November 9, 2009 —
Although the travel industry has hardly escaped being marred by bad economic times, a new website meant to motivate “heritage- and culture-rich experiences” thinks this is a great moment to launch. Gozaic.com (go-zay-ik) offers insights and guided tours on destinations around the world—from the Maya Ruins to San Francisco to the Cape of Good Hope.
With beach bumming behind us for now, we met up with Gozaic’s Amtrak-roving president and CEO John Williams for his top winter recommendations on public transit accessible “places that matter” near NYC.
oM: You have a degree from Harvard Law School, and previously lead the Platinum Card and Consumer Travel Network as SVP at American Express. Why did you get involved with Gozaic?
JW: Leading the effort to build Gozaic was a culmination of everything I’ve done over the last 20 plus years. I’ve served on the board at the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston, and Prep-for-Prep as well in New York City. I’m a baby boomer, making transitions in life and looking for meaningful experiences in travel. The National Trust for Historic Preservation reached out to me, and I raised my hand and said, ‘Yes, you bet.’
oM: Just so we’re clear, since you do live in Boston now, you are in fact a Yankees fan?
JW: I grew up in Long Island, and lived in New Rochelle for 16 years. Yes, I am a Yankees fan, and thrilled they took game six. I’ve lived in Boston since 2000, and take Amtrak weekly to D.C. and often to New York. I highly recommend ACELA between those cities.
oM: Okay good, we can continue the interview now. Where did the idea for Gozaic come from and how long had the site been in the works before it launched this fall?
JW: The National Trust, which is just celebrating its 60th anniversary, was created by congress to advocate the protection of “places that matter.” The Gozaic program has been long in the development, but I’d say we’ve been preparing the launch for a little more than a year. We work with 3rd party content providers, an editorial staff, and rely heavily on the community; there are already over 5,000 registered members.
oM: You weren’t concerned at all about the timing of the launch?
JW: The consumer market has responded well. 40% of leisure travelers are actively engaged in heritage culture acitivities. Our customers are people who are mindful in their travel; for them, it’s more than just recreation. They’re looking for life enriching experiences, things they can learn from, places to visit that are historically significant. In challenging economic times, heritage and cultural tourism is popular because historic sites and museums are inexpensive. Entry fees to house museums are free or $3, which is far less than a water park or theme park.
oM: What are some of your favorite heritage – and culture-rich destinations worth visiting over winter?
JW: In addition to the Lower East side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, I’d suggest taking Metro North to Tarrytown, where you’ll find two historic sites, Kykuit, a Rockefeller estate, and Lyndhurst, a beautiful castle built in 1838. I’d also say take New Jersey Transit to Princeton, which is really a lovely town anytime of year. It’s an active college community and has a tremendous amount of history. Leaving Penn Station on Amtrak, go to Boston for the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile guided walking tour which passes 16 historic landmarks. And the Museum of African American History provides fascinating insights on the history of African Americans in Beacon Hill. I’d put Philly on that list but it might be too soon after the World Series. . . I used to take family vacations in Colonial Williamsburg. It’s on the Amtrak line and is a wonderful Thanksgiving destination.
For more information on “places that matter” near NYC and beyond, visit gozaic.com.
The co-founder and editor-at-large at offMetro, Lauren is a sustainable travel specialist and freelance journalist with frequent bylines in National Geographic, Bicycling Magazine and Shape. Follow Lauren’s adventures at @laurenmati.