MY EIGHT WONDERS OF THE WORLD

The days are distinctively shorter, the evenings tinged with a chill, and the trees are shedding shades of brown: for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is certainly here. I love this time of year, as during a period of three months, I will visit five continents, supporting our remarkable Trafalgar Tribe with the launch of our 2018 Europe and Britain offering. Part-way through the big trips, there is already a child-like feeling that during my sleepless, jet-lagged nights, my mind and heart race as I reflect on the places I’m fortunate to have been to and those places where I want to go.

For those of us born into travel, it is our business to know the next hotspots – what’s trending – for who and why, where the ‘in crowd’ go and where the who’s who is doing you know what.  In fact, it I am frequently asked by friends, family, colleagues and curious media alike, “what are your favourite places?”

We know that travel and what drives us to certain places is innately personal. The spectrum of choices for travellers literally stretches across a world of experiences, emotions, end-goals. And with the expansion of the travel industry’s reach through technology, ever-expanding airports and airline routes to places we never knew we needed to go to, today there is just about nowhere out of reach.

Clearly subjective choices, my motivation for considering these eight wonders of my world varies considerably, though the immense opportunity for discovery is the common connection. The voyage of doing, seeing, living and breathing places for the first time are some of the abundant reasons I adore travelling.  My passion for travel extends so greatly that I don’t subscribe to never visiting the same place twice (or more) – I firmly believe there are many places worth revisiting over and over again. As I set out my intention for 2017 to embrace meaningful travel experiences, I’ve also embraced the privilege I have of being able to go where Trafalgar, or I, personally, can make a difference.

Without further ado, from 30,000 plus feet, here are my current sleep-deprived eight wonders:

Number 1: Paris FRANCE

I have been countless times, but the city of light never fails to set me aglow. I am forever in awe of its ability to make me fall in love with it… again and again… and again. A stroll along the Seine or indeed anywhere in Paris enlivens and seduces every sense. Every parting is a sweet sorrow…. until I return once more. What more can I say? Paris is always a good idea (an Audrey Hepburn quote).

Number 2: EGYPT

It’s time to return. I emphatically believe this. As a traveler with an inherent love for ancient history, Egypt never fails to deliver. A country over 5000 years old, it forever remains a place that made, and continues to make, profound history. In 2018, the incredible Grand Egyptian Museum will open, showcasing the Ancient World’s riches right on the edge of the Great Pyramids. Perspective is critical in Egypt. To see the treasures from land is breathtaking. To see them again from the vantage point of the River Nile is even more captivating. Literally standing in the shadows of a mind-blowing rich cultural heritage – the seat of one of the longest histories of any modern country.

Number 3: The Red Centre, AUSTRALIA

The spiritual heart of Australia, this central region of this vast continent is one of the most culturally-rich places on the planet. Home to so many of Aboriginal Australia’s sacred sites, the soul-stirring moments are palpable from the second you arrive. From the captivating stories of the Anangu and the changing colours of Uluru at sunrise and sunset, to the awe-inspiring landscapes and exhilarating beauty of Kings Canyon and Alice Springs, to the mysterious and intriguing series of 36 ancient red rock formations that are Kata Tjuta. It would not do justice to the 50,000+ years of the Dreamtime to try to describe the significance of this area: it has to be seen and more importantly, felt in person, to truly even be able to begin to appreciate how precious and spiritual these places are. And I, for one, cannot wait to feel that energy in person.

Australia outback landscape ( North Territory)

NUMBER 4: India

So many places in the world have an adjective associated with them, but none are more befitting than when we describe India as “incredible”. In every sense of the word, this country is full of the most exceptional experiences and a true treat for all of the human senses. Whilst known for its opulence when it comes to delivering some of the best hospitality on the planet, there is, of course, another side to this diverse land. Both personally and professionally, I feel very strongly about ensuring we give back to those places that we visit. As such, I’m thrilled that we are now able to offer Trafalgar guests the opportunity to work with the inspirational organization ME to WE by participating in a sustainable development project in Rajasthan. Close to the Aravalli Range, the oldest plateau mountains in India, this project has been created in conjunction with TreadRight and JoinTrafalgar. I’m looking forward to experiencing it in 2018 and making a difference.

ME to WE

NUMBER 5: Copenhagen, Denmark

For me, the true foodie capital of the world and of course now widely-recognised as the edible jewel in Scandinavia’s crown. We all know about Noma but the impact has been considerable: the 2017 Michelin Guide of Nordic Cities awarded 16 Copenhagen restaurants a total of 20 stars. Travel here today with a large appetite – for both food and beauty, of which this city has an abundance of.

NUMBER 6:  Hvar, Croatia

Having celebrated 25 years of independence in 2016, Croatia is seeing a major uptick in tourism (thanks, in part, to Game of Thrones and me convincing I think nearly every member of the Trafalgar Tribe Buzz Ambassadors to visit there this summer), ask Dee, Lauren, Rae and Claire if they too now see why Hvar and Dubrovnik must be on the top of everyone’s need to visit list.  Croatia undoubtedly is one of those hidden treasures – somewhere everyone is now going and asking themselves “why have

Hvar, Croatia

I never been here before?”. With the influx of tourism almost overwhelming for some of the places, my advice is to book early or go out with the traditional peak season. The “shoulder” seasons still offer great weather and the spectacular landscapes, food and hospitable people don’t change year-round. For obvious reasons, Dubrovnik is the jewel in Croatia’s crown, but I urge everyone to visit Hvar for the real thing when it comes to a slice of the good Croatian country life. 

 

NUMBER 7, Cuba

And with a new USA travel advisory, my desire to visit will need to be delayed. But, my curiosity with Cuba has been long-standing and now the whole world is joining me in thinking now is the time to go and uncover this most fascinating slice of Latino life. Sadly my travel plans didn’t work out this year, given the recent devastation in this small island nation. It’s sometimes a delicate discussion around visiting a place after a natural disaster or tragedy. For me it’s a no-brainer. It makes me want to go to Cuba even more. I’m proud to be part of a community that sees the value in tourism for good. After tumultuous times in this country, it’s more important than ever that we support them in the best way we can…by going and seeing and exploring and helping sustain those communities who desperately need our holiday dollars more than they ever have before. Our thoughts are with the people of Cuba, and I hope that you, like me, will all be inclined to help them get back on their feet, sooner than later.

MY UNEXPECTED WONDER: Austin Texas

In March this year I revisited Austin after around 20 years. Upon arrival, it looks and feels like the usual homogenised high-rise city. But, it most definitely isn’t: it transcends being the live music capital of the world. In two simple words, Austin is cool and its fun. What I discovered this time around was a city obsessed with the latest artful food, exceptional BBQ options, interesting young and unexpected fashions abound. And when my BA flight was ubiquitously delayed, I didn’t mind one bit, as I sat savouring great BBQ flavours from a food truck, listening to a live outstanding blues band, air side. Only in Austin…

So these are the eight places where I am planning to go to in the near future, Why eight, I have no idea. These all spontaneously came to mind hence I called them my eight wonders of the world. As I re-read this list, I note the vast difference in their locations and lifestyles, but know they will all fuel my sense of adventure and feed my soul. Some will be firsts and others a reintroduction, but the certainty of all is a new voyage of discovery.

I’d like to make one small request – please stop, contemplate and make your travel list. Then spread your wings and go. Most importantly, in this sentence is a singular word, wherever you choose to visit, don’t just make bucket lists, don’t dream about “one day”. Go. This is about you and your wellbeing, Enjoy and wishing you safe and truly enriching travels, wherever you choose to go. Bon voyage!

WE ARE FAMILY

2017 has certainly been a whirlwind, filled with a number of unexpected twist and turns for many of us. However, as all of us at Trafalgar ready ourselves for 2018, I am again reminded of the importance of travel and why it has become such an essential part of our lives. The wisdom of St. Augustine exemplifies it so well: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

I was born into a family of passionate travellers, and remain willingly entwined in our journey. Across three generations, our shared life’s work is dedicated to this remarkable industry – an industry that builds understanding, respect, and unbreakable bonds across borders, cultures and ideologies. More and more, as our world faces forces that try to keep people apart because of their religion, their culture or simply their differences, it is travel that brings people together.

The old adage to “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” could not ring truer than it does for me. As a family, we spend the year travelling the world – predominantly for ‘work’, though it’s always a pleasure. The demands of running a global business dictate the need to be everywhere, at some point in time. I always feel that the perpetual motion and ability to travel is a privilege. However, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit life on the road can also occasionally cause me to crave the chance to be still in one place for a short period of time. Until the next day…

I was recently with the Trafalgar Tribe in London, and whilst I was there purely for business, I realised how especially energised I was. Standing in Trafalgar Square, where our brand’s story began, I felt my adrenalin rushing at full pace. The not so secret ingredient? Family. This was a time and place, a moment in history for us all to celebrate our family’s greatest travel legacy so far, Trafalgar’s 70th anniversary.

Life is busy – we are all time poor, we know that.  But unless we break the cycle of being ‘busy’, we never make time for anything truly valuable and worthwhile in our lives and those important moments with family will rapidly diminish. There is nothing more valuable than the gift of time, and one of the most rewarding ways we can spend this precious commodity is with family.

Whilst in London, the impact of this powerful sentiment was reaffirmed to me by three fellow TTC executives, all of whom had recently taken their families on a Trafalgar Family Experience. I was filled with immense pride as I heard from them independently (John, Melissa and Annaliesa, thank you to you and your families, for your passion and sharing your photos with us) how there is nothing in the world that can exceed the value of time shared exploring and creating memories with family, particularly for those with young children.

Gladiator school, Rome

Annaliesa’s son at Gladiator school in Rome

From my own experiences, I know that planning for the ultimate holiday has become a great way for families to remain connected. Irrespective of age, we know travel to be such an incredibly powerful educator. But for younger children it has a far more profound effect in shaping their perceptions of the world about them, by enabling them to understand and appreciate different places, people, cultures and viewpoints. It teaches them about their own ability to find a place of security and identity within themselves. Travel is the truest mirror of how we see the world, and how we see ourselves in it.

I have seen it in myself, I have seen it in my children; to give a child a sense of curiosity about the world, a non-judgmental interest in exploring, learning, discovering, and appreciating more, is one of the most fulfilling things both a parent and child can experience.

Favorites-18of44

John Veitch and his family enjoying the mountains

IMG_2837

Melissa DaSilva in the US with her girls

Sadly however, time marches on and there comes a time when Mom and Dad are just not cool anymore, and are out of touch with what’s ‘in’. Interests change and the prospect of travelling with parents is far from appealing. So, don’t delay (Dan, Matt, Rachael and Marin) and anyone else, just thinking about ‘it’, make your plans today. For even if your children no longer share the same interests, in travel, there will always be something that creates excitement across the generations. It might be through direct experience of an activity or attraction, or it might in fact be sharing an unforgettable moment – the pinch me moments we all dream of. Whatever the case may be, the world in which we live offers boundless opportunities for families to stay connected, through travel.

For me, it is through a love of travel, sharing those memories together, that we remain connected to both our immediate family and our global extended one.

 

 

KEEPING TRAVEL DOORS, MINDS AND HEARTS OPEN

I love travel. For me the ability to freely discover new places and people is a fundamental part of the fabric of who I am. It is what turns my profession into my vocation.

I have never given much thought to the possibility of this right coming under threat. That is, not until recently, when I, or rather we all, noticed that matters started to go very wrong. My view of the world has always been that of a global community, and yet today our world appears to be facing unprecedented challenges not just to our unity, but also to our humanity. Basic privileges are disappearing. Boundaries are being created. Such measures, unless stopped, will not only make travel inaccessible, but also increase the inhumanity amongst us.

I am quite certain that none of us will ever forget the alarming sight of a traveler – a doctor no less – with a paid seat, being forcibly removed from a plane. Why? Because the airline crew needed to fly. Policy or not, the actions of the Chicago police, requested by the airline personnel, were inexcusable and unforgivable. Finally, after much backlash, the airline CEO even admitted so. Humanity came second to policy.

It’s easy to draw parallels to another unacceptable situation ongoing in the same part of the world: an American President attempting to place ‘un-American’ travel bans, of what appears to be outright discrimination and violation of not just democracy, but human decency.

My confusion around where our supposedly ‘civilized’ world is heading is multi-faceted. I was born into the hospitality and travel industry. My grandfather, at the tender age of 14, left Russia, alone, hidden under potato sacks with just 12 gold sovereigns sewed into the lining of his jacket. By 1920 he had established a new life for himself in South Africa, laying the foundations for future generations, where he purchased a small hotel in a remote fishing village. His vision of caring, inclusive, exceptional service, has been a guiding light for our family for over three generations. I must add that I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, where our hotels refused segregation laws, opening our doors to all, at the explicit risk of a harshly negative response. Despite the risks, my family was, and remains, steadfast in the commitment to ensure that all guests feel both honoured and respected.

I myself, admittedly in very different circumstances, have been fortunate to run a global travel business. However; I am also an immigrant, three times over in fact, having moved from South Africa to the United Kingdom, United States and now Switzerland. Every time I moved forward, I was discovering the individuality of each culture, running a business firmly rooted in a belief of individuality and respect, always putting the guest is at the forefront of all that we do.

What we are seeing today is beyond comprehension. Despite the importance of travel to economies and business that should put people and service first and foremost, sadly we find ourselves in an environment led by narrow minded political rhetoric, and poor business practices. Humanity is being pushed aside, hostility (in the name of security) is being given priority. In truth, these political and corporate policies appear to want to keep people out.

I firmly believe that travel is, and must remain, our world’s great educator and unifier – the unquestionable basis for greater understanding, respect and peace. It is the quintessential bridge that connects us all. We need to be building bridges in humanity, not walls. This truism is known by all of us in the travel industry.

Mark Twain captured this wholeheartedly: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

As an industry, and as consumers, we need to ensure that whilst fresh in all of our minds, we speak our minds. Regardless of our standing from CEO, or leaders of the free world, we must not allow this spirit of poor service, this overt segregation, to spread. There is no policy that can make the sentiment of ‘stay away’ acceptable. Never has it been more important to venture outside of our familiar surrounds, to go and discover the culturally rich and diverse wonders of the world we live in. And the people with whom we share it.

I have lived and loved the United States for many decades. Actions being taken, be they Executive Orders or inexplicable removal of airline passengers, are not what the land of the free has ever stood for and neither should it. It’s imperative that we realign ourselves with what made the United States and indeed our entire shared global community extraordinary.

It is the shared responsibility of each and every one of us to inspire, motivate and collaborate, and not separate and alienate.

Let’s return to a time when common sense created common bonds, a time when civilisation put civility front and centre.

For if there is one thing I am absolutely certain of, it is this: we are so much better than this.

DEFINING ‘WHY’ WE TRAVEL

When I think about travel, I remain dedicated to the WHY, rather than the WHERE, WHAT and WHEN.

What do I mean by this? Simply that when it comes to making travel plans, they are often defined by the WHERE – the destination, the WHAT – the things we want to do whilst there, and of course the WHEN – as we try to fit our travel around our hectic work schedules, school holidays or other similar time constraints.

The question that is often overlooked, though, and therefore missed as the heart of the benefit of travelling, is the WHY. WHY do you want to travel?

This simple question can often uncover the real reason someone seeks to explore the world. It may be the fulfilment of a personal dream or a pilgrimage of some kind. It might be a place that holds special meaning. It could be the quest to discover…or the desire to disappear.  The answer to this question can reveal the true value of one’s travel experience, and ignite our passion for the journey.

I believe that now more than ever it is imperative we focus on the WHY when it comes to travel. At a time when borders are slamming shut, it gives me great optimism when I see people celebrating the power of travel to connect different cultures, different ideologies, and different identities around similar dreams of hope, discovery and opportunity.

Through our sustainability iy_logo_english_whiteprogramme, Join Trafalgar, we have  a vision of leading the way on sustainable tourism with our partners – safeguarding the natural beauty, cultures and traditions of the people and places we visit. I was therefore delighted when the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.  The UN is seizing upon an important opportunity to help the world recognize the overwhelming contribution that tourism makes for people across the world and how it can significantly impact their lives, not just economically and socially, but also culturally and environmentally. Without a doubt, 2017 is a vital year to ensure our travels also have purpose.

It makes me incredibly proud to share two examples of how and WHY Trafalgar and The Travel Corporation (TTC) are committing to their passion for travelling with a purpose.

Firstly, on January 18th 2017, at the official worldwide launch of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in Madrid, it was announced that TTC has become a Diamond Sponsor for 2017 in a partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, spoke of the perfect alignment between the UNWTO and TTC, saying:

“The UNWTO is very proud to have TTC as a partner of International Year. Across three generations of Tollman family leadership, TTC through its business and its TreadRight Foundation, has evolved to become a reflection of excellence in delivering traveller experiences that are grounded in the core principles of social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability. Great admiration is also held for their efforts in building traveller awareness around the positive impact that travellers themselves, can make on the communities and places they visit.”

This is a partnership that will put the spotlight on best practices for people and the planet through tourism throughout 2017 and beyond.

In addition to this exciting news, last October in New York City, through our TreadRight Foundation, Trafalgar, along with six of our sister TTC brands, m2wannounced its commitment to an organization that truly defines the principles of purposeful leadership for the betterment of our world at local level: ME to WE.

The organization was founded by two brothers from Canada, Craig and Marc Kielburger, who recognized early on in their lives the potential that travel has to empower people to not only learn about themselves, but to impart a positive impact throughout the world. I sat with Craig at lunch, and his passion and hands-on approach inspired me as we discussed their various travel-based programmes which enable travellers to support and sustain local communities via a range of actions such as helping to fund and build schools or supporting local economies by purchasing from local artisans.

m2w-luncheon

Attending the global partnership launch with TreadRight Ambassador Céline Cousteau, ME to WE co-Founder Craig Kielburger and TTC CEO Brett Tollman

In their own words, the Kielburgers said, “Living ME to WE means working together to create sustainable change, and making a difference with everything you do—from choosing travel that leaves a positive footprint on the planet, to making purchases that give back.”

Working in close partnership with Me to We, I am particularly proud to announce Join Trafalgar’s two new immersive voluntourism trips for 2017 which will give our guests the opportunity to truly travel with purpose in Ecuador and India.  


It’s a privilege for us to be able to offer these programmes because they reinforce Trafalgar’s ability to make a genuine difference by enriching and sustaining a diversity of people and places across the globe. In a nutshell, they bring a very passionate WHY to the forefront of my own personal love for exploring the world.

So please, join me in making 2017 the year of meaningful travel.

AIRPORT CONNECTIONS – THE ACHES AND THE AWE

airport-594208

The final countdown is on. It’s that time of year when most of the world begins to unwind from the year that was and concentrate on the holiday season. As I also get ready to sign off, I find myself thinking back to what I’ve learned, what I’m proud to have done, what I could have done differently.

I am privileged to live in one of the most picturesque cities in the world, Geneva Switzerland. There are few more extraordinary morning commutes than driving along Lake Geneva on a clear winter morning with the might of the Jet ’Eau in the foreground, and majestic Mont Blanc in the distance. To call this great global city ‘home’ is a gift which I am acutely aware.

fullsizerender

I am also fortunate in that my work takes me to numerous countries every year. Admittedly, sometimes it feels as though I spend half my life up at 35,000 feet, but travel feeds my soul – I love being able to venture out in new directions, knowing I am going to discover new places, people, cultures and perspectives. The opportunity to be a true citizen of the world is one of the greatest joys of my life.

For all its beauty though, living in Geneva has a downside when it com
es to setting out on life’s great adventures. As efficient as Geneva Airport (GVA) is, with an almost 80% on-time departure rate in 2015, its relatively small size often means my long-haul journeys of discovery invariably necessitate a connecting flight.

So, as I think back on 2016…the many miles I have covered, the people I’ve met, and the transit memories that linger (good and bad!), I thought today I’d share with you some of my personal favourite airports when it comes to layovers. I’ll also share my least favourites, too, so you know which ones to avoid.

Regardless of where in the world I am travelling, when it comes to airports, first and foremost for me is a singular word – convenience – defined by the relative ease of access and the range of services they provide.  In Europe, hands down – the best are Amsterdam (AMS) and Zurich (ZRH).  Small enough to navigate with ease, but with enough options on offer to keep you from getting bored when you have a few hours to kill.

airbus-a340-1683392
Not long ago London Heathrow’s (LHR) Terminal 5 (which was dedicated solely to BA) would have made my list of favourites. However, they’ve gone down a few notches since moving multiple flights back to Terminal 3; I think we can all agree that there is nothing worse than overloaded shuttle buses transferring an unbearable number of travelers caught up in early morning arrivals. Where do I consciously try to avoid for European transfers?  Little debate here: Paris (CDG) and Frankfurt (FRA).  These behemoths are painful to transit through in my experience; they are crowded, with long travel times between terminals and oftentimes confusing connection instructions.

When I travel to Asia, it is normally via the Middle East, either stopping in Dubai (DXB) or Abu Dhabi (AUH); these airports are like impressive cities to themselves, their immense sizes and diversity of offerings really something to behold.
Once construction is complete in these two hub airports, I believe they will be far ahead of all other global airports in holistic design. The only caveat is to make sure you have enough connection time. Both airports are immense and the scale does translate into lengthy terminal and gate distances. In the same spirit of airport experience excellence, the new Doha airport (DOH) is exceptional. Once in Asia, I always enjoy travelling through Singapore (SIN). It is still my favourite, though I miss the convenience of the old BA/Qantas codeshare days.

The best airports in the world stand to emphasise the wonder of travel that touches our lives each year. airport-384562However, as we all know, the curses are out there too. Those airports which simply add stress and frustration to the journey. So where does the award for the worst transfer in the world go? Sadly, it’s most of the USA airports that top my list. In my travel planning, every effort is made to avoid transferring in NYC (especially JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). That said, if one does need to transfer in the USA, Denver (DEN) and Atlanta (ATL) are fine; though I must tell you their track record on losing my luggage is abysmal.

Now wherever your travels take you in 2017, may your journeys be safe and smooth, and give you all you seek. But before that, may your year-end holiday season find you surrounded by loved ones.

Wishing you a happy New Year full of fun-filled travel adventures, exploring and discovering our shared world!

PARIS ONE YEAR ON, AN UNWAVERING LOVE AFFAIR

As each year winds down, my wife, my in-laws and I have a tradition of spending a late November weekend in Paris. This ritual has become a much-loved calm within what is inevitably a frenetic last-quarter storm.

Last year, by coincidence, we were in Paris on Friday 13th November; the night that the lights of Paris dimmed as terror struck the heart of the city of love.

As shared in my blog post of the time, https://gavintollmanblog.com/2015/11/23/defining-moments  it was a time that touched us with such poignancy that it has essentially become a part of us all. Through the tragedy, unity emerged. “Je Suis Parisienne” were words uttered by all, across the city and across the world, as we came together to firmly and clearly express our unwillingness to be scared away.

Having shared in this impactful experience, it was more important than ever to return to the City of Light one year on. We went back this weekend not only to enjoy the beauty of the city, but to celebrate first-hand its revival.

It has been well documented that tourism to Paris, and to France as a whole, has taken a significant hit since the events. I have found this surprising; saddening, in fact.

During the past year, it never crossed my mind that I should not venture to France. In fact, I have very much been looking forward to returning to a city that I treasure. It has, and always will be, the world’s most romantic city. This past weekend has confirmed that my passion for Paris remains resolute.

As I looked out from my hotel room towards the Eiffel img_0161Tower, it glittered jewel-like in the stillness of the chill-filled evening, and once again I was struck by the city’s beauty. Every morning, ritualistically, I go out to a local café for a coffee, and then take a stroll along the Seine. The spectacular city provides the grandest running commentary: the bridges, the spires of Notre Dame, the twinkling holiday lights, the balcony baskets of flowers, the delicate window frames and doorways, the accents of passing Parisians. Paris is a genuine canvas on which the natural richness of culture, art and life are painted.

One of the reasons I have such great admiration for Paris is because of its strong respect for its history, both old and recent. It nurtures, cherishes, and open-handedly shares it. Wandering through the streets of Paris is a historical journey, comprising layers of detail. You can imagine the stories unfold as you amble along the elegant avenues.

This time, walking these streets of quiet, elegant, innate human artistry, immediately I felt that despite the tragedy, the city is definitely moving on. People are wandering the boulevards, gathering in bistros and getting on with life. This is their city and they will never allow its light to turn to darkness.

Justifiably, as we have seen throughout the world these days, security measures are evident. This is a new reality of life. But the mood in France is neither tense nor gloomy. Rather, it is, as with all matters Parisian, part of the city’s tapestry. Culturally, Paris remains the epicentre of the world. My trip to see the Picasso – Giacometti exhibition at the Musée Picasso was, in a word, awe-inspiring.

For me, food also equally defines Paris, from its boisterous brassieres to its crusty baguettes and flaky morning croissants. On this trip somehow, I felt like the food has never tasted so good. In a way, it was as though returning to the city of love that I so adore, my senses were so heightened that my appreciation of Paris was greater than ever before.

Yet, for all that I so appreciated during this trip, it was the people, the Parisians, that fuelled my love of the city the most.

For all these reasons, and countless more, I wholeheartedly feel that now is the time to return to Paris. I am glad to be able to convey to you that ‘la vie’ undoubtedly continues; the heart of Paris beats strong and proud. Paris has lost none of its lustre. It is as beautiful and resolute as it has always been. It remains the most absorbing metropolis on earth.

img_0191This truism was vividly, wisely, smile-provokingly brought to life for me when, during a walk, I stopped at the bronze sculpture of Charles de Gaulle, and the words of one of the inscriptions from the General’s war memoirs struck me for their timelessness (translated from French): ‘There is a time-honoured pact between the grandeur of France and the liberty of the world.

Now is the time to visit Paris. We must all play our part in rebuilding confidence in France as one of the world’s favourite destinations. I convey this not only with words, but with actions; for besides this trip, The Travel Corporation is proud to overtly show its faith in Paris by hosting two significant events in 2017 in the City of Light:

  • March 2017 – UNIWORLD Boutique River Cruise’s launch of its new supership, the SS Joie de Vivre (https://www.uniworld.com/en/ships/ss-joie-de-vivre/)
  • April 2017 – Our key executives from around the world will assemble in Paris for our annual Global Executive Strategy Retreat

I sincerely hope that you will join us in visiting and supporting this city of life, light, love and liberty. As Audrey Hepburn said in the film Sabrina: “Paris is for changing your outlook, for throwing open the windows and letting in la vie en rose”.

 

 

 

 

SHADOWS OF OUR PAST, SHAPING OUR FUTURE

There are a number of words that often arise when I speak of the power of travel. ‘Inspiring’ and ‘uplifting’ are the two that I find truly embrace the awe of travel; they capture the essence of our world’s sheer beauty, majesty, hospitality, tranquility, and ultimately, harmony.

On a few profoundly important occasions, however, the inspiration of travel is awakened not by the beauty of a place, but by the pain that it represents as a place of tragic history.

Recently, I experienced one of those hauntingly inspiring times on the island of Honsu, Japan, in a city covering only 350 square miles and home to 1.1 million people; the city of Hiroshima. Even saying the name evokes a certain chill. This relatively-small (in Asian terms), million-strong city was effectively wiped off the map during World War II.

Hiroshima, once steeped in centuries of culture and tradition, has evolved to become a city of the future; though its past still haunts the present, never freeing itself from the terrors it experienced over half a century ago. Nor should the past be forgotten, because to forget the tragedy inflicted on Hiroshima would be to lose the painful lessons of just how far we as a human race can come to destroying the future of all that we hold dear.

Today, at the heart of the city, stands the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which commemorates the fateful events of 1945. A ‘must see’ for any visitor to the city, it was there that I found the ruins of Genbaku Dome. The DomeAs I stood in front of the Dome, also known as the A-Bomb Dome, everything which my eyes, ears and heart took in, served as a poignant reminder of the sobering reality of the harrowing ramifications of war. Standing before the ruins on a very warm, cloudless morning, I reflected on what life must have been like for those fighting around the world in one of the worst wars of our times. Within those noisy thoughts, I pondered the reality at that time, for residents of this city to be looking up as death fell swiftly down from the sky, and our whole world was changed in an instant.

At that moment, that irreversible turning point, we had proven that mankind now possessed the means to destroy itself.Memorial

As I contemplated all that was there right in front of me, it became obvious that this diverse destination, a city that has literally risen from the ashes, should be an inspiration to us all. To visit Hiroshima today is to see the infrastructure of life rebuilt, and it is truly inspiring. I saw examples of this when visiting other sites, such as Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat and a park, and Shukkei-en, a formal Japanese garden, both of which have been restored to their former glory. Though what I found to be even more remarkable in its inspiration was to see how the spirit of the people has been rebuilt, stronger than ever.

This rebuilding required the faith and fortitude of the Japanese people. It also required a global effort which, at that moment and in that place, re-instilled in me a sense of shared responsibility; one that asks us to stare directly in the eye of history and demands that we do things differently so as to stop such tragedy and suffering from ever occurring again.

Japan

The past is present in any society; it shapes a sense of identity, purpose and possibility, shadows stretching long into our future, carrying the lessons of yesterday that we need to strengthen tomorrow.

Despite being newly built, the appreciation of the beauty and history of Hiroshima abounds. The country as a whole is a showcase of living heritage, with its vast landscapes accented by its rich expressions of history. Equally so, Japan’s skylines reveal a country is at the forefront of all that is shaping the future of technology, design, food and fashion.

Arigatō, Japan. Thank you, Hiroshima.

POKEMAN GO – CELEBRATING THE JOY OF DISCOVERY?

There is a singular word for it – ‘phenomenon’.

Within days of its launch, everywhere across the globe, downloads took place by the millions. It felt like the world was suddenly taken over by those in the know and on the go, leaving the rest of us rather perplexed.

Pokemon go

Outside my flat in Geneva I saw them daily – mobile phone gawkers, walking, eyes glued to their screens, oblivious to those around them. I couldn’t understand it. Then I learned it was all about Pokémon Go. A new game in which players Travel between the real world and the virtual world as they find and save Pokémon characters.

The game may be a play on reality, but the headlines about its impact were very real. According to Fortune magazine, within 3 days it had become the biggest mobile game in US’s history, adding US$ 7.5B to Nintendo’s bottom line, and completely reenergizing the company. The stats amazed me as much as the craze. Nintendo’s share price rose just over 9% when the game was first launched, and then saw a further surge of 24.5%, representing the company’s highest one-day climb since 1983.

So, seeing that I needed to get in the know and onto Pokémon Go to really understand what was behind the hysteria, I downloaded the App and there, immediately, was the answer – I have two Pokémon within 100 meters of my home.Pokemon Go modified

Pokémon is nothing new – the video game was first launched in 1996 and needless to say kids became hooked, spending hours playing it. This time around, however, Nintendo has licensed this to an App developer that has made it interactive as you need to get out and find these hidden characters, and they have made it multigenerational – every one of every age is getting hooked. The aim is to get outdoors and search your surroundings for little beings called Pokémon.

I must confess that initially I was anti-Pokémon Go. From the outside it looked as though it was the next level of mobile impoliteness. More people glued to their mobile phones, ignoring people and places right in front of them.

But then, as I thought about it, something very commendable about the game occurred to me: this App is getting people out of their homes and into the streets. People are getting outdoors and exploring the world around them. The App’s developers have purposely included iconic landmarks along with lesser-known places that players visit on their journey. People of all ages are getting off their sofas and starting to discover their environments, often seeing new things that have been around the corner all along, but they didn’t know existed. They are also meeting new people with a shared interest and excitement for local discovery. Less than a month since its launch, Pokémon Go is now so ubiquitous that I read that coffee shops and police stations have designated themselves ‘Pokestops’ in hopes of attracting new visitors. Museums and art installations are jumping on the bandwagon, encouraging players to visit their locations to catch rare Pokémon while taking in the destination’s tourist sites.

Speaking to Pokémon Go players in my neighborhood, I learnt that they themselves have discovered unexpected sculptures (we have wonderful art in the city of Geneva), stunning architecture, little known paths that they have been living alongside all of this time, but never paid attention to.

Interestingly, this reawakening of wonder in the world around us sounds very familiar to how we at Trafalgar put our trips together for our guests – finding special local spots alongside the icons, encouraging exploration. It was a good feeling knowing that the essence of our approach to travel is still alive and well, even if its latest manifestation is in an augmented reality form.

Because the enduring truism is this: we humans are wired for adventure. While we may have firmly set comfort zones – where we live, our habits, still we seek newness of thinking, of doing, and of being. Travel allows us these little windows into discovery, a way to venture out of our comfort zones to become exposed to other worlds, and other sides of ourselves when placed in these new environments. With this learning comes freshness of perspective of not just the world around us, but of ourselves and our place in the world. At its simplest yet most profound form, this is the gift of travel.

In many ways, the hunger for discovery that Pokémon Go is creating in game players can, and I hope will, ignite in these same people a desire to go out and seek more of their real world – the one without the hidden Pokémon.

Which is why, returning back to the real world of augmented reality coming to life around me, I accept that at this first stage Pokémon Go players may all be walking with their eyes glued to their screens. But does that matter? The intrinsic benefit is that millions of people are getting out and seeing the world around them.

Technology has already been harnessed for travel. Now travel is harnessing technology. The joy of ‘Go’ is ours to be embraced, in whichever world we choose to play.

CELEBRATING GREAT VISIONARIES OF THE LAND

Today is the 4th of July – the day that the United States celebrates its independence. I lived in New York for over 20 years, and I always admired this day, as annually the entire American national stands united and proud as it looks to back on its history. Few people celebrate their love of country like the Americans. Red, white and blue is not just a national colour code, it is a national mindset.

Whenever I look back at history, I try and place myself into the time of those who shaped the world in which we live, and imagine what it must have been like to have had the courage, and vision, to make an impact for generations to come.

In my travels, it is the genius of architects in particular that often fascinates me; their ability to visualize the possibility of the transformation of space and time through design. This is an extraordinary gift.

However, the creation for lifelong inspiration is one thing. To have the foresight to preserve, the discipline to leave things untouched for future generations, is quite another.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend four days with a group of Trafalgar guests travelling through Yellowstone National Park.IMG_1500A I did this to not only because I love meeting Trafalgar guests, but also as it provided the opportunity to honour the 100 year anniversary of the creation of The National Park Service – the nation’s guardians of Mother Nature’s great gifts.

As I stood looking out over the Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park, IMG_0263the only words that came to my mind taking in this moment, one of such immense remarkable beauty, was ‘Thank you’.

That thanks goes to a few of the forefathers of America: Presidents Lincoln, Grant and Roosevelt, who somehow already recognised that our world would organically advance in ways that would see industrialisation and development creep into all corners of the globe, and that to enable man to maintain a connection to nature itself required a strategy that, 100 years ago, must have seemed both unnecessary and a fantasy.

So it was together with great personalities like Don and Nancy from Philadelphia, twin sisters Ashly and Kristen from Nevada, as well Flynn & Fran from as far as Sydney Australia,IMG_1480 that we were able in a matter of a few day to wander through untouched hot springs, see bison ambling through the grasslands, witness mother and baby black bears jesting in front of our hotel, and hear stories of the success of the wolves’ reintroduction into the wild.

IMG_0243Each one a consequence of the decision taken 100 years ago, to protect the majestic natural environments through the creation of the official caretakers of America’s finest natural assets, is credited to the National Park Service.

As I took in my time in this iconic national landscape, this brought to mind: “What if they had not had the vision? What would the landscape look like today? And how would it be shared tomorrow?”

It is moments like these that fill me with a need to look forward, and ensure we are asking the same question as to what will the world look like in 100 years’ time. What more can we do to ensure that we too are being adequately forward thinking in our own actions to preserve and protect the important resources so that future generations will be able to connect to a more meaningful world?

Today, it is far easier for everyone to make a difference. All it requires is individual action. I am therefore inspired by the current vision and care of Brett, The Travel Corporation’s CEO, who had the vision to create the TreadRight Foundation – TTC’s not-for-profit organisation which is working to ensure the sustainability of the environments and communities across the globe. To date, TreadRight has helped to support almost 40 projects. With their guidance, each of TTC’s 20 plus travel brands are able refocus their commitments. Together, they join forces to make a difference to the word we visit today and in the future.

Ultimately, it’s all about the role we each play in fostering truly meaningful, sustainable growth, working and building on the visions of great leaders, for a world and time beyond ourselves.

This is the power of one. One by one by one, for one generation to the next.

*With thanks to Flynn & Fran Henry for the pictures*

TRAVEL’S FINEST MOMENTS – IT’S A MATTER OF TASTE

Food is something we so often take for granted. For most of us, we are spoiled for choice whenever we feel a craving, or simply to keep our energy up.

And yet, when we travel, food takes on an entirely new connotation and significance. It brings moments to life with heightened sensuality and sensibility, and in so doing, our memories become so much more powerful.

Recognising this, a number of years ago, the Trafalgar team took on this task; to exhibit the senses and spirit of each destination through its local food.

Last week, I was reminded of how far we’ve come by a wonderful letter I received from a first time, but extremely well-travelled Trafalgar guest. In it she described how few things impact her favourite travel experiences like connecting the dots of travel like mouthfuls of magic.

Why is food such a vital part of travel? Food acts as an important conduit for our richest, most rewarding experiences. It mirrors the culture and spirit of the places we visit, as well as the locals we meet on our journeys. It is when we travel that we see, and feel, just what a powerful role food has to play in defining and enjoying different places, people, and their ways of living.

Happy girl kitchen image

It is therefore understandable that today, Food Tourism is one of the fastest growing areas of our industry. The draw of travellers to be able to eat incredible food, learn about its origins, its ingredients, its art of preparation, have given life to not only tourist activity around the globe, but more so to the people living in places home to the world’s culinary creations. This in turn has created livelihoods for tens of thousands of culinary “artisans” in all their various shapes, in their hometowns, villages and communities around the world. Another wonderful example of how tourism brings richness to life of not just travellers, but also to their hosts.

I find this awakening to local foods and food sharing customs, inspiring and exciting. But I cannot help but smile, for to me this has always been what being an ‘Insider’ is all about.

It was with this in mind that in 2010 we experimented with our our first ‘Be My Guest’ experience; to showcase for our guests how local authentic food will provide a great insight into the people, and the cultures of where we visit. After all, this is what we love to do!

Today whether it’s the Baj-Macarios family’s 12 Century castle in Tuscany,CASTELLO_DEL_TREBBIO-019 where our guests enjoy 100% organic locally sourced produce (the majority of the food comes from the estate itself), a café in Vienna, a farmhouse in Britain’s Lake District, a beach restaurant on the shores of Lahinch, Ireland where after a foraging walk on the with Oonagh and Teresa, whose motto is ‘grow, find, cook, eat’ – our guests eat some the food which they have foraged and savour their amazing local seaweed bread.

These mealtime discoveries extend to all destinations around the world. I was recently in Northern California where Todd and Jordan’s Happy Girl Kitchen is a rare discovery of organic produce, local farming, and food preservation from their time living and working on a farm in Norway.Happy girl kitchen Likewise “cowboy hat Peter”, the wine blending specialist at Ravenswood.

As the earlier mentioned traveller wrote, “Each of these food journeys brings destinations alive”, and they are so greatly valued by our guests as being simply the best, holidays.

In 2016, I am personally looking forward to a greater discovery of food in Asia. Janice, who runs our product and operations, has initiated an incredible relationship with the Kyoto restaurant in Vietnam, a non-profit social enterprise that provides training to disadvantaged young people in the hospitality industry. Koto Restaurant, VietnamNot to mention the cooking classes in the Ginza district of Tokyo, Japan, where our guests have the opportunity to learn how to make sushi. I cannot wait to discover the ingredients and processes of preparation which are not only highly technical, but deeply spiritual tool. Every moment of meal creation, and its eating, is a moment with meaning.

With this in mind, may each mile and mouthful you and I travel, may our journeys be safe, insightful, fulfilling, and of course, simply delicious.