My Story

“Where is Robin now?”

This is a question I get often. Many say I am a wanderlust; a German word from “Wandem and Lust” – a person with an irresistible impulse to travel. I see myself differently, more as a woman on a mission and a goal. The intensive travel that travel people do, usually has a mission, resulting in a purpose, a goal and requiring cross cultural integration, dialogue and mutual benefit. For me, travel is purposeful. I’ve been to 95 countries, and I believe in the goodness of people, the incredible disparity of mankind and the hope and “action” needed for a better future.

I’m astrologically a “Cancer Sign” who loves home. Where is ‘home’? Well, I have lived in Connecticut, the New York region, a melting pot of America, San Francisco, Marin and out on the high seas. I spend much time across the globe, seeking experiential opportunities, opening parts of the world, contributing to cultural and heritage protection, speaking or integrating tourism with UN Goals, yearning and learning for a better world by building on a legacy of responsible tourism.

My German Heritage: Tauck and Tauchnitz

I was born in Fuerstenfeldbruck, Germany in Bavaria near Munich, to Lee and Arthur Tauck. Young Americans stationed at the Lufthwasa Air Force Base in 1955. My parents had a fondness for all things German and Austrian: The Alps, adventure, German ingenuity, frugal practicality. Our family of five was already on a path of discovery in the 1950’s.

Our Von Tauchnitz surname, which hailed from Leipzig Germany, where Bernhard Tauchnitz founded “Tauchnitz Printers” and the famed first paperback novels circulated the globe on transoceanic immigrant passages in the 1890’s. Our family has copies of these fragile antique keepsakes. The family printing plant was bombed in the War.

Perhaps our German ancestry led my family to be educational travel experts, pioneers and storytellers. Our surname was shortened to “Tauck” in 1923 prior to the first American Touring company, which was founded by my grandfather Arthur Tauck Sr, who was just 23 years old.

First Travels and the Lure of the Sea

In 1972, at 17 years old, my wanderlust began with research on World Learning, and The Institute of International Living. I grew up in Wilton, CT, with parents who traveled often. During my high school senior year, I went away to study Spanish and culture in Mexico (not touristic Mexico). This took me to Guadalajara, a World Heritage City; Saltillo, a major manufacturing town; and Zihuatenejo, a key fishing village. This was long before the Cruise Industry even had a dock on the Mexican shoreline. I was a young gal alone with a group, we were not well chaperoned. I lived in homes of Mexican families and I felt safe, nervous yet excited in my learnings. Five decades later in 2013, I gave an ASTA Keynote in Mexico City on the Power of Travel and World Heritage/ UNESCO, speaking of how far we have come in North American tourism and our border countries.

At 21 years old, in 1976, I met Peter Leth, a Danish American who loved ocean sailing and European Architecture and Design. He had many stories being on transatlantic ocean liners as a boy. For Peter’s thesis Project, for Pratt Institute of New York, he built a 30’ wooden Colin Archer 30’ four years on a Danish Island. His Danish heritage was Viking-inspired, and he had sailed from Denmark to the North Sea, Faroe Islands, Canary Islands as far away as Madeira. His boat-building story was featured in Wooden Boat Magazine. The stories fascinated me. We moved to California in search of jobs, a sturdy yacht and world charts. I was ready to follow Peter to any of the Seven Seas. My interest in “discovery” was peaked, there in San Francisco Bay.

Building a Boat – Sailing to 32 Countries

In San Francisco I gained global hotel experience at the “Westin Hotel” on Union Square. Peter and I settled on building a Freya’39 sloop; an Australian design that won the toughest of ocean sailing regattas (the Sydney/ Hobart Race). The Freya Design was the California choice for solo sailors in the 1980’s. We built Hull #39, an ocean-going cruiser. She was strong, seaworthy and fast. We chose traditional navigation, “nothing dependent on electronics or satellites”, and by 1980 I learned to use a sextant, to “heave to” in 15-foot waves, to strap in a harness, and to navigate “solo.”. I fell into the sailor’s life. Weekdays, I was a working hotel professional but at weekends I was out off the Coast.

In 1980 we finished “Jazz” and set sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, navigating together over 9000 miles to 32 countries, across five seas and countless bays. A year long journey started in the Pacific Ocean and ended in the Atlantic. My favorite sealeg was a month in 365 San Blas Islands and crossing the Panama Canal 25 times. Balboa is the crossroads of shipping and yachting. We sailed into the Galapagos, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, later into Cuba, the coasts of Colombia, Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica, during high drug trade years. All my senses were tested to survival on the seas, lack of night beacons and the goal of a safe arrival or finding the next port. It was raw adventure.

This journey created my love of small ships and sailing; islands and archipelagos, discovering treasures and avoiding piracy. Back at home my family were busy building Tauck, the travel company, and little did I know that my 1980 ocean sabbatical would help shape my career, lifelong interests and a tourism path for decades to come.

Family Business – Tauck and Global Expansion

Returning to USA and dual careers in Tauck Tours and Architecture, we settled into the 1990’s growth years. I worked alongside brothers Chuck and Peter, and my Dad Arthur, and so many close friends at our family company. I loved it all, particularly the development of Small Ship Cruising and new travel in Exotic destinations. For me, the lure of Central and South America, Asia-Pacific, Russia, and the Eastern bloc were a calling. With a bold team, we took the adventures of 50,000 people exploring North America, to 100,000 exploring The World. Doubling our business, often under extreme pressure.

I was fascinated by linkages of Operations and Branding / Marketing in a digital age. “Trust” was needed to assure clientele of the great value and depth of access in so many new Tauck experiences… over 100 itineraries. “Customer Service” was always #1 and we stayed close to our customers and communications.

I loved the allure of exceptional itinerary designs of 40 “Yellow Roads of Europe” trips, a dozen plus “Treasure Series of Small Ships”, Egypt & the Middle East, Far East and launching Tauck African Safaris. While never a goal, an accomplishment as a small American Company was how often we were being awarded as Leaders in Experiential Travel, Travel & Leisure Awards, Ernst & Young Entrepreneurship Award and more. As a family together in business this humbled us. At the time, I was EVP Marketing/Brand, Peter Tauck, General Manager and Chuck Tauck, EVP of Global Operations.

In 1997 a baton was passed, and leadership of Tauck Tours changed to Robin and Peter Tauck as Co-Presidents. At the same time our older brother launched a new venture, a 100-acre winery in New York State. A Board of Directors was formed, and our company planned formal 3rd generation “succession” and a governance structure necessary to build into the future.

decades of efforts: developing sustainable tourism

Good citizenship had always been a family value and in 1998 Tauck’s World of Giving was founded. This was a step further. As a company, we were humble, quiet givers never telling our story of Philanthropy for fear of marketing what was “doing the right thing.” With a department called “World of Giving”, we engaged many people, created public private partnerships and inspired employees, guests, and our industry in “giving back. Including shared programs in our National Parks, and respect for our social heritage as a nation. In 2005, we were awarded the Presidential Protection Award at the White House for our program, with 15,000 Tauck volunteers in Yellowstone National Park. I so remember being in the Oval Office and Rose Garden with my father and the 44th President, George Walker Bush.

Today, assuring a company-wide focus and a positive Impact is key to our operations, our purpose and our family values. Tourism Cares was also founded in 1998 under the umbrella of USTOA. Tauck was a founding member. In 2003, we helped Tourism Cares operate its first volunteer events at Ellis Island, Gettysburg and xxxxx. Tourism Cares grew to be the largest non-profit in the US travel industry, operating dozens of give-back events and educational symposiums. I’ve attended over 30 Tourism Cares events with thousands from our industry, working together for days “making a difference”. It was a new concept at the time.

Yet, sustainability was not fully embraced by tourism companies, it was still a fuzzy concept. In 1998 as a Co-President of Tauck, I was determined to change this, seeing the enormous growth of US Tourism and impacts to “places and peoples.” To gain knowledge, I attended the University of Cambridge, Sustainability Leadership Course, learning from the UK & Europeans.

a brave new world: The Millennium

The Year 2000 Millennium was Tauck’s 75th Anniversary, a career highlight. We were operating globally and Tauck Africa and Antarctica launched amidst formidable competitors.

The Y2K Scare was a global threat of our national systems and technology infrastructure, the very foundation of business was my first foray into “Crisis Management”. We immediately created a Crisis Response Network/Team. From that turning point and despite dozens of critical crisis, we were well prepared and we tested resiliency with new algorithms, analysis and data.

As Co-President, I was travelling 130 days per year, some 28 trips per year. No Skype or Zoom. A Blackberry was my soulmate and connected me. Business was built by personal relationships, trust and the confidence in “building a following”, principles set long ago by my grandfather.

The Millennium was #1 “Sustainable Tourism Summit” held prior to the Travel Weekly Pebble Beach Leaders Event. Over 100 travel leaders came to the brand-new Institute at Golden Gate, including USTOA, ASTA, ICTA, CLIA. The Bay Area is innovative, with forward thinking citizens, tech companies and some of the best and brightest philanthropists. We began a “Future of Responsible Travel in the 21st Century”.

It was again, a new concept.

Global Growth & Resiliency 

September 11, 2001 changed our World. America was shaken and nearly brought to its knees with the horrific 9/11 Attack on World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It shook our world and changed everything. My faith in cross cultural peace was shaken. Living in the NY/NJ/CT area was traumatic. It took many years to rebound and restore hope, but America was strong. Through “Save America’s Treasures” with the Clinton Administration and the National Trust, a “gift” of the Twin Towers 1972 Architectural Model was procured for the envisioned 9/11 Museum. I worked on the 9/11 Auditorium Capital Campaign to build programming of Cross Cultural Understanding and Resilience, which gave a long Oral History to the Museum.

More terrorism years followed. Crisis Management and Resiliency, diversification and new thinking became a priority. By the recovery of 2004-06; after impact of Anthrax attacks, SARS epidemic, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the resilience and travel savvy of the American people gained confidence to travel again. Like many operators, we had social enterprises and cultural exchanges in more remote areas. Most notably we purposely created connections in predominantly Arab or Muslim nations, where misunderstandings created an immediate calling for inter-cultural, inter-personal gatherings and discussion. 

World Heritage & Understanding

In 2008 I was honored to become a US-UNESCO Commissioner. I was invited by, then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton to join the State Departments’ World Heritage Commission. I had just returned from Egypt, Jordan, and Israel during the December 2007 Gaza War Conflict. Change was in the air as President Barack Obama’s Inauguration took place in January 2008 while I was concurrently in Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It was a time I will always remember.

Secretary Clinton could see the importance of the Travel Industry and the future state and potential fate of World Heritage sites. UNESCO inscriptions neared 1000 sites for the first time in 2010. This led me to a decade of working on The Impact of Travel to World Heritage Sites and Communities. I attended global sessions of the World Heritage Commission with 193 nations and I had experience on the Board of US- ICOMOS, and UN World Heritage Commission in Paris, New York & Washington DC. Imagine having the opportunity to testify for Tanzania’s Serengeti & Migration (from mining roads) the Galapagos Islands (from overfishing), and Iraqi & Syrian Sites (from war & destruction). Tourism sites that would be changed forever without intervention from the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Today our planet has 1,121 World heritage sites and more to be inscribed and the List of Endangered Sites is at 53 treasured sites. It is up to us to set the direction for the future.
Tourism, management planning and sustainability are opportunities for each heritage site.

Family Foundations – Building a Better Future together

A great source of pride for me is the way in which my family has embraced the principle of continuously working with others, for others, through our Tauck Family Foundation. In 2019 we celebrated 25 years, and today our Board is a majority of 4th generation members. I greatly value my time working over the past 20 years working with our Foundation boards that have family members from 90 to 9 years old! What a learning and sharing experience. We get deep into Community issues, building hope based on common values and purpose. Importantly, our respect for diversity ensures that we listen, listen, listen, to crucial needs in schools and in families. Together we have tackled complicated issues with measurability in positive child outcomes.

My heart has always been pulled towards “cross cultural” dialogue, supporting new, innovative concepts to develop mutual respect and tolerance among nations, vital to world peace. This is why, in 2007, I launched the TRIP Foundation (Tauck Ritzau Innovative Philanthropy) with a mission on “Culture Matters.” Our local, national and global efforts are often tied to thinktanks and partnerships in World Heritage Communities, Arts & Culture and Advocacy for Economic Development. TRIP has supported the WTTC “Tourism for Tomorrow” Awards, in “Destination Stewardship” and “Changemaker” Awards to elevate the profile of outstanding examples of sustainable tourism protecting endangered wildlife, local cultures and treasured sites.

Through my life, family and family goals in stewardship, volunteering and working hard at real impact have always motivated me. Today, a particular joy is working side by side with my daughter, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters as we take on tough multi-year challenges. Sometimes, we can all feel so insignificant yet young Greta Thunberg reminds us, “we can all make a difference.”

Multi-Generational, Cross Cultural voice

By 2015, and 35-years in my career, I took an opportunity for new balance and perspective. My path would take me to collaborating with the entire industry, on cross-cultural impact and UN goals. I dedicated more time to learning of multi-generational 100-year family businesses. I am working on our 4th generation planning, alongside my brothers and sisters. It’s time for multi-generational work and this has become a meaningful chapter of my life.

As an industry, we focus on our Oceans and Nations, and the impact of Climate Change. I was pleased to attend the “Travel Industry Leaders Climate Action Summit” at 2019 UN Week in New York. This industry committed a plan for Action.

Today, Global Impact at Tourism Cares, is a pivotal change-maker in social enterprises and tourism networking in key and emerging destinations. “Turismo Cuida” in Peru, a sister-organization to Tourism Cares in the USA is thriving. We made significant disaster recovery grants to Myanmar, Nepal, Mexico, Caribbean, who were suffering from natural disasters. We launched the “Meaningful Travel Platform.” The American tourism industry shows “We Care” in Jordan, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Colombia.

A new generation joins us and I so look forward to the future. As Chairman and in our 20th year (2020), we’ve evolved a new leadership team focused on social enterprise, education and the UN SDGS. With 184 travel companies, we are and always will be, united together to “do good.”

my most loved journey

Often I am asked, what is your favorite place in the world? My answer is not a country, nor a special region, but rather: “The Art of Navigating to Places Unknown”. Reflecting on my life I can absolutely say that I have lived a blessed life. My journeys have taken me near and far, and yet I have always felt a deep sense of ‘home’ wherever I may be.

One journey in particular, however, has been my proudest: becoming a mother. Returning to USA in 1986 with dual careers in Tourism and Architecture, we settled into a real home and soon welcomed our Colleen Ritzau Leth. Since her birth, the journey of motherhood has been one of the richest and most rewarding adventures of my entire life.

Colleen grew up as a fascinated, dancing child loving nature and people, a traveller from a young child. She demonstrates daily her carrying, proudly, her Scandinavian-American spirit and identity, at the leading edge of our 4th generation of Tauck family. Together we have undertaken discoveries across the globe that have elevated our love of art, culture and community. I am excited about all we still have yet to share.

looking forward with confidence

As with us all, my story continues – there are so many places I wish to explore, communities I hope to support, meaningful impact I hope to make; and new family dreams. Like you, I am a firm believer of using our lives to help the lives of others. Now
more than ever those words ring true. As I write this, we are into the closing months of 2020. This year is ‘unprecedented’ and ‘beyond fiction’. All of the fresh, excited hope and optimism we had in the New Year of the Roaring 20’s were rapidly eclipsed by a
deadly virus. Before we knew, tragic deaths were mounting, borders closing, air fleets and ships grounded and my beloved Travel & Tourism industry stopped. Health and safety absolute priorities for all of mankind.

Back in 2017 the UNWTO anticipated that by 2030, the year to fulfill UN Global Goals, global travel would reach 1.8 billion. We had every reason to believe. Now it could be a few years by the time global aviation – the critical artery of travel and trade – recovers to 2019 rates of activity. And this says nothing about the small businesses that depend on us, those local traders, artisan, and millions of hospitality doors that represent over 80% of the supply chains of travel.

But this is not our first crisis, and it will not be our last. Saying that, for our family business… 2020 was anticipated to be a smooth runway towards our centenary in 2025, our upcoming 100th year. But we are open, working hard, helping guests with questions, and booking travel in 2021 and 2022 that is outpacing previous years.
People are dreaming and planning. Great sparks of hope and silver linings – trust, confidence and hope. Optimism is paramount. Travel will come back. Why? Because our world needs travel, not just economically, but for all the good that it brings the lives of people. As seen this year, Travel & Tourism is now seen as a critical part of global recovery.

We will be back.  And our story will continue.

Thank you for reading my story.