Coffee Time with Industry Vets: Jennifer Tombaugh

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Jennifer with Dayton Duncan and Gerard Baker. Jennifer works with filmmaker Ken Burns, of whom Dayton is a longtime collaborator. Baker is a Mandan-Hidatsa Indian whose pray chant gave Jennifer goosebumps during a trip in Yellowstone. 
Jennifer with Dayton Duncan (left)  and Gerard Baker (right). 

Think you know Jennifer Tombaugh, think again….

There’s more to Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask her those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the woman behind the suit.

That’s right, we are proud to publish our first Coffee Time Q&A with a female executive—and what better person to lead the charge than the woman who oversees the worldwide operations, general management, reservations, guest relations plus sales and marketing teams for Tauck, a U.S.-based tour operator covering land, sea and river. Over her 14 years at Tauck, Jennifer has worked her way up the ranks serving in roles that have included the launch of Tauck Bridges (family travel brand), the redesign of Tauck’s reservation systems, a re-launch of and the formation of Tauck Ventures, which focuses on new business development. Jennifer also spearheaded Tauck’s partnership with filmmaker Ken Burns and his co-producer Dayton Duncan to form Ken Burns American Journeys. That being said, Jennifer is no stranger to great achievements having worked as group account director with the advertising firm Leo Burnett in Taipei, Taiwan; trekked up the 17,769-ft. Thorong La Pass in Nepal; and given birth to four children. Yes, Jennifer has moxie, but we’ll let her explain in this edition of Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
At least from memory, my first major trip was to visit my mother’s family in Germany’s Black Forest. I was four.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
The multi-hour plodding up Thorong La Pass (17,769 ft.) on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. When I delivered my first son, I thought if I did that, I can do this.

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
I’ve always had a passion for travel, growing up in West Virginia to a German mother and a father who always prioritized travel in our limited family budget. My first taste of the industry was running the Let’s Go Travel student agency in college. It wasn’t until I learned about Tauck that I realized you could actually make a wonderful career out of something you love.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
The Amalfi Coast, Crete and Santorini.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
Anywhere with my four kids. Last year, we canvassed New Mexico, learning about their relative Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto, spending a magical Christmas Eve in Santa Fe and sliding down the dunes at White Sands National Park. We’re fortunate to have visited so many places, and we often forget how amazing our own country is.

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
Bhutan, Mongolia, Botswana.

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
No. The best souvenirs are photos and memories. I try to keep a travel journal instead.

You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
No. No room on the fridge from all the kids’ artwork!

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
Read, read, read. Stacks of New Yorker magazines, and a book or two.

Jennifer with one of her children, ice skating in Paris.
Jennifer ice skating with one of her children in Paris.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My family.

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
Anything lake-facing at the Schweizerhof Luzern.

If you were a destination, which would it be and why?
A place that brings fascinating people together, puts a smile on their face, makes them feel comfortable, and provides great food and wine….Umbria?

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
There’s not enough space for the list of “best”. The strangest was sea cucumber in Taiwan, where I lived for three years. I eat almost anything; that I couldn’t.

What can’t you travel without?
Eye shades. I’m always trying to catch sleep wherever I can.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
Gerard Baker, a Mandan-Hidatsa Indian, who chanted a prayer on a full moon night in the snows of January at Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Goosebumps. He collaborated with our partners Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” film. I’ve learned so much about our country, before it was, from him.

Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
The little village at the base of the mountain, ideally in Switzerland.

City or countryside?