Tour Insights: Central Holidays Expanding in a Climate of Uncertainty
Central Holidays, the 44-year old New Jersey-based tour operator, is undergoing a major expansion, but at the same time that the company is investing in greatly broadening its offerings and operations, the overall tourism outlook is clouded by the specter of terrorism.
Acts of violence that have erupted in a variety of popular tourist destinations, including Paris, Istanbul, Cairo and Jerusalem, not to mention random shootings in places like San Bernardino, have made travelers nervous, and it is affecting the bottom lines of tour operators.
Last August, in what could be considered an unfortunately timed move, Central Holidays’ parent company Sakkara Group International (SGI) opened a new office in Paris called Central Holidays France, as part of a broad ongoing expansion since SGI purchased the company in 2012.
“The reality is that travel to Europe has been highly affected by the recent acts of terrorism,” said ,” said Gianni Miradoli, CEO of Central Holidays. “The recent attack in Istanbul will only increase the fear to travel to Europe and in particular to Turkey.”
The company has seen a slowing of bookings to Europe and some cancellations. With the U.S. presidential election coming in 2016, which typically puts a damper on the travel industry, Miradoli said he does not expect it to be a great year for travel to Europe.
“We are hopeful looking toward the latter part of the year to see a possible recovery if the situation on the security and safety side improves.” he said.
Full Speed Ahead
One possible reaction to increased caution on the part of travelers would be increased caution on the part of the tour operator, to pull back. Central Holidays is taking the opposite approach and expanding vigorously.
“A great advantage for us is our vast breadth of product,” said Miradoli. “If a traveler simply does not want to go to a particular destination at this time we can help them decide on a different destination and deliver the vacation they are looking for – albeit in possibly a different destination.”
The company is also placing its long-term bets in favor of the strong desire of travelers to get back out there.
“We are seeing resilience from most travelers already booked who are looking forward to their travels,” said Miradoli, “though they are asking more questions and are more aware of their surroundings.”
For Central Holidays, diversification is the key. The company recently launched a global expansion offering a range of new programs not only in its historical base destinations of Europe and the Mediterranean, but also new programs in Africa, Asia and Cuba.
The company recently launched a brand new Latin America division, offering programs for Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Bolivia, Chile, Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Uruguay.
The company is also expanding its adventure and active vacations options. In keeping with current travel trends, the company’s new offerings are designed to be “authentic and unique, one-of-a-kind experiences,” according to Miradoli.
These changes came on the heels of a major expansion in 2014, when the company introduced three new brands, including its custom travel brand Journeys By Central Holidays; an adventure travel series called Outdoor Journeys; and Costa Cruise Tours, a series of air, land and cruise packages with three-night pre-cruise land experiences in the destinations where Costa Cruises embarks and disembarks, including Civitavecchia and Savona, Italy; Marseilles, France; and Barcelona, Spain.
Strength from History and Experience
Though well aware of instability in the marketplace, Central Holidays is undaunted as it moves into an uncertain future. Part of its confidence is based on the financial strength of its parent company, and part of it is based in the company’s long history, its deep experience and a strong business infrastructure built over four decades.
Central Holidays has weathered countless ups and downs in the marketplace since it was founded in 1972 by Joe and Fred Berardo.
The Berardos were successful insurance salesmen working for Metropolitan Life when some friends asked them for assistance in making plans for a ski holiday to Italy. Joe and Fred had immigrated to the U.S. from Italy when they were teenagers, but still had family and friends that could help them in planning a trip to Italy.
To the Berardos, Italy was not just the world’s most popular tourist destination, it was home. Italian culture was also their family culture.
It didn’t take long for the Berardos to realize they enjoyed planning vacations more than selling insurance, and that was the beginning of Central Holidays. The set up an office on Central Avenue in Jersey City, from which they derived the name of their business, and the company thrived.
Joe and Fred Berardo ran the company until 2012, when they retired and sold it to SGI. In looking toward the future, it derives strength and confidence from its history of success. The market always comes back.
“For us, the outlook is strong,” said Miradoli. “Much of this is due to our nearly endless range of travel products, but what sets us even further apart is our specialized destination knowledge that gives travelers the opportunities to have one-of-a-kind experiences in each place they visit with us.
“It gives them peace of mind that they are traveling with an established family of brands with international staff that will support them every step of the way, from the planning phase, throughout their travels, and after they return home to start planning their next vacation.”
More by David Cogswell
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