2019 TRAVEL ESSENTIAL TO BUILDING BRIDGES & BREAKING DOWN WALLS

banksy_dover5In now less than 75 days, on March 29th 2019 to be exact, Great Britain is scheduled to exit the European Union, to ‘BREXIT’. In doing so, breaking apart a 26-year-old union of 28 nations.

The Brexit deal – the terms under which the UK will leave the EU (including future management of borders, trade, etc.) is messy and after Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected, it’s getting worse, both in content and process. Why? Because figuratively speaking, it is a divorce. One in which once loving, or at least appreciative partners will part ways, taking their respective valuables with them. Naturally, bitter arguments unfold over who owns what, who values what, who gives access to where, who chooses to care. While the world has become comfortable with the term Brexit, there is no comfort to be felt in its true meaning; “Hell hath no fury like a political union torn”.

The same pertains to ‘The Wall’ – a US election promise by then candidate Donald Trump, to overtly, actively and insultingly keep certain people of neighboring nations out. Now, President Trump is putting politics first with a manufactured impasse, to fill a promise that is very unlikely to solve the issue at the hand. It would be far more if the debate about the border wall evolved beyond politics and sound bites to a factual review of underlying issues. The world is watching the US government, currently in shut-down mode, with approximately 800,000 federal employees and numerous contractors not getting paid. Meanwhile, air, land and sea border security issues are growing, with border protection officials and air traffic controllers justifiably staying away. An ironic outcome considering the wall was positioned as a way to protect American citizens.

What do these and other political disputes around the world have to do with tourism? And what will the impact be on travel in 2019? What indeed…

Looking ahead, it is hard not to feel both furious and exasperated by government induced insanity and the impact that it is having on the world around us. A world that has all the means of connectivity; mobile devices, aviation, economic empowerment, yet governments are consciously putting barriers in place to keep people apart. In time, these barriers, both political and physical, will not only shut down people’s movements; but they will shut down hearts, minds and of course, global economies.

Think about it. Think about what, as an example, Brexit really means for the travel industry.

As stated by The Conversation, a think tank of global leaders:

Three quarters of all overseas trips made by Britons are to the EU. Research by the Association of British Travel Agents found that UK tourists are worth Euro 37.4 billion a year to EU member states. The most popular destination for British tourists in 2017 was Spain with 19m Britons visiting the country, with France in second place.

Not to mention the negative impact of inbound travel to the UK from Europe, where, according to VisitBritain, 7 of the top 10 inbound source markets are within the EU. All this means that a ‘no deal’ outcome of trade negotiations would likely have far-reaching and costly implications on travel and tourism, and on national image.

Consider further, the hundreds of thousands of people from the UK working in the tourism and hospitality industry in the EU, and correspondingly vice versa? Is their employment secure? Are their futures secure?

Looking back to the US, today many museums are shut. Some National Parks are open, but trash and snow are piling up. The shutdown is inflicting severe damage on the domestic economy and a toll on its citizens. And as an example, with rising numbers of TSA officers now calling in sick and others quitting altogether, airport lines are getting longer. The impact: intolerable.

Facts matter, and what must not be forgotten is the further impact on human nature. Whether from the UK, EU, US or anywhere in the world:

  • No one wants to travel to a place where they feel unwanted and unwelcome
  • No one wants to travel to a place where they feel unappreciated
  • No one wants to travel to a place where they feel unsure about their ability to move around

So where to from here? How do those of us in the travel industry work together, continuing to build bridges across the world and break down walls?

First of all be engaged politically and have a voice. Ensure you vote as today your life does depend on it. I have heard from too many British and American friends who didn’t vote and today regret it. Many people do not vote, as they think their one vote will not make a change, but as a matter of fact, it does. A nation’s political fundamentals are built using elections. Be involved. Be heard.

And in the travel arena, despite uncertainty and what appear to be extra barriers introduced by the governments we now have, we must remain determined and continue to travel. We are global citizens and tourism remains the best way to break down cultural barriers and unite, rather than divide.

Whatever 2019 may bring in the months ahead, may we never for a moment forget the fundamental difference we are making by keeping our world open, moving people across borders and cultures, across ideologies and possibilities.

Wishing you politically charged as well as exciting and enriched travels in 2019.

YEAR-END LESSONS, LIFE-LONG LEARNINGS

‘Tis the season to pause, reflect on the year passed, and get ready for the year ahead.

Every year our business changes, often dramatically. I have found that pausing to observe and anticipate the evolving travel trends is a discipline that directly impacts business performance in the 12 months that follow.

This year, with an abundance of unpredictable variables, I’ve decided to invest this time of reflection into the lessons that I have learned from a life filled with the wonderment of travel.

For me, travel isn’t about checking places off of a ‘bucket list’, and taking “I was here” photos. When I travel, my eyes and heart are opened to our shared world’s natural wonders, diverse cultures, unique histories and traditions.

In this spirit, I humbly share the lessons that I’ve learned from my travels so far:

To discover the world is to discover one’s self – There’s nothing like travel to take you out of your comfort zone. In a new environment, we become eager to understand more about our surroundings – and our default daily life, with its familiar monotony, is paused. Every time I travel, I gain a new perspective and a fresh outlook on any challenges or changes that I’m faced with. Most importantly, travel helps you find your inner child; unlocking curiosity, creativity, self-assurance and a sense of lightness.

Strangers for a mere second – I’ve met the most extraordinary people while travelling, people I’d probably never have met in my daily life, all of whom added colour to the fabric of my life. Interacting with new people; a smile, a wave, a welcoming manner – can break down any barrier and create friendships even when a mutual language isn’t shared. Thoughtfulness is a universal language. Through travel, we develop an understanding of other cultures, religions and lifestyles.We can all relate to one another, when we search for what connects us as humans; changing the world one travelling peacemaker at a time.

The splendour of difference and diversity– I am at times frustrated by the ongoing homogenization of so many major cities. Why travel somewhere new, only to find that so much is the same as back home? What makes a city unique is, quite simply, its uniqueness. The vibe of a place has as much to play as its appearance or ‘charm’. Cast stereotypes aside and keep an open mind to what modern life is like in that culture. Seek to understand and respect the differences. Isn’t that ultimately why we love to travel as ‘insiders’?

Relive history. Don’t just read about it – I’m fascinated by history. Though we love to read books that reconstruct the past, it’s extraordinary how being in a new place and picturing events, puts history into context. So often, the place itself makes the tapestry of history, art, music and all of its cultural aspects, more enlightening. Walk in the footsteps of artists, poets, politicians and icons – reliving the everyday lives of people from long ago. Become an insider…in another time.

Discover the language of locals– Just last weekend I read of global outcry caused online when Miss USA, competing for Miss Universe in Bangkok, Thailand, had to apologise following comments she made about fellow Miss Universe contestants’ poor English-language abilities. We know that English is the most spoken language worldwide, however we also know that when we are travelling, we are entering the lives and homes of others – often where English is not the native tongue. Language is the most rapid form of human connection. Making an effort to absorb some of the basics of the local language makes a difference. Be still – listen for words of courtesy, study street signs and restaurant menus. Allow them to teach you aspects of local language. Listen to the rhythm of the language as locals speak. Yes, I struggle with the local tongue, it’s part of the journey and always sparks a smile on the faces of the locals.

Appreciate and celebrate cultural differences– As we travel, we realise that we are all one people. Living amongst people from other cultures helps us understand their traditions, religions, daily life and dreams. Roots of religions, cultures and traditions all came from somewhere, along with ideas, moral codes and art. Each culture has its treasures. Seek to discover, to learn, to love each nuance of the local way of life. Smile when you realize that deep down, the essence of who we are as human beings is the same.

Be present, be in the moment– Discover “the good life” through memorable moments of exploration and mutual understanding. There is joy and wonder to be had in the simplest of details, the most delicate of moments. Commit to your travel dreams and step boldly into your future.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” – This is my mantra, and I believe in the essence of these 11 words to my very core. Many define being rich by the amount of accrued assets. From the financial aspect, travel is often a big expense, but it really does enrich one’s life in ways beyond measure. Travel is an investment that can never be lost.

There are no “mistakes” in travel – Every journey offers the opportunity to experience the unique energy ofexploration.Life is an adventure. Live it. Explore the world around you. When I say “adventure” I don’t mean extraordinary physical activities or wanderings into the unknown. For me, adventure is about “exploring life’s possibilities with no stone unturned”. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

As we count down to the final hours of 2018, I hope that these learnings, made even more vivid for me this year, touch and influence your hopes and dreams for the New Year.

For now, I leave these thoughts with you, along with my wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy holiday season, and an adventure-filled year ahead.

 

THE BAD LUCK OF THE IRISH – it’s time to stop tourism becoming a victim of its own success

One of the most challenging, and dare I say frustrating, aspects of being a leader in the global tourism community is accepting decisions made by national policymakers who simply do not comprehend the value of tourism in their own backyard…

Those of us within the industry understand the value of tourism and the critical role it can play in nation-building – from job creation to revenue generation, social stability to cultural preservation and numerous other facets in between. All too often our ‘product’ – that of enriching, educational and empowering experiences bringing joy to countless lives through the love of travel, are seen as ‘non-essential’. All too quickly is the sector judged without recognition of its component parts – employment and its impact on the economy overall, its role in solidifying national identity and the immense sense of community and unity. To my mind, these are all essential ingredients, enabling the formation of cohesive and robust national sustainability at economic, social and environmental levels.

Ignorance it not bliss. In this case it poses a profound risk to the future wellbeing of a nations people, when the country they call home is a valuable tourism asset. It diminishes the promise of a better world – one that is shared on the basis of discovery, diversity and unity.

Why the fire in my belly? Simply this: the bad luck of the Irish. The government of one of the world’s most welcoming, and enchanting countries, has just increased its VAT on all tourism-related products and services from 9% to 13.5%. This hefty increase means that Ireland will soon have one of the highest rates of tax on tourism in the entire European region. With a short-term aim of raising additional revenue to cover increases in government spending, without alienating their local constituents, the long-term impact is nothing but negative.

How can it be that having had the foresight to reduce the VAT on tourism to 9% in 2011, the Ministry of Finance of Ireland now seeks to exploit the success resulting from the exceptional actions of those in Tourism Ireland. What a shortsighted way to manage one of the country’s greatest economic assets.

Easy money, it appears, to be taken from a sector which, thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Tourism of Ireland and the tremendous efforts of Irish tourism industry, has enjoyed unprecedented growth in visitation since 2011. 2017 saw an outstanding contribution from tourism towards national development, accounting for:

  • EUR8.8bn (USD9.9bn), representing 3.6% of GDP (fiscal 2017)
  • 10% of total employment (1 in every 10 Jobs is a tourism job), or the equivalent of 240,000 jobs
  • EUR11.5bn (USD12.9bn) in Visitor Exports
  • EUR7.6bn, 11.0% of total investment

All of the above activity generates over EUR2billion in taxes for the Irish Exchequer per annum. Clearly, from their perspective, that is not enough. Short-term gains are sadly now set to eventuate into what I believe will be long-term losses.

After almost eight years of building a better nation, Tourism Ireland and the entire tourism industry serving Ireland now has eight weeks (increased VAT effective January 1, 2019) until its efforts are eradicated.

Watch this space for a decrease in competitiveness of the destination Government revenues may generate more funds from increased VAT, but tourism and other interdependent sectors will endure significant losses: agriculture, transport and creative industries will be amongst those hit by the squeeze on Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, one that accounts for 1 in 19 jobs.

Tourism is, and always will be, a priority economic sector for the Emerald Isle. Ireland has become a beacon of excellence in showcasing its country and the endearing character of its people as an enviable asset for tourism. Rain or shine, the world loves to see how Irish eyes keep smiling. But with this move, no doubt there will be tears. The tears of the 32 counties, the majority of whom rely on tourism activity to keep their economic ecosystems buoyant.

In June of this year Tourism Ireland outlined its commitment to sustaining tourism growth for the holistic betterment, stating the below, on realisation of +7.6% growth YTD from January to May 2018.

“We are determined to ensure that tourism growth continues. Tourism Ireland’s campaigns are now in full swing around the world. Our aim is to grow overseas tourism revenue in 2018 to €6 billion, for the island of Ireland.” Niall Gibbons, CEO Tourism Ireland.”

These are not simply numbers on a page. They represent a robust increase in over a quarter of a million visitors – people travelling thousands of miles, investing their time, money, and travel dreams into finding a place that gives them not only a greater understanding and appreciation of the world, but a precious understanding and appreciation of their place in it.

We know that governments need to raise taxes to pay for their fiscal demands, but applying a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding is not the solution, for two key reasons:

1) Additional funding to offset risks is unsustainable. Government budget pressures will not allow for ongoing funds for artificial industry buoyancy. Job losses are inevitable, putting additional pressure on other areas of government social services support.

2) . Reputation may become irreparable to some travellers, perceiving a destination of being expensive and its government of extorting.

The problem is clear, as is the genuine risk of implosion of all of the remarkable success that Ireland has worked so hard to achieve over the past decade.

As an impassioned stakeholder with a direct emotional and financial investment in the future of Irish tourism, my fundamental belief is this: the best way to generate the additional funds is to support growth, not penalise. I therefore call upon the government to work with, not against, the tourism community – not just those in tier-one cities – Dublin, Cork, Galway – but to see the bigger picture. We have an immense opportunity to simulate economic activity in the tourism sector that delivers not just the tax revenues, but the jobs, earnings, sense of purpose, productivity and participation that connects all regions across Ireland, urban and rural. In essence, enough is enough, it’s time to rather take additional action and unlock the infinite potential of tourism as a way of securing economic and social growth for everyone on the Emerald Isle.

We need to embed tourism as part of the solution, not part of the problem, for the long-term.

The 1.3billion travellers in this world have a myriad of choices. I can only hope that the luck of the Irish will not run out.

 

TRAVEL AGENTS: A PRICELESS HOLIDAY INVESTMENT

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Today more than ever, so many people are enabled to travel, almost anywhere, at almost any time. And the more we travel, the more we learn about the world around us, we learn about ourselves and the difference we can make in our collective world, for the benefit of many. I strongly believe that travel is truly a force for good and provides us an invaluable way to appreciate the wider world and its diversity of people.

What is it that attracts us to the voyage of discovery? Why do we invest our precious time and hard-earned financial resources, leave our homes, and journey across the globe? For me, travel is vital; the introduction to new places and stimulation from meeting new people is energising. With each moment of discovery, our world opens wider, our lives change forever. And there is one constant: once the travel bug bites, there is no cure.

In our imagination we aspire to this world of wonder – spectacular places, fascinating people, delicious foods, distinctive cultures, new adventures and immeasurable joy all awaiting us. But where do we start when turning these dreams into our reality?

As mentioned last month’s blog, Trafalgar recently commissioned research on consumer sentiments surrounding travel. The more we can understand the aspirations of travellers, the more meaningfully we can deliver these dreams. I was surprised to find that 89% of consumers find themselves overwhelmed by the absolute abundance of choice they have when it comes to travel decision-making. On reflection, less surprising when taking time to consider the extraordinary volume of information at our fingertips.

Knowledge is power. Reading about places is fun and enticing. With an almost overwhelming amount of travel resources available – the internet, newspapers, social media, magazines, books television and word of mouth it’s no wonder that our wanderlust is turning into wander perplexed.

This is precisely why in this environment of perplexity, the services of a professional travel consultant, who can help navigate the journey, has become more valuable than ever.

But how do we even know which one to choose? Skill levels vary, as do areas of expertise with destinations and demographics. There is a large delta between travel inspiration and actual travel desires. Therefore, it is an absolute imperative to find an expert in travel who knows the world, is passionate about travel, and understands your needs.

This is a debate I often have with friends. In fact, in mid-October, I will be on an industry panel on ‘The Future of Travel Distribution’ in Phoenix, Arizona – to discuss exactly this. Nowhere in the travel world is there no debate around the relevance and value today of travel agents.

Of course, it’s feasible to sit at home, be inspired by social media, do endless online searches and make your own travel arrangements. But we are mostly all already voluntary slaves to technology. Don’t let your dreams turn into despair. Why would you spend hours online going down a rabbit hole to find that perfect getaway, rather than letting an expert do it for you.

The reality is best described in this analogy: when we are unwell, the first action most of us take is “Dr Google”. Symptoms entered, self-diagnosis done, and increased anxiety and uncertainty often results However, because we are dealing with our health – something not to be taken for granted – we turn to our physician. Why? Because we would never second guess our doctor, despite what the internet has “reliably” told us. Regardless of how much information may be out there, it is our doctor who understands who we are, what we need and how to restore us back to health.

I apply the same principle with travel agents. The secret to finding a holiday that meets your needs is finding a travel agent who truly understands who you are, what you need and dream of in a holiday, and how to get you there. Literally.

Everyone likes to feel special and be a priority. A good travel agent takes the time and trouble to listen to what you want (and don’t want), makes thoughtful and relevant suggestions that reflect your holiday aspirations in all ways, adjust to ensure that the holiday is a genuine ‘fit’, and make it happen time according to your defined resources of time and money. At the heart of a good travel agent experience is simply this: They do the work, all you do is dream, pack and go.

I have a four-step fit for finding your “right” agent for your travels:

First and foremost: EXPERTISE

First-hand knowledge, from the places they have been or learned their customers and fellow agents. By nature, a great travel advisor must be inherently inquisitive. They don’t just sell a destination—they travel, they ask questions, read, discover, research and experience the places for themselves. Quality travel agents travel for work, absorbing every detail of the guest experience. They don’t have to have personally been where you want to go, a colleague has, or their preferred tour operators have. They know the hidden gems in a given destination. They take feedback seriously. Every time they travel they are focusing on these details—so their customers can just dream about their destination and not have to worry.

Second: ACCESS

Always accessible when you are on the road – an imperative when we are subject to the vagaries of travel – cancelled flights, weather, personal circumstance. If something goes wrong, a travel agent can help make it right. And quickly, with minimum of fuss. They answer their phones and respond to their email no matter where you are on the planet. Importantly, they must have clout – they will have developed personal relationships with individuals at the companies they sell, and this gives them leverage you can’t get on your own.

Furthermore: VALUE

This is their lifeblood. Do not begrudge them for it. You are paying for their service and their credibility pays dividends. Generally, I have found that it will not cost you any more than doing it yourself. Their ability to benefit from travel relationships, access and resulting discounts will, with good travel agents, benefit you. If your travel agent charges a fee, the value you receive should be greater than what you would have paid going it alone. We may have the world at our fingertips but a good travel agent cuts through the clutter. And eradicates the risk of your holiday dream becoming a nightmare. Remember in travel, there are no do overs.

Finally: ENDORSEMENT

Choose a travel agent in the same way you would other high-value service providers such as doctors or lawyers: trust the opinion of others. Since travel choices are personal decisions that reflect individual desires and lifestyles, you will want to visit or call a number of consultants to find the one that best suits your needs. One of the largest changes, has been a shift to many different agency models. Look for the ones that best work for you. Trust your instincts – but pay attention to a travel advisor’s willingness to listen and answer questionsAnd never forget that the best advisors want to establish a long-term relationship with you, one that will be a true partnership in which your holiday dreams are fulfilled beyond expectation and is not just seen as a sales-oriented transaction. The most important variable is someone you can trust.

Sharing is a wonderful and consistent element of a great holiday. Invest in finding the right travel agent – the right partner – who can share and guide you is one of the greatest investments you can make. We only have one life, one in which there is no time nor money to waste. After all, travel dreams fulfilled are priceless.

LIFE LESSONS FROM A LOVE OF TRAVEL

Five weeks, across five continents awaits me. For some, a sense of fear may arise but something within me turns that fear of the frenetic into the excitement of the opportunity. In switching my focus to the positive of the multitude of people, places and experiences ahead, I am quickly reminded of the absolute joy of travel – the journey into the unknown, the adventure that invariably turns trepidation into true lasting memories.

To some it may sound cliché to talk about how travel shapes us, how it changes our lives. The abundance of books and films of a certain genre some years back may not have been appreciated by all, but they certainly illustrated the point of how travel can transform our lives. And it truly can –travel will make a positive impact on the lives of the people in the destinations we visit, in the rural businesses we engage with on our holidays, transformative travel changes us, the travellers, in all manner of positive ways.

I always like to remind those around me that nobody goes on holiday to have a bad time. More recently, in reading stories of people feeling stressed about taking leave, about the planning involved, in trying to “make time” to even plan a break. it feels as though travel is becoming almost a burden for some. Curious to understand these emotions and what drives us to travel and the impact it has, Trafalgar recently commissioned some independent research. In reading the findings, focused around the decision making and where, with whom and why, it led me to revisit my own personal transformative travel journey and experiences, which drew me to three main conclusions of how travel has shaped me.

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Photo credit Gavin Tollman

When I reflect on ‘when did it all begin?’, it is immediately clear that I first discovered my love of travel in my pre-teens, clearly a formative time that travel began to shape my life. My father had left South Africa, and I went “overseas” to visit him in London. To go abroad was to boldly venture beyond, as though the entire planet was a blank canvas to be easily engulfed by. With a combination of excitement and nervousness, I flew into the unknown, never imagining the enormous impact, an exceptionally positive domino effect, this one trip would have on my life.

To this day I vividly recall an entirely new world, one that struck me profoundly, inspiring a sense of wonder I could never have predicted. I went to my first live concert – Pink Floyd. Growing up in South Africa, this was a band name written on an album, heard on the radio. These voices had no presence beyond the airwaves. Suddenly I became part of a tribe, united by a love for music that we all knew by intimately, regardless of where we had come from geographically, economically, socially or culturally. Led by a group of incredible, iconic musicians, we all sang our hearts out, together, and then we all went our separate ways.

With each new experience I recognised the world was far greater than I ever envisaged, how other people lived their lives, and yet somehow, we were all connected. From then onwards I was driven to understand the value of everything in life, becoming grateful for all that I had and have, and the privilege to be able to explore beyond my world. Importantly, travel taught me early on to see, feel and learn from other places, other people, but to not judge, and to not compare. As said by a very dear friend: “desire what you have”, looking closely at what we see to understand just why it is because, unlike where I came from, life wasn’t always black or white.

With such a foundation, as I travelled further, I discovered that I began to change in so many ways, and always for the better. I still see this within myself and I see it in countless others as they travel, be it for business or pleasure, be it as a Trafalgar guest or as a guest of any of our other travel businesses, be they young or old, family or friends, coming from near or from far. We are the sum of our parts, united as a travel tribe.

With this in mind, my first finding was that travel richly and irreversibly broadens your perspective of the world and your place in it. By being open to directly experiencing different cultures, customs and communities, by learning about what makes different communities tick, sticking together as they work to create a more hopeful future, we are able to appreciate their experiences, appreciating the meaning and value of their lives in ours. Several years ago I visited Burma and met with children from a monastic school.  On the surface we seemingly had little in common, but their unconditional welcome and kindness of smiles connected us. Imagine my surprise to find some of the boys with bags embellished with the great Chelsea FC, donated by another kind travelling soul. A moment that has turned into a memory forever etched in my mind.

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Photo credit Gavin Tollman

The second finding that emanated from my own inner research was that through travel we have the opportunity to discover more about who we are simply by stepping outside of our comfort zone. To this day, I remain both fascinated and intimidated to step off a plane in a country that doesn’t speak my language and I don’t speak theirs. I’ve realized that those who don’t step outside of their comfort zone, those who choose to play safe and stay caught in the same place, lose the opportunity that will remain forever unknown. I love being able to become a sponge of the senses in a new place – tasting new foods, inhaling new scents, feeling new textures, hearing new accents and making new connections. I’m reminded of the assault on the senses that is a visit to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Was it hectic? Was it noisy? Was it confusing? Was it loud? Was I overwhelmed by the abundance of smells? A resounding yes to all. And how truly fabulous that was. Who knew I could be so involved and intrigued in discovering the myriad types of Turkish delight. The simplest of experiences often give the greatest of pleasures. The fun, the interaction and the negotiating of the bazaar experience – like nowhere else.

Something I feel we are all leaning towards, that of experiences being more precious than material possessions. Memories in travel live with me forever. As is often said, “Travel is the only thing that you pay for that leaves you feeling richer.” Through travel, I have come to understand memories are far more precious in life than anything material we may purchase.  From the sounds of being woken by elephants in the bush in Africa, to the first glimpse of glowing oranges at sunrise or sunset, the opportunity to immerse in such beauty is a true priceless gift.

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Photo credit Gavin Tollman

Through my travels I have discovered what makes me truly happy are the moments that make me feel most alive, it is where I find the people and places that bring out the best in me. In discovering the world, I have been able to discover myself – seeing the hardships of life for others and yet how some people are so utterly grateful for such simple things that bring their life meaning. There is no greater reward than the exchange of smiles with someone with whom you have no other form of communication. The old adage of it being easier to smile than frown has never rung so true than when I’m on my travels. By travelling we effect positive change on the economy and the lives of those there.

Finally, especially for those of us for whom travel is a daily part of our business lives, I encourage you to reset the inner compass of your travelling mind and heart. Develop a desire to explore – that deep down excitement, need, love to keep discovering. This is one of the healthiest addictions a human can possess, one that directly, dramatically, invaluably make us stronger, healthier, happier.

Wishing you all a life of wander-must. Carpe diem. Remember to always be joyous and thankful and enjoy the journey as you continue to travel to transform your life.

HONOURING THE ANIMAL KINGDOM’S SILENT KINGS

MM4Photo credit Mike Myers

While the lion may be deemed ‘king of the jungle’, without question, it is the elephant that boldly, silently and majestically commands the crown of king of all beasts.

I have always admired elephants. I recall with vivid clarity, back in 1995, being woken with abruptness by a large bull elephant who was alarmingly close to my tent at Chikwenya Safari Lodge, Zimbabwe. There was nothing but a sheet of canvas between us. A deep, raw, sensation engulfed me: be silent, be respectful, enjoy every single second as, after all, you’re not going anywhere until he has finished eating and decides to move on.

Being this close to an elephant, you cannot help but be overawed by their dramatic presence: their might yet delicacy, their natural splendour plus spirituality. For me, there is no other animal in the world that compares. They are distinctively unique. To observe their intelligence, compassion and intuitive care for one another, to hear their gentle rumble in the distance, to feel the sheer force yet grace of their being, stays with you forever.

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This fascination with elephants remains. I carry an inner desire to one day spend significant time to understand more about them and the extraordinary extent of their emotions. As individual creatures, and as a collective boldness of herd, they inspire a profound appreciation.

To this day, whenever I am on safari, whether on the banks of Zimbabwe’s great Zambezi River, the breath-taking beauty Okavango Delta of Botswana, or at random watering holes in South Africa’s iconic Kruger Park, I always set aside time to thoughtfully observe and absorb the behaviour of these imposing animals.

Sunday 12th August is #WorldElephantDay. It is a day that, admittedly, stops my heart with sadness. Why? Because it symbolizes the risk these great creatures face. This day was designated for one simple reason: this remarkable species was disappearing at a rate of one every 15 minutes, according to the globally respected Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation. Worryingly, this day is now critical because of significant government changes.

March 2018. The Trump Administration quietly reversed regulations put in place by President Obama that banned Americans from importing body parts of African elephants killed for the sport of trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. This change of policy was imposed despite the fact that, in the last quarter of 2017, President Trump himself branded big game trophy hunting as a ‘horror show’.

June 2018: The wildlife and diamond rich African nation of Botswana, home to more than a third of the elephants left in Africa and unlike many of its Southern African neighbours banned trophy hunting in 2014, indicated that legalization of commercial ivory trade is likely. Horrifically, Parliament adopted a motion asking government to consider lifting the ban on hunting and shooting of elephants in areas that are not designated as game reserves and national parks. History is being rewritten, in a way that is not inscribing a future in which we can feel proud.

In addition, the Endangered Species Act, which for 45 years has safeguarded fragile wildlife while blocking ranching, logging and oil drilling on protected habitats, is also coming under attack from lawmakers.

MM5Photo credit Mike Myers

To say I find all of this incomprehensible is a gross understatement. How can we call our world civilized when we are initiating a direct threat on some of the greatest gifts from Mother Nature? Elephants are only endangered because of humans. Humans have been hunting these stately yet defenseless creatures for ivory for centuries, not to mention destroying their natural habitat. it’s estimated there are a mere 415,000 elephants left in the wild of Africa – a shameful decline from the 3.5 million+ that freely, confidently and innocently walked the continent’s great lands at the beginning of the 20th century. If this abhorrent behaviour continues there will be no wild elephants within our lifetime. Unthinkable. Their fate is in our hands.

To quote Sir David Attenborough: “…there are three times as many human beings in the world as when I was starting (my career) in 1952, the effect human beings are having is profound, we are having a great, damaging effect. “Because they are out of touch with the natural world, most of us don’t see that effect we have and don’t understand the processes of the natural world that makes it of crucial importance to the future of humanity.

The message is clear. If it’s left as is for elephants to battle the ongoing threats from humans, there’s no question about it – they would lose. We need to unite as humanitarians, be proactive global citizens and ensure that we do our utmost to preserve and protect these incredible creatures in the wild, for future generations. The time to make a difference is now.

In the year where my family and I have paid homage to our beloved homeland with the introduction of Trafalgar’s inaugural Africa programme, which also coincides with the centenary of the late, great Nelson Mandela – ‘Madiba’ , I share a quote where he exemplifies the sentiment succinctly: “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.”

All is not yet lost, but it soon could be. I urge everyone to play their part and offer some simple steps to tread in the right direction:

  1. Visit elephants in countries where they live in the wild – tourism benefits the economy, provides needed jobs, deters poachers and abuse, and gives you the opportunity to appreciate the beauty, intelligence and emotional capacity of these magnificent giants
  2. Do not, under any circumstances or levels of persuasion, buy ivory or other wildlife products. Be an elephant-aware consumer. Always
  3. Only promote or travel with safe, ethical elephant tourism organisations.  Do not support those that exploit or abuse elephants and other animals for entertainment and profit.
  4. Actively support healthy, alternative, sustainable livelihoods for people who have traditionally relied on elephants, wild animals and natural resources. Learn about indigenous cultures that have traditionally lived in harmony with elephants. And support organizations that are working to protect the habitat for wild elephants and finding solutions for human-elephant conflict.

DSC06631Photo credit Gavin Tollman

Through my many world travel and life experiences I have been fortunate to experience so much greatness around the globe. However, I remain inspired by the desire to assimilate further with elephants. Their extraordinary presence their quiet, humble, yet magnitude of presence has captivated me for most of my life. And for us humans to ensure their continued presence on this planet will, without doubt, change our world, for the better.

These magnificent mammals must be protected and allowed to freely wander their natural, wild habits in an uninhibited way. As a snapshot of an insight into these most curious creatures, I share with you some footage taken by a dear family friend who is also a legendary wildlife guide in Africa and an outstanding photographer. Much of what I know about the bush I owe to the very talented Mike Myers

The future wellbeing and wonder of the world’s elephant population is in our hands. Let us ensure we are the generation that halted the decline of the herbivorous heroes and made a difference to these great grey animals. In the words of the Sir David Attenborough, speaking on their plight: “Are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?” I for one am most certainly not. I urge you to join the charge.

LIVING IN THE MOMENT, NOT FOR IT: STOPPING THE SURGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THE SAKE OF IT

If it didn’t appear on social media, where we really there?

If it were not for the posted images, would we remember we were there? Or, is it because we were busy taking the shots that were we not able to feel we were there? This is something of a central question around travel at the moment. It is one I’ve been reflecting upon and was brought into greater focus after a recent trip to the USA.

At the end of May I was in “Big Sky Country” – a place where no lens, no imagination even, can capture the magnitude of the vast beautiful blue above. En route to an Advisory Board Meeting, I took some time out to fulfill a bucket list dream with my wife and our extended family. We stepped back in time, into the Wild West, to experience a cattle drive at a wonderful ranch in Wyoming.

IMG_0529Photo credit Gavin Tollman

Whilst in this majestic “Big Sky Country” of endless horizons, a place that allows you to breathe, whilst at the same time taking your breath away with the spectacular vistas, I witnessed something with one of our fellow cowboys that jarred with me. As we took in our surrounds and decompressed from the frenetic outside world, someone raised a mobile phone, then ducked their head, immersed in the desire to feed the omni-present 24/7/365 social media habit. Time stood still…people and place paused…purely to ensure that posting was the priority. This action churned a number of thoughts for me, not least of which was should we be living in the moment, or forever forward thinking about what to post and what would be “liked” the most?

When we are so quick to snap and post that social media shot from our travels, has that second thought even been given to how this destination and experience is making us feel? In that split second of seeking social recognition are we depriving ourselves of the “pinch me” moments, by not taking time to be truly in awe of our surroundings?

We all know about the new reality – that the advent of technology and especially the integration of the smart phone and related apps, has changed the way we see, absorb and engage with our environment – mostly from a minimised perspective. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that this change is not only negatively impacting the moments of real joy that we seek to find on our travels, but also the purity of our motivations for travel. The ability of travel to liberate our hearts and minds through up close and personal experiences is being blocked by our own hands. And it is shaping not just how we travel, but why.

In fact, while scrolling my own social media this week, I saw a post from author, presenter and travel documentary-maker, Simon Reeve mocking his enthusiasm for plentiful instagram posts from Chefchaouen in Morocco. Reeve is a person who both embraces and engages with destinations and people and one I admire for his passion. However, his comment made me consider the frivolity with which others post and don’t see the irony of having the privilege of being in the world’s most beautiful places, yet they are far more concerned with connecting to social media to post images, than connecting themselves with the magic of being in the moment.

It disappoints me to hear of millennials being consumed with the desire to visit a destination being based on its “instagrammability”. We often talk of travel being in the moment, so if we take away those precious seconds to devote to social, how much are we missing? Sure, take the shot, just as we have always done with cameras through the years, but why does insta have to mean instantly for so many? Too many, I believe.

So much of the excitement of travel through the decades has of course been about the experience itself, but also followed by reminiscing about the experiences afterwards via those heartfelt moments and photographs. In the case of most people, you’ve had to wait a whole year to afford a trip. Your followers will surely wait a few hours, or even days.

Technology has the power to either widen, or constrict, the lens through which we see the world. The choice is ours. I fully advocate engaging in social media with purpose. Live your life fully, make memories but always be in the moment, without the hunger for instantaneous, online feedback. The very essence of travel should never change. In our minds, hearts, and mobile devices we must never forget that the voyage of discovery needs to be inspired by the uniqueness of the destination itself. The narrative must be, first and foremost, the voice in our minds and hearts that spontaneously articulates what we see, and feel, in that moment, not what it looks like to the world in those mobile uploads. It’s the emotional sentiment that matters and that precise personal journey and feeling can never be exactly replicated.

Being mindful during your travels means taking the minute between when your food is served not to find the perfect angle for Instagram or Facebook, but instead reflect on how fortunate you are to have this experience, in this intriguing destination, with friends old and new.

Social media is invaluable for keeping in touch, finding inspiration and information, accessing communities and enabling freedom of expression and our voices to be heard on issues that matter to us. But as a tool for travel, it is purely that. It’s not there to enrich us, it is not the purpose of our travel itself and never should it be.

Before you take off on your travels next, I ask you to consider some simple steps to make the most of the lifetime opportunities:

Cherish what you see – Moments of our lives are the most beautiful in their most raw form. Filters and photo-shopping only falsify the beauty of the here and now.

Be yourself – Our online selves can become a dramatically different to the real world of our daily selves. Be true to you.

Be disciplined – Manners matter. No more needs to be said.

Regain balance – Enjoy the freedom and the honesty of low tech from time to time. As shared earlier, so often our tech-connections cause us to disconnect from the rhythm of our lives.

Be Present – Love the moment you are in, without worrying about the ‘likes’

I am not advocating that travelers go completely offline, cutting themselves off from technology. All I am saying is what we all know to be true: do not let the virtual moment eclipse the emotion of the real moment.

Also, every now and then, it does feel wonderful to unplug and escape from social media and from the internet in general. Unplugging is important, reminding us to enjoy the silence, the beauty of our surroundings and using all the senses to be still and peaceful, because we can.  We are not machines, we are human. And the legacy of love for connectivity to people and place will always outlive the instant “likes” online.

IMG_9932Photo credit Gavin Tollman

 

 

 

A RETURN HOME – 72 YEARS IN THE MAKING

GT elephant family trunks entwinedPhoto credit Gavin Tollman

No matter how far and wide one may travel, there is no place like home. Today my wife and I live in Switzerland, the rest of our family is dotted across the globe from London to Los Angeles, Cape Town to Toronto. Yet for all of us, wherever we may be, our hearts will always remain in one place: Africa.

It is impossible to describe just what it is about Africa that so penetrates one’s spirit. A land of abundant beauty and history, stunning scenery and endless horizons, bold energy and intensely rich culture, all of these descriptors apply. But when I am asked what it is that I so love about Africa, only one thought comes to my mind: it is “home”.

It is the land of my history and my roots. Stretching from Cape Town to Cairo, it is in Africa that I feel most alive. And it is in Africa that I can create a most personal journal of my life: racing through the golden grasses of the veld as a child, travelling along the mighty Nile, scaling the Atlas Mountains, releasing a rhino in the Okavango Delta, seeing the city of Nairobi turn a whimsical shade of mauve as Jacarandas burst into Springtime bloom, hearing the unmistakable sound of Zulu drums when in Durban or hearing the call of a lion while sitting around a crackling bushfire after a day on safari. These are my memories, my narratives. These stories that in so many ways define me, are the moments that will remain with me forever.

I am, therefore, excited to share that after an extended wait, the joy of my day job – leading our flagship travel brand, is aligning with my love of Africa. It is with overwhelming pride that I unveil the Trafalgar Africa portfolio. The moment has finally come, a return home, a return to my roots – 72 years in the making.

The timing of Trafalgar’s commitment to Africa has great significance as 2018 marks the centenary of the life of one of the great leaders and fathers of Africa, if not the world – Nelson Mandela (www.nelsonmandela.org/nelson-mandela-100). Also known to South Africans by his clan name, Madiba, he was a proud son of rural Africa who grew to be one of our generation’s most remarkable expressions of courage, compassion, justice, and the journey of a life dedicated to service are concerned. Trafalgar coming home in 2018 is a small homage to the greatest fellow (South) African.

GT Giraffe drinkingPhoto credit Gavin Tollman

Why, might you be asking, did Trafalgar wait this long to fully invest in an Africa programme if our desire to return has been so strong? Waiting has not been easy. However, our commitment to providing nothing but the best when it comes to precious holiday times meant that we needed to have all the pieces in place. We were not prepared to make the promise of being simply the best way to experience Africa unless we could be confident that we could bring our beloved continent to our guests, in our own inimitable way. With TTC’s recent 100% acquisition of the foremost operator in the region, that long-held dream is now very much a wonderful reality.

For our family, to say we take our new Trafalgar Africa itineraries personally is an understatement. Africa is forever our home, the place we know best from our array of personal explorations of the continent. We’ve reached deeper than ever before to share our knowledge and expertise with our guests, weaving in our own passion and history to these handcrafted Trafalgar trips. How else could we do justice to the great blessing of our life’s learnings, our African legacy, sharing with you and your loved ones the secrets and hidden gems that are part of our family collection of favourite memories and moments.

_MEM8225sepiaPhoto credit Mike Myers

Central to all of this this is not simply seeing Africa, but experiencing Africa – meeting its people, embracing their warmth of welcome, feeling the vibrancy of their music, appreciating the distinctiveness of their art, savouring the aromas and tastes of their cuisine, understanding their beliefs and what makes their lives hopeful, seeing through their lives a completely different perspective on life. You can’t imagine how different African life is until you see it, and feel it, for yourself. Our goal is to give everyone that travels to Africa fresh ideas, fresh perspectives and fresh inspiration. I challenge anyone not to return with a new lease of life.

By being exposed to Africa’s diversity of people, cultures, landscapes and lifestyles, everyone who visits develops a wider, richer view of the world. This also provides all of us a huge opportunity to not just learn from the way of life but also to give back. Tourism sustains livelihoods throughout the continent. As a family, we feel strongly about preserving and protecting our homeland and those communities with whom we engage. Last year Africa welcomed 62 million international visitors. Our ongoing aim with TreadRight and JoinTrafalgar is to support and showcase as many projects to as many people as we can.

Of all the places in the world to which one can travel, there really is something inexplicable about the intriguing kaleidoscope that is Africa. We hear it time and again, often with a tone of surprise in the voices of people who have made the journey, unaware of just how emotionally and spiritually profound there their time would be. A trip to Africa always expands one’s mind, and one’s heart. Seeing nature and humanity in its pure, perfect balance helps one realize just what really matters. Modern ways of measuring success and happiness simply do not equate on this continent. Value is not about price tags, it is about discovering what is priceless.

In the wonderfully inspirational words from the great Madiba: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.” Nowhere is this exemplified more than in Africa.

For Trafalgar, the journey has been 72 years in the making. The time to travel is now. I look forward to welcoming you on our Trafalgar Africa journey home.

GT pink sunsetPhoto credit Gavin Tollman

 

 

 

 

THE IMPERATIVE OF TREADING RIGHT

St. Marco, Venice, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Veneto, Italy, Europe

I was deeply disappointed when President Rodrigo Duterte, the Head of State of the Philippines, recently made good on his threat of closing the Island of Boracay to tourists for six months. From now until October, the 2017 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award winning destination will be off limits to all visitors.

In the President’s own words, this dream destination has turned into a ‘cesspool’. What a terrible precedent, a worst-case scenario and a stark warning to us all. This official ban on tourism results in an official shutdown of employment for thousands of residents. ‘Overtourism’ has them out of business. For their families, this means being left out in the cold.

This is not new news. In 2017, we saw numerous scathing articles as regards the ‘over tourism’ debate and the outcry from concerned officials in destinations such as Dubrovnik, Barcelona and Venice, who called foul of the excessive crowds and pressure on local infrastructure. The rumblings are no longer an early warning sign. They are a painful reality.

For those of us in the travel industry, we need to recognise that as the Northern Hemisphere summer rapidly approaches, we have a direct responsibility to address, head on, the risks and increasing realities of overcrowding. This curse of unmanaged growth of the sector is creating real problems for the very places – and their people – that are inspiring us to travel in the first place.

Tourism growth is not the enemy, nor are growing visitor numbers. Tourism can and should be a force for good, creating jobs and long-term sustainable economic growth. When managed carefully, holistically, and for the long-term, tourism has the ability to sustainably advance economies and societies, while protecting cultures and environments that epitomise destination identity.

But how do we stop the trend of the tragedy of not treading lightly? How do we unlock positive tourism growth and impact?

Frustrated at seeing the severity of the situation, I have established a three-step solution which I believe will aid long-term tourism management.

Step 1: Dissemination – Adopting a ‘365’ approach to tourism, working to ensure year-round tourism to ensure sustained destination visitation and resulting tourism business momentum. Our industry is about giving, not just taking. Sustaining a business for longevity and legacy means driving tourism activity beyond the peak season. Seasonal tourism management alleviates such pressures – it allows us to be enablers not eliminators when it comes to helping local businesses in the likes of Dubrovnik, Venice, Barcelona or wherever it may be. We must break the bottleneck approach by staggering travellers across the seasons.

Step 2:  Dispersal – Encouraging discovery beyond the usual tourism centres, widening the guest’s travel path to discover other areas within the destination. At Trafalgar we take pride in encouraging our guests to discover the iconic as well as get below the surface of the places we visit by exploring villages, going beyond the expected and connecting with communities. Travel is about forging new paths, the adventure of delving deeper into destinations. By creating new and interesting experiences we not only promote lesser-known areas for our guests to explore, we ensure we are maximizing the immense benefits of for more people to experience the beautiful places we visit, all year-round.

Step 3:  Direct Action – Let us all understand the power of direct conscious thought on what we do. We should recognise that at times we need to support, other times we need to approach what we are doing in a different way. A great example of this being the UNESCO listed Giants Causeway, which pre 2012 was struggling to cope with the ever-growing influx of fleeting visits. The National Trust wisely realised that by focusing on an initiative that would provide education and interpretation of the area, they could embrace the opportunity to welcome more visitors without impacting the environment. With the creation of a new visitor sustainable visitor centre to help manage people flow, it was designed with a roof seeded from local grasses and also blended into the surrounding environs in a place of natural beauty. In 2017, Giants Causeway welcomed 1 million visitors, a record for any Northern Ireland attraction. Moreover, the new facility demonstrated the importance of enabling and preserving as opposed to running the risk of eliminating, with people roaming without regard for what they are seeing. Trafalgar is proud to have been involved with such a commendable initiative.

It is imperative that when taking action in the destination, this must, must be done so in genuine partnership with locals – the emphasis being onworking with them to ensure the betterment of the places they call home. In doing so we ensure a focus on safeguarding the natural beauty, cultures and traditions of the people and places we visit, which is how we are able to instill the power of travel to truly change lives, both for travellers and for those people in the places they visit.

RS7286_ALT_CAUSEWAYCapture-0051-hpr cropped

Reflecting on the above, I am reminded of a recent trip to Dublin, where I met with Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. who advised that “Tourism is our largest indigenous industry, with more than 281,000 people across the island employed in the sector.” His pride and sense of determination was clear when he shared with me his enduring ambitions for his country of birth, stating: “In 2017, we welcomed approximately 10.65 million overseas visitors to the island of Ireland, delivering revenue of about €5.78 billion. In 2018, we aim to grow overseas tourism revenue by +5%, to €6 billion for the island of Ireland; and to grow visitor numbers to 10.8 million (+2%). Our aim is to position Ireland as a year-round, ‘must visit’ destination and to ensure that the contribution of overseas tourism to the economy continues to expand.” It was a true meeting of minds to hear him make such a statement.

Travel is one of life’s great gifts. We now know that it comes with great responsibility. We are blessed to be able to see beautiful places that excite our eyes and ignite a fire in our hearts. But we cannot let the places have a shared passion for be loved to the point of extinction. The future of our industry is now moving beyond exploration – let us ensure that becomes a firm step towards preservation, not elimination.

We must take action, now, or face the fact that the damage occurring may be irreversible. As little we are in this world, we can make a big difference by each of us changing our behaviours – opening our minds and eyes to how big a responsibility we have to help preserve our precious planet. This is our new travel destiny. Welcome to the new reality.

Dubrovnic

SAVING THE EARTH … ONE DROP AT A TIME

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As I embraced the symbolism of the darkness of Earth Hour on March 24, I considered this simple yet incredibly significant gesture that has resulted in a global movement. This led me to think about the many ways that our planet is being compromised every hour, every day. My thoughts turned to Cape Town, the “Mother City” and one of the world’s leading locations for spectacular holidays. The place where, for me, one can savour some of the world’s finest wines, cherish the good life under the shadows of Table Mountain, with a pink sun set over the city’s golden shoreline. A moment that once you’ve experienced it, you will never forget.

As a global citizen, travel executive and traveller with a conscience, the now well documented travails of Cape Town water shortage can’t help but consume my thoughts. All my life I have taken great pride in being able to call South Africa, and especially now Cape Town, “home”. For the last decade, every year my extended family has gathered from across the globe for our year-end reunion in Cape Town for what is always a precious time and a true pilgrimage. Our last trip, however, brought a heightened sense of awareness of the fragility of the city’s natural beauty. “Day Zero”, the day publicised by authorities as when the taps run dry, had become not just a local, but a global, SOS.

Back in Europe, I have reflected on how some of the communication around this crisis was at times misdirected. It was South Africa’s worst drought in over 80 years. The city of Cape Town and pockets of surrounding areas, including the winelands, suffered rainfall shortfalls enough to have these areas declared a national emergency. A city surrounded by water faces severe damage from drought. Sadly, the warning signs had been there, but were disregarded. Late to the game, government officials and business leaders hurriedly joined forces to try and mobilise secondary water supply sources, with desalination projects and other water resource management infrastructure initiatives being put into priority development. But still, “Day Zero” needed to be addressed. As water restrictions were imposed on residents, new rules were in play on this previously freely-available natural resource: 50 litres per person per day, showers restricted to 90 seconds and grey water being used for everything from gardening to flushing. Not a good situation. Alas, also not a unique issue.

In the midst of Earth Month I look to other destinations and examples around the world and acknowledge the sad realisation that the situation in Cape Town is far from being an isolated case. It’s our new reality. All of this, a direct result of climate change. A stark warning to us all that it’s not just Cape Town, we need to pay urgent attention to what we are doing to our world and what we can do for it. More than 120 cities globally are facing crisis level water challenges. The only positive is that by default, Cape Town has taken a lead position for global learnings in how to recover and reinforce future water preservation.

girlwithtree credit earth day

Picture credit: Earth Day Network www.earthday.org

In the course of my travels I have also seen how California endured a paralysing period of drought between 2012 and 2016, one that cost the state in one year alone over 2% of GDP and 21,000 jobs. But living in it, versus visiting is different. And, as astutely stated by the Californian newspaper, The Mercury News “California’s historic five-year drought is officially over, washed away with the relentlessly drenching rains, floods and snowstorms of this winter. But just as tougher building codes and better emergency planning follow major earthquakes, the brutally dry years from 2012 to 2016 are already leaving a legacy, experts say, changing the way Californians use water for generations to come.”

The lesson for us all – it is our new reality, but we need to take a proactive approach to preserve our planet – as individuals, as members of a community and as business leaders. In considering the rhetorical question, “is water the gold of the 21st century?” There’s no doubt in my mind that the answer is yes. According to the United Nations, the global world population is set to explode from 7 billion today to 10 billion by 2050, climate and weather patterns changing previous natural water patterns and industrial pollution is making water an increasingly scarce commodity. With global changes and human factors altering the course of the earth’s long-term sustainability, it’s imperative that we find ways to counteract these effects. Immediately.

April 2018 Earth Day Network girl with plastic

Picture credit: Earth Day Network www.earthday.org

Through these water crises, Cape Tonians and Californians, have recalculated what they need, not just according to their allocations, but according to their conscience. So many of the water-saving measures imposed during the crisis have, in fact, proven to be simply good life habits. Not just at home, but for wherever and whenever we travel. I’ve instinctively now made changes in how I use water, ever more conscious of this precious resource. My untimed showers a distant memory; water running while I shave or brush my teeth, a relic to the past; filling the kettle beyond the amount I need, long gone. Every time we turn on a tap, we should feel thankful for the freedom of access we have. It is a privilege afforded to many, not all.

At every turn, there is more we can and must do and embracing Earth Hour, Earth Day and Earth Month highlight the depth of despair we are heading to if we don’t take action. From being a high school student who wanted to make a difference, Brad Follett reminds us how his action turned Earth Month into a global movement, almost five decades on. He didn’t need a position of power. He was driven by passion and a proactive desire to make a change. As Earth Day nears, that’s April 22, we see the drive to tackle another critical issue impacting our world, the desperate need to end plastic pollution. As both JoinTrafalgar and TreadRight, we are humbled to work with sustainability ambassador Celine Cousteau, an exceptional individual impassioned to change the world, who has worked endlessly to raise awareness of the damage plastic is causing to our environment, particularly our oceans and the untold harm its causing marine life. We are also proud to be a partner with One Tree Planted, working with them to make it easy for everyone to support reforestation projects around the globe.

I share this with you all as not only a call to action to please be sensitive to the gift of natural resources around us, but also as a reminder of one of the most beautiful human truths and privileges of travel is that it changes us, sometimes openly, sometimes subtly. Who we are, the things we can so often take for granted, come under the spotlight when we travel or even stay home. It is these flickering lights of awareness, personal awareness, that when we take action, make us better people.

I hope for us all to be changed, for the better, in 2018 and beyond. It’s heartening to recognise the momentum of Earth Day is such that it’s believed that more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world. We all need to take steps to ensure we are creating actions for the planet’s gain. It takes more than an hour, a day, a month to preserve our precious planet. It takes a lifetime. And it starts right now. With You.

April 2018 Earth Day Network gathering

Picture credit: Earth Day Network www.earthday.org