Coffee Time with Industry Vets: John Caldwell

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John ziplining in Costa Rica.
John ziplining in Costa Rica.

Think you know John Caldwell, think again….

There’s more to John Caldwell, president of Delta Vacations, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask him those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the man behind the suit.

Before he began his tenure as president of Delta Vacations, and before he held a variety of leadership roles within the sales and marketing divisions of both Delta and Northwest Airlines, John went to college to become a pilot. After deciding that he preferred working in marketing and sales, John joined Northwest Orient, and the rest is history.

Through the years under John’s direction, MLT Vacations, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, which manages Delta Vacations, has been recognized for delivering best-in-class customer service, industry-leading education opportunities and innovative technology resources. These days, John is able to travel the world with his wife and children, but his first big trip involved a camping trip to France and Germany where John, along with his brother and father, slept in parking lots and in farmers’ fields surviving on $5 a day. He’s an adventurous soul with plenty more experiences and destinations to mark off his bucket list, but we’ll let him explain in this installment of our Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
The first big trip I can remember was a camping trip to France and Germany when I was 7 years old. I remember my father had a book on how to travel around Europe on $5 per day, and I think he accomplished it! I think my brother and I slept in every parking lot and farmer’s field that would allow a tent.

What was your most vivid travel memory?
Four years ago, I took my family to South Africa, and we went on a safari in the Manyeleti Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. There’s no question this was the most interesting and educational vacation we had ever been on. The people, food, culture and, of course, the wildlife exceeded our highest expectations. This is simply a must-do bucket list trip for everyone!

What was the “aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
I actually went to college to become a pilot, not because of the travel benefits, but because I thought it would be really cool to fly airplanes for a living. When I graduated with my business degree and my commercial pilot’s license, I decided that I’d rather work in marketing and sales versus flying airplanes. That’s when I joined Northwest Orient, and the rest is history. I quickly learned that working in marketing and sales in the airline industry was just as interesting and exciting as the associated travel benefits. It was the best of both worlds, I guess.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
My wife and I went to Grand Cayman and stayed at the former Radisson Resort on Seven Mile Beach. We had an amazing time and have been back to enjoy Grand Cayman with my family several times over the years.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
My family and I went on a Princess cruise to Alaska. We started in Vancouver and hit all the great inland waterway attractions including Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Juneau and ending in Whittier. What made it so special was the seemingly endless beauty and wildlife, which never stopped for seven straight days. Our family rated this trip the second best all-time behind our safari! Very high praise indeed.

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
We are planning on visiting Australia over the Christmas/New Year holiday. We’ll hit Sydney and then head up to Cairns and take a 4-day cruise on the Great Barrier Reef where we plan to do some serious snorkeling. My long-term bucket list is an Antarctic voyage!

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
I’m not a big shopper myself—so I rarely purchase items when I’m traveling. My family, however, usually picks up a few things.

Can you tell us – do you collect magnets from the destination you’ve visited?
Sorry, I’m not a magnet guy!

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
Catch up on the news if I have WiFi, work, sleep and watch movies.

John with his wife in Alaska.
John with his wife in Alaska.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My wife and our two children—who are now adults—are my favorite travel companions. My father took our family around the world when I was young, and I made a commitment to myself that I would do the same for my family, which I have been fortunate to be able to do. Now my kids want to continue to travel, which is a great tradition to hand down!

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be.
Inn at Spanish Bay, a Pebble Beach Resorts’ property. The golf, amazing views, and Monterey—what a great spot!

If you were a destination what would it be and why?
New York! You get a little bit of everything—attitude, fun, culture, energy and great food!

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
Sushi and sashimi at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. The food I had there at 5 a.m. in the morning was the best sashimi I have ever had and some of the strangest!

What can’t you travel without?
For me, I like to keep it simple with a great read.

Who is the most interesting person you have met while traveling?
I’d say the Emperor of Japan. I didn’t meet him personally, but we happened to be walking with thousands of people through the royal palace to celebrate his birthday, and he came out in the square just as my family and I entered. If it would have been one minute before or after, we would have missed him. He thanked us for celebrating his birthday and went back inside.

Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
Beach if I have to choose…but I love them both!

City or Countryside?
That’s a really tough decision depending on my mood, but I’d choose the countryside if pushed. There’s nothing quite like rolling hills, fresh air and peace and quiet!