This turned out to be the start of a whole new era, not only for us but also for the travel industry. Up until that time, travel to Europe meant 7 countries in seven days with days starting at the crack of dawn and ending as the sun set. Each day involved travel by coach during the day, and unpacking every night, only to do it all over again the next day. Anneka and I both knew there had to be a better way and we were going to find it!