REDEFINING THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL

The pandemic deprived of us both the wonderment as well as the stresses of travel. Yet finally, it’s happening; the transformation of travel we’ve spoken about for the past two years is taking place. However, it’s happening at a speed and scale that our industry never anticipated, nor is ready for.

We knew it would come, but we did not foresee the degree of the travel flood once borders and skies reopened. 

We are therefore all being tested – right here, right now.

Antiparos. Unsplash: Image by Alex Voulgaris

Many thought that this would be the year for travel – one in which the world would cast aside memories of being grounded and finally return to a normal freedom of movement.  But as this new world re-opens and rebuilds a ‘next normal’, it is now abundantly clear that, as I have said many times before, there is no going back to normal. There is no ‘back’ and there is nothing ‘normal’ about these times. 

Many across the industry are busy trying to predict what is ahead, what trends are emerging, what ‘new normal’ we can anticipate. Much time is being spent evolving words:

‘Responsible travel’ evolved into ‘sustainable travel’ and is now ‘regenerative travel’. 

‘Bleisure travel’ has become ‘blurred travel’. 

‘Staycations’, ‘workcations’, ‘schoolcations’ – pick a ‘cation, any ‘cations.

The list goes on and on. The language now, as in the past, is creating new labels for how the industry is rebuilding back – building back better. These efforts, while interesting and hopeful, are inconsequential and hollow. Clearly that is NOT where our focus needs to be right now. We cannot spend our time wordsmithing how we are building back better – we must build forward better, and adjust to the needs, wants and desires of the new explorers. 

We are all acutely aware of the horror stories emerging across the travel experience. Cancelled flights, varying admission policies to attractions, reduced access to iconic places, long queues and evolving options to move freely and easily. We continue to see people trapped in the breakdowns of our travel systems. As passionate travellers ourselves, many of us have experienced this first-hand.

There is no doubt that the travel industry is in the midst of “the perfect storm”, with multiple contributing factors converging at the same and with it, critical links in the chain cracking under the pressure of the immediacy in demand. We therefore must face this reality head on, because however turbulent the skies, travel is and will always be an extraordinary gift. It teaches us about ourselves and each other, broadening our horizons. It is and remains the perfect reset button after the COVID isolation years. Understandably, never before have travellers invested so much emotion in their travels, to create new memories, to connect with people, and to see new places.

Therefore, never before has there been an imperative for the industry to move from semantics and ensure we help travellers fulfil their dreams.

But there are no trends to lean on to shape the future. We must therefore recognise what must change not just in our analysis, but redefine in our actions, based on:

  • Changes in traveller motivations: the desire to travel has intensified, fuelled by not only people missing people and places loved, but the recognition of the importance of travel to their mental and physical health,
  • Changes in travel experience delivery: our need to ensure not only creation of good surprises for travellers, but careful protection of travellers from unexpected bad surprises especially as regards changes in regulations, travel mobility and personal security,
  • Changes in industry policy: governments, travellers and the general citizenry demanding our industry to take action around critical issues including sustainability, diversity, employment equity, and health and safety,
  • Changes in employee desires and wellbeing: workers across the travel industry world rightly expecting they be respected and rewarded for their commitment and contribution to brand and business,

and without question,

  • Changes in endemic challenges: working with the reality of crisis, be it medical, political or natural, being a fact of life that we must learn to live (and safely travel) with wherever we are in the world.

These are truly transformational times. Different yes, exciting too. 

This is why we cannot become intoxicated by all of the excitement for travel we are seeing around the world without actively stepping up the responsibility of travel. We must step up and roll up our sleeves, adjusting to this new reality. We must focus on what we can do individually to be the difference, and to ensure we do not, under any circumstances, build into the future of our industry the failures of the past.

This is where our TTC focus is, knowing our brands, knowing our systems, knowing our people, and knowing our shared passion in keeping the dream of travel alive.

As for me and my personal pent-up demand, my bucket list remains firmly in place. I have returned to my travels. I am in fact writing this blog enjoying a twice delayed trip, looking out at the the perfect Aegean Sea, relishing the tranquil beauty of the Cyclades Island of Antiparos in Greece. In the fall I hope to visit Patagonia, Argentina and then spend the year-end holidays season in Cape Town, South Africa. It is wonderful to again be immersed in the wonderment of being in a place, where I am the foreigner. 

So, in closing, I thought I would share a few of my practical tips on how I travel in these evolving times:

  1. Be a realist: Understand and embrace that travel today is an adventure. Anticipate that the unexpected can occur and that even the most certain plans can change. When something is time critical, build in caution – like recently when going to a wedding in Morocco, we built in an extra day. Bring patience. Be flexible. Be kind. Stay positive. 
  2. Be early:  Get to the airport early. I have been arriving three hours before an international flight, which has made the serpentine lines less stressful. Try and fly early in the day. Book early, and dream. The last minute deals are no longer there. Use airline apps, they seem to know that things are changing before anyone else. 
  3. The essential carry-on: Anticipate delays and absent luggage. Pack a carry-on with essential items for the first few days of your trip. And vitally, any necessary medications should always be with you. Always.
  4. Use a travel agent, someone you can trust: These invaluable individuals will be there to assist you navigate the obstacles of the domino effect of undesirable changes to your itinerary. 
  5. Buy travel insurance: There are so many moving variables that it is hard to anticipate what situations might arise, so be protected, and vitally, read the fine print. 
  6. Be travel-smart in these still-COVID times: I choose to wear a mask whenever I am in crowded indoor spaces. Why not? Everyone has to respect other people’s choices. A fundamental in travel is never being judgmental of others. This applies to mask wearing too. 

Yes, these travel times are testing. But the journey remains worthy of the adventure. It is said that the first leisure travellers were the Ancient Romans. Brave and bold in their quests, they understood and were deeply motivated by the fact that travelling was a way to discover other cultures, enabling the pioneering of advances in many areas of science and technology, creating tools and methods fit for need, inspired by the world.

As our world reopens, this spirit of motivation and inspiration is as true today as it was back then. The opportunity, and responsibility, to bravely and boldly reshape and redefine the travel world is ours once more. Our next great adventure awaits. Embrace it.

TRAVEL AT A CROSSROADS – THERE’S NO TURNING BACK

You can see it and feel it, all around us. It is simply wonderful. The travel world is on the move. Finally. Freely. Festively.

With immense excitement and expectation, travellers are once again taking to the skies, streets, rivers and even seas, turning their long pent-up desire and anticipation into action. And as they venture north, south, east, and west, it is very easy to feel a sense of massive celebration – a celebration reflecting relief in being released from restrictions on movement, a celebration of rediscovery, a celebration of our ability to reconnect once again.

The spirit of ‘because I can’ is everywhere. It is understood. It is being felt by the visitor as much as the visited. We can all empathise with it. How can we not? We ourselves are not only travel organisers, but also travellers. We have longed to travel. The exceptional levels of busyness in airports, train stations, seaports, on our coaches, across all methods of transport, feels liberating.

Simple things such as the airport experience – arriving at the airport whether by train or road, venturing through airport security, through the air-side terminal, through to the boarding gates, finding your way onto the plane – in many ways it can feel as if we’ve gone back – back to the old days, back to the old ways.

‘Back to normal’ many would say. Travel excitement, travel celebration, is a very good thing. Many would say it demonstrates how much we have all been missing travel, connecting to people in the places we’ve longed to return to or dreamed of exploring for the first time, and once again learning more about ourselves.

Making Chapati, Gurdwara Sikh Temple on Contiki’s Eternal India Itinerary

But just going back to what was, is not a good thing. Nor is it an option.

As both a global travel industry and as a travelling community, we must be very careful when we use the word ‘back’. In fact, we must remove it from our vocabulary completely. Why? Because if the past two years have shown us anything, it’s the enormous impact that our travels can have, both good and bad. The choice on the way forward will be ours.

We must recognise that pent-up demand can very easily and rapidly turn into reverting to bad habits that used to exist in the days pre pandemic. The busyness that used to consume us, spending our time going from A to Z, running through the alphabet while so often failing to recognise all the letters in between.

Pre 2020, still too many were travelling unconsciously, taking for granted the precious gift our planet gives us – the gift of travel, discovery, wonder. Now, as we stand on the precipice of a new travel age, unless consciously addressed these same habits will, sadly, endure. Instead, we must recognise that we are not the same people or industry in 2022, as we left behind in 2019. Travel has changed. Our industry has changed. And we have changed, on so many levels.

The reality is this: we need to be conscious of the fact that when we travel, we are always guests in someone’s home, someone’s city, someone’s life.

This means that as we experience the celebration of the gift of travel once more, we must not lose sight of gratitude for this gift, nor of the opportunity to make a meaningful, measurable impact.

Celebrating the return of travel deserves to be honoured, but this celebration must come hand in hand with gratitude in our hearts, for the blessing of being able to travel once more. We need to be honest; we need to be humble, and we need to act together to ensure that every day, on every itinerary, we book every guest with a commitment to fulfil their travel dreams in a way that makes travel matter.

What is important about this time of celebration is that we do not forget for one moment, what we have come through. For if we speed away too quickly from the past, into the present and out to the future, we will simply jump over all the lessons that we have learned; lessons that we must never forget.

It is unlikely that the coronavirus will ever completely disappear and immunity against the virus will always be imperfect. But we have equally seen that we can live and travel with it.

As we do so, we must never, never forget what these past two years of global grounding have taught us all in the tourism industry, and all of us as travellers – to never lose a sense of gratitude for the ability to venture out into the world, whether for business or pleasure.

We can’t fall into the ways of the past, a time when a spirit of entitlement to go anywhere at any time for any reason, eclipsed the sense of privilege that is, without question, at the heart of travel and tourism.

Which begs the question: how do we reimagine and rebuild global Tourism in a way that is sustainable and meaningful for both the visitor and the visited? We must all consider our impact. That is why in this spirit of responsibility, transparency and accountability, I was enormously proud when The Travel Corporation (TTC) released its 2021 Impact Report. https://impact.treadright.org/progress/. An honest, accountable representation of the positive impact we make to people and places worldwide

These are exciting times, but equally thought provoking and action-oriented ones too. We must never forget our core responsibility that as we re-emerge, we seek purpose, we seek passion, and we truly shift to more sustainable form of tourism, always ensuring that in all our actions, we in fact do MAKE TRAVEL MATTER.

HOPE – A CHOICE AND COMPASS FOR A BETTER 2022

Thinking back to this time one year ago, I was confident that we were nearing the end of the pandemic. The new year and the fresh promise of 2021 lay ahead of us, offering a chance to rebuild again. But little did we know what was ahead. The virus did not want to go and instead, it became stronger. Now, we know that it will not leave, and rather we are going to have to adapt to live our lives alongside it.

Throughout 2021, the global community demonstrated remarkable tenacity, creativity, and inspiration. Never before have we seen the speed at which a vaccine was both developed and distributed, offering the potential for the resumption of livelihoods and liberties, not to mention protection of lives. However, there was still too much holding us all back, and as we now reflect, we can see so many lessons learned.

2021 could have been a year that united us in triumph. It simply required an embracing of the collective call to action, to act in the greater interests of humanity. Woefully, too many individual agendas endured. Too many chose to continue to stand alone; to refuse the vaccine, to not wear a mask, or to still stand too close to strangers. Too many committed to the demands of the selfish ‘ME’, rather than becoming part of a shared selfless `WE’.

That being the case, 2021 held within it innate sparks of possibility that had the power to stir up flames in what can, and does, often feel like struggling embers in a dying fire. 

Through most of 2021, with people across the globe being impeded from people and places loved, the pandemic strengthened our collective desire to come together. We longed to make connections that matter; connections to our loved ones and to ourselves, all while learning about and appreciating the beauty of the world around us.

Despite an ever-shifting and challenging landscape, throughout 2021 our TTC portfolio of award-winning travel brands re-enabled people to reconnect to global travel. Not in theory, but in reality. With a clear vision for how to operate in a pandemic world, and with meticulous care and concern, our exceptional teams of dedicated individuals enabled our guests to restart protocol led, experience-rich travel across our tours, in our hotels and on our river cruise ships.

Despite impediments, with our industry leading expertise we navigated the pandemic’s labyrinth. Wherever possible we operated our experiences, doing what we love by bringing back the joy of travel. Together, the TTC community witnessed remarkable rebuilding of not just travellers’ confidence, but the fulfillment and reinvigoration of travellers’ dreams. We have shown and proven ourselves to be a necessary part of human reconnection.

So, as we look to 2022, what are our hopes? COVID-19 is not an obvious cause for optimism, and with currently less than 50% of the global population fully vaccinated the battle is far from won. But with a focus and shift on how we can live with the virus, we have already shown that, with care, it is achievable. And as we begin this new year of new beginnings, many Nations’ frustrations with the fight against that unseen and almost unshakable enemy, appear to be more resolute. Convincing the non-believers will be the biggest hurdle to surmount, but I feel a greater optimism in governments’ thinking and desire to take direct action to address it.

How we respond to the changes that are ahead of us is, ultimately, a choice. Our choice. For this reason, when I think of all that might be ahead in these enduring uncertain times, one word comes to mind and acts as my compass for 2022: HOPE.

HOPE, because where we are now is a very, very different place to where we were a year ago at this time.

This past year we have all been faced with so many unknowns, both professionally and personally. Crisis faced by each one of us has transformed who we all are. It has helped us discover who and what matters. It has inspired us to recognise our blessings, and our responsibilities. It has shown us what we are capable of. It has empowered us to make our lives matter. Omicron’s arrival should be a call to action.Therefore, as 2022 begins, I see it arriving with a new perspective on how, together, we have the power (and responsibility) to embed ‘humanity’ as a part of our global community DNA, with:

  • Governments working together to create clear, consistent policies that unlock strong, sustainable, healthy and inclusive opportunity, going beyond recovery to inspire renewed economic, social, cultural, and environmental possibility.
  • Business and industry collaborating to establish strong, smooth, sustainable ecosystems for advancement of circular economies that uplift communities.
  • Individuals proactively making decisions that benefit the greater good of the people and places that they not only call ‘home’, but also those they seek to explore across the world.

Clearly victory in 2022 depends a lot on collective work and sacrifice, because no matter how much effort is made by some, especially health workers, if the collective focus remains on the ‘ME’ rather than the ‘WE’, this tragedy will only continue unnecessarily for longer. The choice is ours.

And what of travel in 2022? It’s been a while since the simple question ‘where should I travel to next? has been met with a simple answer, thanks to the ever-changing landscape. This will not change in 2022. Travel will be different; the when, the where, unknown. But the quest, the desire, the love for travel, will not change. We are seeing, no matter what, that human nature is resilient. People from all corners of the globe want to reconnect to travel, their desire to get out and enjoy indomitable. And when they do, they will seek to experience more, proactively doing more than they did before, with more appreciation than ever before.

There is greatness to be unlocked in 2022, for as our late TTC Chairman said, “This too shall pass. And when it does pass, there will be enormous opportunities.”

Therefore, as we reunite in 2022, may we all, together, continue to discover the “new normal” for us individually and for the collective desire to travel too. All is possible, and all can be achieved in the coming year, if we choose to live in a way that more robustly, generously, and holistically holds humanity at the heart of progress. And in our travels, diversifying, shifting to more sustainable tourism models and investing in new technologies which will help shape recovery for both the visitor and the visited.

We do not need to be passive. We already have the tools to reduce the virus’s impact, if we choose to face it with solidarity and respect for one another, eschewing our personal desires. Because in the end, the agony of the pandemic will not be overcome by ‘ME’, but rather with unity, the hope of the collective, ‘WE’.

So, with HOPE, I look forward to sharing 2022 with you.

NAVIGATING CHANGE AHEAD: FOLLOW YOUR COMPASS

Change.

It must be expected.

It must be accepted.

It must be embraced.

It must never be feared.

Over the now almost two years of the global pandemic, society has been forced to deal with profound change – a shift that has altered each of our lives profoundly. This change hasn’t just blurred the line between personal and professional, it has erased it completely, and has become one of the defining features of the global pandemic that ultimately will continue to shape us in the future.

As we come to the near close of a second tumultuous year of dealing with COVID-19 and its traumatic impact on us as individuals as well as the global travel and tourism industry, I find that I have spent considerable time understanding the reality of the concept of change. I have seen that change can be painful, especially when we find ourselves in a constant state of uncertainty yet can also appreciate now that change is not a bad thing. It challenges and shapes us, but ultimately it is how we respond to it that is vital.

Why? Because there is only one thing we can be certain of as we face 2022: further change is inevitable. Currently in the Northern hemisphere as colder temperatures are once again driving people indoors, we are regretfully experiencing a disheartening sense of COVID déjà vu. Friday 19th November 2021 was both painful and thought provoking, as Austria announced a first European nationwide lockdown since the spring, coupled with the first national vaccine mandate on the continent from the 1st of February. These decisions could well be a pivotal moment in dealing with the ongoing virological chaos of lockdowns, mutations and border closures.

While we cannot yet know how 2022 will unravel, what we do need to consider carefully is how we are going to face the inevitable changes that lie ahead. We also cannot move forward without recognizing what we’ve come through as well as where we are right now, as these are the foundations for future progression.

It is now clear that the complete eradication of COVID-19, or zero cases, is unfeasible. The virus is simply too infectious and too entrenched.The surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths is the result of the virus penetrating naive immune systems. As such, the long-term answer remains unchanged: when a sufficient percentage of the population have gained immunity, either through vaccination (herd immunity) or infection, we will transition from pandemic to what epidemiologists have termed “endemic”.

To me, there are a few key things we must recognize. We cannot simply release the pause button, take a deep breath and lunge forward into the busyness of rebuilding our industry. Of course, new bookings need to be made, new itineraries need to be created and marketed, and evolved protocols need to be embedded, but it’s important to remember that recovery will not be linear. Primarily, business momentum needs to be restored, yet while WHAT we need to do to move forwards is clear, what isn’t clear is HOW we do this.

So, what needs to be our focus? From my perspective there are three things I am focused on in rebuilding and restrengthening our business.

PhotoCredit: Jamie Street, unsplash.com

1 –  FLEXIBILITY in everything we do:

The most over-utilized word of the moment is ‘agility’, but there is a reason for its over-use. The single biggest challenge we have faced as an organization throughout the pandemic, has been our ability to adapt, at speed, to the mounting uncertainty and complications that have bombarded us. From the outset, the virus and the subsequent closures of borders and skies occurred at a speed never before experienced. We as a business had to respond and keep responding.

We were forced into new ways of gathering and processing information, creating unique experimental solutions and novel ways of informing and communicating these answers. What became obvious, and fast, was that if you lacked agility and didn’t move quickly, you were going to be left behind.

Having a global footprint and teams spread around the world enabled us to remain current on shifts and changes. Having access to real time analytical tools ensured that we were able to recognize shifting needs and sentiments. The power to, at an instant, convene a virtual meeting with all relevant stakeholders, to review, probe and agree the solution to an opportunity, was invaluable.

Throughout the pandemic I have been immensely proud on how we led, with decisions made on everything from our on trip protocols to which destinations our guests would like to travel to. But I am most proud of our Company’s leadership, who fiercely rose to meet the challenges of today. Not in their titles, but through their adapting to new ways of working, their inventive thinking, and their committed actions.

Accelerated change is our new normal, but so too is our team’s agility, quick and impactful decision making, and unwavering commitment.

2 – PRIORITISATION:

It’s a real discipline. In times of rapid, dramatic change it is so easy to mistake the busyness for the business. The temptation to take action, respond instinctively and do something – anything, and everything – can be overwhelming.

We quickly discovered that in a virtual world, the amount of information that was being circulated became excessive, to the point of simply becoming “noise.”

As such, our focus became one of ensuring we took a step back, looked at the big picture, and instead considered exactly what we were trying to address. Our focus was clear – we must consider the things that matter. Ultimately, in an extremely challenging environment, what will drive results.  

This new application required innovation, driven by new ideas for new opportunities. For example, if you are focused on sustainability, do one or two things that are going to make an impact, don’t try and fail at 22 different things. Or, if you are focused on your profitability, have a linear focus on what willactually make the difference. How can one focus and prioritize when so much change is happening, with all of its natural distractions and drama? Instead, find the eye of the storm – that quiet, steady place that will give you the clear, confident perspective needed to see through the implications of your actions.

This disciplined approach has served us well to this day. Despite the challenges we have maintained a collaborative environment, high engagement and a forward-looking mindset.

3 – ALIGNMENT:

Early on in the pandemic, I asked the question, “who said the new world couldn’t be materially better than the old?”. And indeed, over the past almost two years the pandemic has forced us to find new ways of doing business that are significant improvements on the old.

However, in this environment of change and with so much new, what became imperative was a need to align all team members with our decision making, as well as ensure we were always focused on our principles. Transparency around the known versus the unknown, what actions were being taken and our anticipated outcomes, became our norm.

In times of change when it can be so difficult to know how to move forward and even establish which direction is forward, a foundation of consideration, prioritization, decision making and defined accountability and responsibility, combined with our principles, became our inner compass.

Facing uncertainty demands conviction – something that is grounded in principles – and it was these principles that pointed us towards our true north. We discovered that when you surround yourself with others whose compasses are all pointed in the same direction, confidence is elevated, and you never walk alone.

As we now look forward into 2022, a year that will no doubt challenge us with continued change, the above three areas remain my focus. As simple as they may seem, they offer profound, proven importance. They will be our foundation as we look forward knowing that;

  1. There is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. The travel sector is beginning to bounce back. but our recovery still has a long way to go.
  2. As a global community we are going to have to learn to live with the virus. In other words, we can’t avoid it for the rest of our lives. We can live with it but will need to minimize its impact.
  3. Managing an endemic COVID-19 will require a change of rebalancing the health impact of the disease while normalising society to the greatest extent possible. 

Through managing change, TTC has shown unequivocally that we can in fact both live and travel with the virus. Our decision to only take vaccinated travelers combined with our leading protocols, have despite a hand full of cases enabled us to successfully continue to complete every single one of the trips we have operated. Together we have navigated the labyrinth of change and through our actions, our guests have had the opportunity to rediscover the wonder of travel.

As I share this with you, at this crucial time of transition, I am filled with confidence that they will serve you as well as they have guided us in our past, and into the new.

THE NEEDLESS PAUSE INTO THE BRAVE, NEW WORLD OF TRAVEL

Travel has always been a remarkable gift: the opportunity to venture out and explore the world, discovering new cultures, customs and people in places, celebrating the freedom movement. Nevermore have we felt the value of this gift than now. After almost two years of restrictions to our mobility, people are starting to venture out once more. The desire for connection to people and places through the wonder of travel has never been stronger.

And now, once again, we are currently experiencing approximately 25% of guests cancelling their 2021 travel dreams at the last minute. Their heartache is palpable. Their frustration understandable. As is that of those who are now also delaying their 2022 dreams.

The reason for the change?  After months and months since our world was gripped by the global pandemic, with millions of losses of lives and livelihoods later, we are once again reading about hospitals reaching breaking point. Curves are spiking, virus strains are strengthening, cases are spreading. This time the people at greatest risk of spread and suffering are the under 50’s and breakthrough infections.

With every passing day, we appear to be heading towards a fourth wave. But, this time, it was avoidable. Why the resurgence of risk? Of restrictions?  Not enough people have been vaccinated, and not enough people are wearing masks.

I fundamentally struggle to comprehend how we have reached this point as a global community. We literally have had a choice between safety and spread. Between freedom and fear. Between responsibility and selfishness. Millions sadly continue to choose to spread, fear and selfishness.

There will be no COVID-free world. Like the common flu, we will live with COVID as part of our lives. It need not, however be the deadly pandemic we have experienced these past almost two years.

And we can do it safely if we act responsively and collectively, taming the virus into post-pandemic, manageable status. I have seen firsthand that we can live with the virus. Across numerous TTC brands we have been successfully operating trips, domestically and internationally, for the larger part of the northern hemisphere summer.

Our innovations in guest wellbeing have made it possible for us to safely showcase the beauty of people and places that travellers have longed to see once more. Our vaccinated guests, our Travel Directors, our Wellbeing Directors and people and places we visit have become trusted travel partners, sharing the joy of exploring the world once more.

We firmly believe that a world of safe travel is possible now. With immense thoughtfulness and investment, we cautiously reopened, knowing how important safe travel was to not only the lives of travellers but the livelihoods of those in the industry, including the locals and their communities we visit. Our efforts were not naïve, nor were they in vain. What we immediately discovered was with vaccines and protocols, the first semblance to a return to a life with confidence in wellness, and the pleasures we seek, can be achieved.

We know that the concept of a post-pandemic world is one still far off. We must not, however, stop living until such time as the pandemic is a thing of the past.

This completely unnecessary latest wave of COVID that is spreading across the globe has me angry and frustrated as I know it could have been avoided. The dangerous minority voice of anti-vaxxers, the indecision of the vaccine procrastinators and actions of anti-maskers, are putting others at serious risk and crippling the recovery of businesses and communities.

Likewise, the inconsistent, lack of government leadership with their often-impulsive rules and regulations. Through their dithering and playing with arbitrary, unpredictable and constantly changing policies, they are creating confusion, choking tourism and leaving businesses struggling to work out who can do what and go where. This untrustworthy leadership is severely restricting economic, social and mental health of nations.

I have seen the impact, the enormity of the stress on individuals emotionally and financially. The longer this continues, the result will be unsalvageable damage to both lives and livelihoods, ultimately a crippling of human tenacity and spirit.

Please do not think that I do not respect the virus. Quite the opposite. I have seen first-hand that COVID kills and kills young. Yet a minority of too many are not taking it seriously, feeling bold in their false sense of security in being young, being strong, being able to get through it if they get it. I am astonished that the estimate of the current 4,500,000 souls lost isn’t enough of a red flag.

The crisis of the past two years, with its global grounding to travel, brought to an abrupt halt the remarkable rates of movement and momentum of our industry. Pre-pandemic, we saw year after year of growth in not only traveller numbers, but growth in travel related jobs. Then came 2020. It was due to be a year in which we all celebrated our industry seeing over two billion travellers crossing international borders. We at TTC were looking forward to celebrating our centenary. Instead, at the peak of the global pandemic we saw the closure of 100% of international borders, and the loss of over 100 million travel and tourism jobs. The devastation to the industry has been beyond imagination, and in some cases, even calculation.

It is all about choice – taking personal responsibility for doing what is needed for the greater good of the global community so we can all resume safe, secure, socially enriched living. When anyone rejects their vaccine or refuses to wear a mask up, they’re increasing the risk of others catching a potentially deadly or disabling disease, and as well as prolonging the social and economic costs of the pandemic. If they have cultural or ideological reasons, they should simply be excluded from participating in the greater society. The remaining irresponsible minority who choose to selfishly reject vaccines and protocols are depriving the rest of us of living life, freedom and our pursuit of happiness.

It is clear that only when the world is adequately vaccinated will we find our new normal. Vaccines have the proven ability save lives, restart economies, and meaningfully rebuild the travel industry. I am currently in France, and I have seen how electronic vaccine passports and masks where necessary can work. I can now see now that with them, how we will be able to ease travel restrictions. Vaccines are the cure to getting all of us safely out again, travel freely, living fully. Living in a sustained state of a pandemic is nonsensical. Right here, right now, we have a choice. This time it’s in humanities hands. So, let’s do the right thing, for ourselves, for each other.

TRAVEL’S MOMENT OF TRUTH

As the northern hemisphere enters the summer months, for the first time in over a year we are feeling an excitement, a cautious excitement, that we will welcome a new, truncated, travel season in 2021.

Predominantly from the United States, Great Britain and the European Union, changes are finally happening, in the right direction. Travel restrictions are being lifted. Vaccine certificates are being developed. Flight schedules are being re-established. Air bridges between nations are being agreed. New ways are being discovered to ensure that safely, responsibly, and cautiously both domestic and international travel opens once more.

Travelers are once again joyfully reaching for their passports, holiday clothes being packed and making plans for the now requisite PCR test results. And we, the travel experience delivery community, are excitingly again booking travel and looking carefully at how we can fulfil delayed travel dreams allowing guests to once again, explore, see, smell, hear, taste and enjoy the sensation of new discoveries, with peace of mind.

We have seen over the past year that the mindset of the traveler has changed. Why? Because the value and the values of travel have changed. By being grounded, not only has there been a strong desire to reconnect with dearly missed family and friends, re-explore once more, but there is also extreme caution. Travelers remain fearful, not necessarily of contracting COVID-19, but of regulations changing. Sensitivity is growing as government policies incorporate ‘hand brakes’ into their travel regulations for non-essential travel, allowing immediate changes to policies should governments deem it necessary due to the return of COVID-19. The past year has demonstrated, repeatedly, the risk and rush when suddenly borders are closed, flights are cancelled, self- isolation is imposed, or hotel quarantines being enforced.

These very real risks remain a reason for traveler concern. The need for a degree of certainty is a new travel requisite. According to the latest passenger surveys conducted by IATA, the desire to travel is undeniable with:

  • 68% agreeing that their quality of life has suffered as a result of travel restrictions,
  • 57% expect to be traveling within two months of the pandemic being contained (improved from 49% in September 2020),
  • 72% want to travel to see family and friends as soon as possible (improved from 63% in September 2020), and
  • 81% believe that they will be more likely to travel once they are vaccinated.

However,

  • 84% said they will not travel if there is a chance of quarantine at destination (largely unchanged from 83% in September 2020), and
  • 84% believe that COVID-19 will not disappear, which means we need to manage its risks while living and traveling normally.

We as the travel and tourism industry need to step up. This is our moment of truth. This is our opportunity to demonstrate that when we talk about inviting the world to travel once more, it is beyond simply our opportunity to create remarkable experiences that create memories of a lifetime.

A number of The Travel Corporation brands are now a month into operating trips in the new dynamic world. We have unequivocally seen that travel is one of the most powerful remedies for getting out and rediscovering the joy of living. To date, we have seen that 90 percent of our guests have been vaccinated. Our on-trip protocols are proving to be extremely comforting and effective for our guests. As expected, even with destinations open, travel is an adventure, with numerous changes occurring almost daily. We have cherished stepping into this new world, leveraging our local knowledge and expertise to ensure that despite the shifts and changes, we connect our guests to the heart of the places they visit. Here is a link to Trafalgar’s Instagram, where you too can see the genuine travel smiles on a recent ‘Welcome to Colorado trip we operated with Tyson, one of Trafalgar’s first Well-Being Directors.

Trafalgar guests enjoying our first-ever “Welcome to Colorado” tour along with Tyson, Trafalgar’s Well-Being Director (link to Tyson’s story here).

The joy of travel, the wonderful memories both past and present it stimulates, as we reopen a whole new world are as strong as ever. But in speaking to our teams, I hear how it is also transforming our thought processes and our perspectives.

It is wonderful to once again witness how tourism can not only positively impact the local economy, but also regenerate the culture and lifestyle of the destinations visited.

And finally, ensuring peace of mind for travelers. This is no longer an option. Nor is it a competitive edge. It is an expectation. And it is completely understandable. Today’s travellers want guardian angels.  Their appreciation is self-evident by the bookings demand we see, as well as the feedback we hear. Travellers want to know that not only do we understand and respect health and safety protocols – carefully following the science from the CDC, the WHO, and governments to activate what is required for safe mobility of people within their communities and across countries – but we are putting these in place with them, watching over them daily during their travels. But doing so, so that they can just be, and enjoy the beauty of travel once again.

As I look forward, I do see light. However, what concerns me, is that many destinations are opening up willing to play health and safety roulette. A number of tourism officials have made public statements that the opportunity to re-establish livelihoods is critical, even if it might cost a few lives. This is absolutely unacceptable. This is not what global travel stands for. This is not what any of us at The Travel Corporation, believe in.

This is a unique new window of opportunity that has opened. What travellers can see is, in 2021 at least, based largely on which destinations are open, our responsibility as the travel community is risk mitigation. We are on the frontline of rebuilding trust and confidence. We cannot help our guests make these big decisions without recognising that the future of travel is not only interconnected, but interdependent. We must ensure that we are unwavering in our delivering of great experiences as well as in the protection of the wellbeing of travellers.

The reality in the short-term is this: things are going to change, in countries, in regulations, and therefore in travel plans. Linear travel is gone. Now it’s about agility, being flexible. And importantly, it’s about remembering that we, as the travel and tourism community, must ensure that travelers never lose sight of the ultimate gift of being able to travel once more.

There is a high degree of complexity as the world slowly reopens, complexity that will evolve in the months ahead. This is where the travel and tourism community, again, must step up. It is our responsibility to ensure that the future of travel is considered, is sustainable, is secure, and is a dream able to be fulfilled. We must provide enough confidence and enough comfort to enable travellers to make the decisions to go. I know our travel brands have embraced this and today see ourselves as being the most relevant way to explore the new world.

This truly is the travel and tourism community’s moment of truth. This is the moment in which we must all come together. This is the moment in which we need to remember that we too are travellers, and that there is nothing that a traveller is desiring more than being able to return to creating travel memories effortlessly, free of fears, complete with fun.

#SimplyTrafalgar

TO BEGIN TO TRAVEL WILL BE TO BEGIN TO HEAL

1st April 2021 is the date my new world began to change, it was the day I had my second Moderna vaccine. I then realised, it was almost a year to the day, my world looked so very different. 8th April 2020 was the day I tested positive for Covid-19. Looking back, at the year that was, it’s hard to define the exact moment we left the old world behind and entered this new one.

But now, with vaccines being administered globally, we can clearly see that science is succeeding. A time for us to be reenergised by the possibility of the new. The pandemic has been gut-wrenching in so many ways but there is an opportunity to see the way forward.

It is therefore frustrating to again see signs of how for some, how little has been learned, with solidarity fading, and with decreasing adherence to protocols as well as the former national battles over purchasing PPE shifting to the acquiring of vaccine doses. These are the constraints.

What hasn’t changed is that the virus knows no borders.  This appreciation that no one is safe until everyone is safe is not just a belief, it is our reality. We need understanding, a vision a plan. This will guide us so the new.

It’s just not hard – everyone’s adherence to the now proven health measures is the only way to manage the virus. Wear a mask when in proximity of other, maintain a distance from them, clean your hands and avoid crowded and enclosed areas. And we need the cooperation of all governments to work collaboratively towards rolling out vaccines globally.

Spring is usually a time of great anticipation and great excitement. Why? The change from Winter as life begins to bud and bloom well as historically, it the time for travel planning for the months ahead. This year, we are being asked by vaccinated travellers, where can they go, when can they ditch their masks. Importantly, this not just for the vaccinated, literally billions of people around the world, are asking the same questions too. Travel is a need. But travellers aren’t big fans of uncertainty and too many governments are fueling this uncertainty in their indecisiveness and fumbling. The ability for us to go depends on how quickly the rates of disease drop and what percentage of people remain unvaccinated in the community.

2020 revealed just how profoundly our world needs travel. Global grounding cost the world almost 130 million jobs, trillions in lost revenues to tourism economies, and importantly, billions in value in infrastructure as hotels, cruise ships, attractions, megaevent structures and other critical assets were forced to stand idle. Significant investment is going to be required to re-mobilize the essential engineering of the global tourism economy, enabling it to once again shape economies, strengthen communities, preserve cultures while protecting environments.

The spirit of anticipation was deemed to be one of the great saviours of travel and tourism in 2020. Our industry suffered great trauma as a result of hundreds of millions of people being grounded around the world, but has still managed to keep a world of traveller hearts and hopes strong that shortly we will travel once more.

There is no question at all about the need for the travel industry to recover as safely as able to do so. As countries across the world build in momentum of vaccination of its citizens, for the first time in literally a year waves of steady confidence in a safer, more stable tomorrow are released. With that, hopes of travel. These hopes are not simply sentiment. We are seeing the excitement as searches and bookings grow.

But, we continue to see leaders encouraging their citizens to hold off travel for all of 2021. Hold on? Hold off? For what? With no, plan, no vision, no understanding.

For government leaders to make such statements, whether officially or not, has immensely damaging impact. And is fundamentally irresponsible. 2020 was nothing short of traumatic. Such statements institutionalise delay in recovery well into 2022 and 2023. And defies the facts.

Yes, our industry knows that we need protocols in place to protect travellers. Significant levels of investment have already been made by businesses across the travel experience chain and across the world – airlines, airports, hotels, guided touring companies, attractions, railways, cruise companies to name but a few – to provide travellers with the peace of mind and personal wellbeing support they need, and even more. Traveller health and safety is an industry-wide priority.

Our industry must be given the opportunity to rebuild, building not just ‘back’ better but building ‘forward’ better. Our primary mission is to inspire people to travel once again, because travel makes the world a better place.

Governments cannot simply institutionalize travel and tourism shutdowns. The desire to build memories, to connect with people, and to see new places drove 1.4 billion of us to travel internationally in 2019. The more loudly governments speak about holding off any travel in 2021, the longer we are going to cause this industry and the world to suffer. Travel and tourism is not simply about people going away and having fun. It is about education. It is about unity and harmony. It is about collaboration and cooperation. And most importantly, it is about hope.

As we need to focus on the science if we wish to bring to an end a healthcare pandemic, we need to focus on the numbers to bring to an end a financial pandemic, specifically those numbers linked to the travel and tourism sector. We need to focus on the economics. We need to focus on the power of travel and tourism as a force for job creation, investment, revenue generation, unity, productivity, inclusivity and identity. And as always, the industry needs to come together with a unified voice.

Travel is an essential part of our health, our happiness, our global unity. And now, as we work through COVID19 in 2021 and further into the future, it will be an essential part of our healing.

Our world needs travel and tourism. We need to keep the hope strong by keeping the dream of future travel alive. The opportunity now is to ensure that everyone, industry, citizens and government leaders alike, recognise that travel and tourism must continue. It is critical that leaders, and their leadership voices, set the tone and tempo of the travel sector to be given a clear runway for recovery. It is 100% up to government officials to officially give the industry clearance for take-off.

We cannot shut our doors to an economy that keeps lives and livelihood strong. We simply cannot take that risk. With my vaccine’s I remain innately confident that I and we will travel again. And when we begin to travel, when we feel that fresh air of our wide open, wonderful, shared world filling our hearts once more, we will heal.

SALUTING THE EXCEPTIONAL POWER OF WOMEN, ESPECIALLY IN THESE EXCEPTIONAL TIMES

I am a firm believer in the power of women. In fact, I am incredibly fortunate to come from a family of incredible women leaders: my wife Toni, my aunt Bea and my cousin Vicki, to name but a few. Thanks to them, every day my world is made stronger, richer and more grateful.

I feel blessed to be surrounded by these women who provide endless vision, confidence, support, inspiration, and example. For when it comes to these great qualities, never have they been needed more than over the past year. COVID-19 has grounded our world and dramatically reduced the radius of our lives. Never could we have imagined that exactly one year ago at this time, international borders would be shutting with speed and fear would spread as a new virus raced from north to south, east to west, paralysing our essential industry and putting lives and livelihoods at risk. Similarly, who could have imagined that the now familiar WFH (work-from-home) acronym would become the new norm.

Our COVID-world lifestyle has been unique, not only in how we have all had to operationally navigate our way around it while keeping connected to the world, but also in strengthening our awareness to what it takes every single day to lead companies through the toughest of times.

For when it comes to leading companies, I count myself so fortunate to work alongside a predominantly female leadership team who inspire, motivate and challenge me every single day. And that is why this year on International Women’s Day as we #ChoosetoChallenge, I want to celebrate the remarkable tenacity and resilience of the Trafalgar women around the world. We have all experienced one of the toughest years of our lives, both in business and personally. This toughness has shown exactly what it takes to be able to combine all of the roles of an individual, every single day. And yet somehow, our tenacious women leaders at Trafalgar have been able to do this while maintaining an incredible sense of hope, optimism, confidence, and stamina.

I want to highlight five women I work closely with, who over this past year have tirelessly helped to navigate our business through these turbulent times. These women are unique, each having grown in the company to now be the role models and leaders shaping the future of travel and our brands. They illustrate the care shown by so many individuals I work with, and process an invaluable depth of vision and passion that comes from nurturing female talent, growth and development in business. I have been awed by how, despite other tensions and strains, we have been able to pivot to get us to this stage of momentum of future-travel hope and opportunity. Together they have ensured that we are ready for when our world opens once more, as tourism slowly restarts through strengthening of traveller confidence and easing of travel regulations, all a result of the rolling out of vaccines around the world.

Melissa Da Silva, President USA

Trafalgar, CostSaver, Brendan Vacations and Contiki

With over 8 years in the business, our USA president Melissa leads our largest market and largest team.  Throughout this past year she has navigated the new home based lifestyle, juggling WFH and home-schooling of two daughters with grace and poise. Despite the remarkable blurring of daily pressures and demands, she has graciously traversed her multitude of roles as: mother, teacher, daughter, sister, partner, friend and of course business leader. You can get to know more about Melissa and her journey here.

Melissa Da Silva, President USA, Trafalgar, CostSaver, Brendan Vacations and Contiki

Katrina Barry, Managing Director Australia

Trafalgar, CostSaver and Contiki

Katrina, who holds 6 years in our TTC business, joined the Trafalgar tribe just last year after returning from maternity leave following the birth of her second child, making her a super mum to two under 2. Since joining, Katrina has not only been a leading force in the role of Managing Director for our brands in Australia, but has also leaned in to navigate the challenges of the strict Australian travel restrictions. With stamina and energetic vision and driven by success, Katrina is an exemplary leader and role model for many of our young female talent across the business as she brilliantly balances her young family with a demanding leadership role. Learn more about Katrina in her interview here.

Katrina Barry, Managing Director Australia, Trafalgar, Costsaver and Contiki

Jillian Gattrell, Director of Operations Europe

Trafalgar and CostSaver

Growing in the company over 14 years Jillian, who is now our Director of Operations, was the instrumental driving force in a new vision of travel protocol in a post covid world. Jillian’s commitment and passion to respond to travellers needs, while being lead by government and authority guidelines to create new standards of wellbeing protocol, has been exceptional. Watching Jillian march forward into new unpaved territory with a clear vision and determination to deliver for our guests has been exceptional. Learn more from Jillian here.  

Jillian Gattrell, Director of Operations Europe, Trafalgar and CostSaver

Dee Marrocco, Chief Marketing Officer

Trafalgar and CostSaver

Having worked across brands and roles in TTC over a 10-year period, Dee has grown within the business, moving from her home in Australia to be our brands CMO, now based in Geneva. Through these turbulent times, as a brand we have been faced with factual and emotional complexities as borders shut and our guests’ concerns have grown and perpetually shifted. Dee’s vision and passion has been instrumental in bringing a relatable simplicity to our communications and return to travel plans across all of our global offices. You can read more about Dee and her journey here.

Dee Marrocco, Chief Marketing Officer, Trafalgar and CostSaver

Mae Cheah, President Asia

Trafalgar and CostSaver

In addition to these four women, of particular standout for me is Mae , who has not only developed within the business to now lead our Asia office, but is holding such an important position in a region where traditionally only 35% of women hold senior leadership positions. The multiplicity of this achievement is not taken for granted, nor is her determination for success. Mae brings a hunger to achieve and a gentleness of care to her daily actions where she consistently pushes beyond the traditional norms to explore the new, to expand our sales footprint across Asia. Read Mae’s story here

Mae Cheah, President Asia, Trafalgar and CostSaver

I am so proud to have my team by my side who are all exemplary leaders, and even more proud that of my executive team, 82% are female. I’m proud to be part of a business where we can lead by example and showcase the power that female leadership can offer our industry.

Today, on #IWD2021 and always, I celebrate with you all of the women around us who we can confidently look to as our leaders in mind, heart and spirit. This innate strength and depth of leadership style is critical to us all as we work together, to rebuild a future tourism industry and world that is genuinely equal, supportive, diverse, caring, and confident, reinspiring global tourism’s power as a force for good for all.

#InternationalWomensDay

TRAVEL IN 2021: MY WISHES FOR SEEING THE WORLD ANEW

With each new year comes a new must-do trave list, a #bucketlist of all the things we want to do and places we want to visit. In 2021 however, and considering the unusual nature with which we enter this new year, this year’s bucket list is full of desires grounded in deeper concious thought.

For 2021, our wish lists are not simply a listing of places to which we long to travel. Uniquely, this year they also offer insight into our intense love for travel beyond the WHERE and WHAT, tapping into the beauty of the WHY. They are reflections of the connections that we have missed, or missed out on, because of our being unable to discover the world in 2020.

For us all, wherever in the world we may be, the past year grounded us in a way that was completely unexpected, unimaginable, and inescapable.

For us travel nomads who spend a significant amount of our working and personal lives on airplanes, discovering new places around the world and unlocking new opportunities, this loss was yet another facet in what was a challenging year. For this reason, our untouched 2020 bucket lists have enriched our 2021 ‘TO DO’ lists. We are determined to venture out, to discover and go and see beyond our immediate borders, as soon as we possibly can.

As I look ahead into 2021, I am certain that we will see travel return. With the first round of vaccine doses already being dispersed and dispensed, these will be the key needed stabilizing force to move beyond the mere desire to go. The dispensing scale of the various approved pharma manufacturers will have the necessary positive global impact to enable the gates to travel to reopen. The vaccine, combined with testing, the continued use of masks, social distancing, hand washing and other supplier actions, will enable us to once again travel and reintroduce ourselves to the different places, people, cultures and experiences that enrich our lives.

So, what is on my #TTC2021 bucket list? As stated earlier, interestingly this year my travel bucket list is defined not by WHERE, but motivated by WHY.

My personal bucket list features only three places in the world. Nevertheless, it is a list that means the world to me. Here is my #TTCTOP3:

#1: Space and Big Sky

I love the great outdoors. It is what I’ve always loved. I love being out in nature, whether it is climbing sand dunes in the desert, skinning up then snowboarding down snow covered slopes or watching wildlife across the African veld.

Now post-lockdowns, I have a greater yearning for open space, along with a remnant unease of crowded places. I also love feeling the humility in being a mere speck on the globe. I want to be able to experience that again, opening up psychologically, not just physically, having been locked in for the entire year. Where do I want to go? I want to be able to look up like never before and see the lights, the Northern Lights. As I’ve written in the past, I have booked and intend to go to Lapland, Northern Sweden, in early April – a time that coincides perfectly with when I think travel will begin finally reopening up once more. I want to observe the beginning of Spring by looking up to the night lights dancing across the sky, celebrating all of the natural wonder that our world has to offer.

Importantly, I want to appreciate now and with deeper meaning, the blessing we have of being able to finally go out and explore again the gifts of Mother Nature’s creation.

#2: Cultural Re-awakening

By being locked in, we locked out the opportunity to gain direct, personal engagement, and the stimulation of learning from people of other cultures, and being an insider in their worlds. How I have missed discovering what it is that gives their lives meaning, gives their lives definition, and gives them a sense of identity.

Where do I want to go in 2021 to re-ignite this love of local? Top of my list remains Vietnam. I’ve never been, despite trying to go for the past three years. For whatever reason, these plans never came together. But in 2021 my wife and I are determined to try and make it happen.

I am excited to explore the culture and warmth of the nation through its food, its dance, its traditions, and of course, its art. I have been told to anticipate the country’s breath taking natural beauty. But post the Covid year,  it’s the friendliness and hospitality of Vietnamese people that intrigues me. I want to be able to connect with a country that has been connected to the world in so many ways, meeting and engaging with people who are as excited to share their pride of place as I am to experience it through their hearts and minds.

#3: Personal, Purposeful Connection

Third on my bucket list is one of personal motivation – I want to ensure that I continue to broaden my mind through travel.

I therefore want to be able to make a personal connection to the realities of people not only millions of miles away, but right beside me. 2020 made vividly clear just how harmful, how hurtful, and how deeply divisive racial inequality is and continues to be. Respectful and respected equality must become a legacy that our generation can be proud to pass on. But this only happens if we truly understand the position of others – if we walk in their footsteps. In doing so we gain a genuine understanding what makes their hearts smile, what makes their minds tick, what they find to be meaningful.  

In this regard, the trip that I’m determined to take, is a new Trafalgar itinerary that I am so proud of, which frames the important history of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. This trip will go on sale during the month of February, recognised as Black History Month.

Inspired by one of our own Team Trafalgar members, this itinerary is a unique historical experience, as it explores the pioneers in this period of American history, particularly that of, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Guests and I will take a journey of enlightenment, meeting activists and guides along the way who will unlock each place through their eyes. Starting in Memphis, Tennessee where the world lost Dr. King the day after his final “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and ending in Atlanta, Georgia home of his birth. The trip will explore significant places like Greenwood and the Mississippi Freedom Trail, walk in his footsteps across The Edmund Pettus Bridge and Birmingham, Alabama. Our team is excited to bring this vision to life, through a different lens. With a first departure in May 2021, this itinerary will, no doubt, become a leading feature of our 2021 portfolio, and beyond.

Reflecting on the three bucket list travels I have shared, I cannot but feel a quiet smile emerging within me. Why? Because they all feel so true to my dreams for travel in the year ahead. All three of these capture the heartbeat of what I have missed. That sense of missing has created a sense of purpose and a sense of direction for my spirit of travel that now shapes my bucket list for 2021.

I am excited about what is ahead in 2021. I’m excited not just because of the opportunity to be able to travel again, but the deeper, much deeper appreciation I have for my travels; for being a positive force, socially, economically and environmentally.

The challenges of 2020 have made us appreciate not just the value of travel, but the values of travel. And in doing that, it makes our re-entering the world in 2021 all the richer, more meaningful, and more connected – exactly what travel must, at its core, always be about. #MakeTravelMatter

THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL: TRUTHS, NOT TRENDS

This past year has been a remarkable examination of how our world responds to crisis. Each and every one of us, wherever we are in the world, has had to face the unexpected, unprecedented trauma of COVID-19. From the beginning of this year, the pandemic crept across the world, grounding each and every one of us.

It is now nine months since we were forced to stand still. What a long, demanding year it has been. COVID-19 has not just pummelled the global economy, it has deeply wounded the global community both emotionally and physically, and shaken the travel industry to its core.

As I look back at 2020, I am still astounded by the speed at which the pandemic first started and then subsequently spread. Overnight, borders were closed, skies blocked, fears unlocked. We were all left stranded to where we were in those moments. News coverage of those early days remain indelibly imprinted in my mind: a single lone cyclist on what would have been bustling Geneva roads, a vacuum of humanity in Piazza Umberto in Capri, the timeless image of absolute emptiness in ever-bustling Times Square in New York City, the lines of Parisian cafes and endless rows of retail stores all shuttered. And indicative of what was ahead, the mass of stockpiled, idle aircrafts parked in airports around the world. 

Yet now, we are beginning to see tangible green shoots appearing all around us. The biggest of these is the positive vaccine news. I believe that we are entering the beginning of the end of this difficult period. 

We cannot predict exactly when travel will resume but with the approval and the commencement of administering the Pfizer / BioNTech, vaccine and the pending approvals of both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, certainty is growing that we will be able to boldly step out of our bubbles.  

This joined with the emerging reduction of quarantine requirements, significant progress in rapid testing and the trials of a digital ‘health passport’ under way to aid the reopening of borders will collectively build confidence of an imminently brighter future. Yes, we will soon escape our cabin fever and begin exploring the world again in 2021.

There is light on the horizon. We can once again begin to look forward. To look forward however, we frequently need to begin by looking back, to analyse the patterns of the year that was. From 2020 however, there are no trends. We should not put value on what trends have been established in 2020, as these are all too often simply a reflection of short-term behaviour. In times of crisis, using these behaviours as a compass for future momentum is to institutionalise damage. Instead, what we want to look at is truths – fundamental forces of thought that inspire action and change.

Throughout the interminable last nine months of 2020, we have been given plenty of time for reflection, learning and strategy as regards the future of travel. This pause has offered us the chance to re-evaluate where we go from here, to do a proper reset and define how our industry will change after the pandemic.

It is not just about how travel has changed. It is about how travellers have changed.

If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is that there is no crystal ball. But still, I would like to share with you here my nine personally defined, globally inspired perspectives on the changes we will see in our industry and the new traveller in 2021 and beyond.

1. WANDERMUST. Our wanderlust is at an all-time high. Our time at home has made us crave the world outside more than ever. The pent-up travel demand grows daily. We are aching to explore again and reconnect with the joy that travel brings. Many would travel today, if only planes were flying and borders not closed. This remains an insurmountable challenge. However, we know that when borders and skies are re-opened, so will the floodgates for travel. I believe once we can go again, we will see an unprecedented surge in demand for travel. Travel is no longer something we lust for – it is instead a fundamental necessity. We must travel again.

Tasmania’s Bridestowe Lavender Farm

2. WELLBEING. Even with the vaccine, we know the creation of safer travel experiences will now be an essential, a given, and a fundamental to protecting the privilege that is travel. For everyone in our industry, wellbeing will be a reflection of brand trust. How we approach protocols to ensure travellers feel comfortable and well taken care of will become a lever for brand choice. Those that do it well will flourish. Those that don’t bother to care about caring, will struggle.

3. THE JOY IN TRAVEL. Travellers will be looking for assurance that travel brands have the know-how to ensure the magic of travel is not diluted in exchange for new protocols. They need to know that their chosen brands have the seamless ability to pivot to new requirements while still delivering the rich deep experiences they are dreaming of. At TTC, we have taken an industry’s first leap and added a specific Wellbeing Director on trip, so that our Travel Directors can remain 100% focused on customer satisfaction and delivering trips of a lifetime.

Exploring the magical Seville

4. A GREATER VALUE PROPOSITION. Price has been the historic driving force far too often in travel. In the year ahead, what we get for our money in terms of safety, enrichment, education, inspiration and protection will become of greater importance than just the price we pay.

Travel Director Jonathan with guests

5. THE GREAT OUTDOORS. We are already seeing that 2021’s travellers, not surprisingly, want nature, the outdoors – places that deliver on wide open spaces, fresh air, a chance to get into nature, and a way of avoiding crowds. When borders lift, I am confident we will see a resurgence in destinations such as New Zealand and Switzerland that will shoot to the top of the ‘must visit now’ lists.

Embrace the great outdoors at Geiranger Fjord

6. CONSCIOUS AND MEANINGFUL TRAVEL.  This year has shown that the issue is not over-tourism. The world needs tourism for all of its social, cultural, economic and environmental benefit. The issue is rather of irresponsible crowding as a result of bad management and bad manners. We will see more companies focus on the integration of both conscious and meaningful travel experiences into their DNA. This is what true ‘sustainability’ is all about. Here at Trafalgar and as part of TTC, we have always looked to make a difference to people, places and the planet, ensuring the destinations we are so privileged to visit are there for generations to come. I am filled with hope and certainty that when we travel again, we will continue to be a driver of real change. It is through what we do as an industry that we can regenerate and restore our world’s natural and cultural treasures through travel itself. I believe that travellers themselves will want to ensure that their travel dollars and decisions directly, responsibly and sustainably impact the communities they visit.

Marta Cuccia and Guests in Perugia, Italy

7. FAMILY AND FRIENDS TRAVEL. After stressful times – 2020 being exactly that – multi- generational travel, and family and friends travel as a whole, will see a significant rise. Why? Because the importance of travelling together will be something we will see continue as loved ones recognise and appreciate their value as units – essential ‘bubbles’. Respecting this shift in social connection, we have extended our offering and created our own private groups and ‘travel bubbles’ so as to provide travellers with even more options to suit their wishes and wants.

Making Pasta in Italy

8. TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION. The post-COVID19 world will be far more digital. Reason being, the pandemic has compressed years’ worth of transformation into months, accelerating ideation and investment, bringing on dramatic shake-up in how people research, buy and interact with their travel experiences. Greater use of tech for touchless and low touch experiences have become a basis for infrastructure enhancement. Despite limited travel, in the last year we have already seen electronic devices become more critical to our safe existence. The use of biometrics will be the new normal. Bravely, TTC has removed paper travel documentation and on trip paper touchpoints from our vacations and switched purely to digital communication. Touchless interactions are both instantaneous and sustainable. The use of less paper is the way of the future.

9. THE ROLE OF THE BOOKING AGENT. At a time when travellers are innately nervous around the unknown of a destination at a health and safely level, the expertise, knowledge and support of a skilled Booking Agent is vital for clients returning to travel. Travellers will be looking to those booking channels that offer the personal touch, and who take the time to reconnect and understand inherently the needs of the customer, and what they can offer them for ultimate reassurance.

Travel in the year ahead will look different, no question about it. And this can and will be a good thing. The richness of our experiences, and the feelings we get from travel, have intensified. The opportunity is now to turn inspiration and aspiration into action.

One must never take for granted the impact and freedom of being able to pack a bag, hit the skies or the open road, and fulfil that dream, be it one of leisure or business. Never again should we cast aside as a ‘given’ the concept of travel as an expectation and entitlement. It is truly one of the greatest gifts of our lives for so many reasons beyond being simply a vacation.

The new year awaits. We will soon begin a new, infinitely better year. But we are not there yet. We must remain strict, patient, diligent, staying the course until the pandemic is over. There is no ‘going back to normal’ as there is no going back, and no normal, to return to.

2021 has the power to be one of the most meaningful of our lives, for our industry, and for people and places across the globe. We look forward to a year of good health, great success, and the gift to travel restored, richly.