I originally met Catherine Swan on a trip to Switzerland in 1998. She was the manager of a travel group from suburban Chicago’s Gotlieb Hospital, which had a an active international travel program with a solid reputation. After a dozen years at the helm of Gotlieb Gold, Catherine took the initiative to strike out on her own, forming Galaxy Tours & Travel. This boutique tour operator is known for its customer service and personalized tour planning. Learn Catherine’s story in this edition of Take 5.
What got you into the group travel business?
In 1991, I was director of an adult membership program affiliated with a Chicagoland hospital. I developed a travel program that was part of the services offered to members. It was a successful component of the overall membership program.
How did Galaxy Tours come together?
While providing travel opportunities to the hospital community membership program, I had the fortune of accompanying members on the trips and became exposed to a number of travel companies. After a few years, I found myself working with their tour managers and adapting tours to meet the needs of our members. In 2003, I decided to open Galaxy Tours and Travel and develop my own tours.
What is popular with your travelers?
Without a doubt, our travelers love mystery tours. They often sell out within a week or two. National parks are always a highlight, and our international tours are also quite popular. We have plenty of gamblers, and combinations of a touch of “possible jackpots” and local history generally garner two or three coaches of folks looking for a fun and relaxing three days.
What, in your opinion, keeps travelers coming back?
Galaxy Tours has become a travel family. From the beginning days, we have done our best to make every tour feel like a family reunion. We are aware each tour is a person’s vacation. We have travelers that are on almost every tour we offer, or it may be a bucket-list tour that will be a person’s only trip for years. Regardless of the circumstances, we never leave on tour without the intent to make each tour a memorable one for every person onboard. We also have an annual appreciation banquet that travelers can qualify to attend .
What’s your biggest challenge?
The growth of the company has its moments of being a challenge. We pride ourselves in being a small company that provides a very personal touch. The guides we have used on multiple coach tours complement our sense of family. However, as we continue to grow, the risk of losing that personal connection becomes a challenge. The busier we get, the easier it would be to become a cookie cutter company.
For example, look at a destination and determine the main tourist sights and include those. The end. We do not operate like that and are determined to add a personal element on each of our tours. We take that same destination and look at the main tourist sights and go beyond, developing and including an experiential component to the visit and one that will remain a memory.
Where do you see your business in three to five years?
I would love to see my own family increase its involvement with the company. I have one daughter who manages the technical and social media areas of Galaxy Tours and another daughter who assists with tour research and development and has served as a guide for a number of tours. We provide tours to pre-formed groups as well and would love to share our travel opportunities to areas throughout the Midwest.
Galaxy Tours and Travel