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All That Jazz: With Tauck and Ken Burns in New Orleans
As I was riding to the New Orleans airport after Tauck’s Ken Burns Jazz Event last week, I found myself discussing the company with other participants. The shuttle was provided by Tauck, the last extension of the velvet glove that had enveloped us during the entire time we were under the care of the Tauck team. They watched over, managed and supervised every part of the event until that dreaded moment when we confronted the TSA security checkpoint, which unfortunately we had to do on our own.
During conversation I found myself saying: “Tauck doesn’t miss a trick. The company has it all, from the high-minded overarching vision down to the management of every detail. They really know what they are doing.”
Tauck’s original vision came in 1925 from Arthur Tauck Sr., a bright young inventor of a coin tray, who had traded the inventor’s hat for that of a traveling salesman as he tried to sell his coin trays to banks. He got the idea for taking tour groups with him so he could share his discoveries on the road. He advertised in the paper for tour companions by saying: “All I want is a congenial party, no grouches.”
Arthur Tauck Jr., who took over the company in the 1950s when he was in his 20s, greatly elaborated on that vision. The next generation, under Arthur Jr.’s guidance, took it global, and the newest Tauck executive team is continuing to expand and enhance that vision, finding new ways to apply the essential elements of the model.
Tauck’s “congenial party” model included the element of discovery, with the initiated (the guides) sharing the wonders of a destination with the newcomers. Those elements are still a major part of Tauck’s products today as the company retools its tour operation model for event management. Learning experiences are the secret ingredient of touring. It’s what everyone wants, but you can’t use the word “educational” in marketing because it reminds people of school, which can be a downer.
Touring and events are closely related and have always been part of the product of tour operators of which Tauck is one of the prototypes. The word “tour” was degraded in the public imagination by images of dull, mechanical movements of mobs of people through tourist sites, but the actual service of tour operators fits many descriptions layered together. It’s a party and it’s also a class with the whole world as your classroom. It’s a tour, moving a group through an itinerary, and it’s an event.
Tauck now offers a number of special events, and they differ from traditional tours primarily in the fact that they stay in one place and explore it in relation to a specific theme or field of interest. They are structured like hub-and-spoke tours, staking out a headquarters from which to make daily forays into the surrounding area. Guests can get comfortable in one room and not have to re-pack and move. Rather than touring the “must-see attractions” that define a destination in the tourism world, the sightseeing is unified around a theme. The Ken Burns Jazz event was built around the music and the Ken Burns’ film series. New Orleans was the headquarters because it was the birthplace of the music, a fact that became increasingly clear as the event progressed.
Tauck has used the skills and knowledge it has developed for more than 85 years to manage these events, with some new organizational techniques to manage large groups. At the Jazz event, Tauck had 200 guests, and it divided them into six groups of about 33 each. The groups moved separately through a sightseeing track in the daytime and gathered together at night for large events, such as Ken Burns’ keynote address, a lecture by experts on jazz and the city of New Orleans, or performances by Ellis Marsalis or Donald Harrison and their bands. Tauck achieves economies of scale by having 200 participants so it can provide high-quality musicians and lecturers and arrange functions in special venues.
Bottom line, of course, is the customer experience. I have enjoyed and studied music my whole life, and have taken years of private piano lessons and sometimes played professionally, and yet this experience significantly expanded my understanding and appreciation of jazz and its history. And as with all the best trips, what I learned will always be with me. It will fuel further exploration and will always be a place in my mind I can return to. The lectures, performances, visits to sites and museums (I won’t mention the food, which was great) were a tremendous amount to absorb over a few days, and I’ll be assimilating it for a long time even as I continue to pursue the lines of inquiry that were enlivened by the experience. Bravo Tauck. You’ve done it again!
About David Cogswell
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