UNDERTOURISM – THE FUTURE OF MEANINGFUL TRAVEL GROWTH

September. How is it possible that I am already in the midst of my annual Q3 multi-continent tour, each stop feeling too short, knowing that before I know it, I will again be into the 100-day countdown to another year’s end? Another year is passing by in the blink of an eye.

So too, dare I say, has passed too long a period of my own silence in my personal writing. Mid-year momentum has meant that the bustle of business strategy and management has silenced other aspects of my valued responsibility to guide a great brand and exceptional business.

And yet timelessly, as I now travel the world, it is both interesting and stimulating to be asked sincere, pointed questions around the future of tourism. Much of it is focused on the perception of ‘over-tourism’ – a term that has become the cringe of our great sector. Many, far too many, make the accusation and stop there, failing to think of the implication of slowing, or even stopping, an industry on which millions of people rely for their lives and livelihoods.

My belief is simple: all of us in the industry have a part to play. Through thoughtful, respectful, strategic management of tourism industry growth and activation, we can ensure that we support all destinations economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. In doing so, we need to move beyond peak season, making travel a 365, inclusive, truly responsive and responsible enterprise for locals, visiting and supporting the less-visited areas in these trending destinations.

Iraq Al Amir

Handmade products being made at the Iraq Al Amir Women Cooperative Society, which is located 35km outside of Amman.

But while some destinations are struggling to handle the side effects of over-tourism, in August, my travels took me and many from my Trafalgar family to a place experiencing reborn tourism – the quest to break through under-tourism. It is a place I had not visited since 1997, a place that has re-energised my mind and heart because of its bold, unwavering ambition to become more than anyone ever thought possible: Northern Ireland.

This visit struck a chord, illuminating the duality of travel – how so many destinations aren’t getting enough tourism while others complain they are getting too much. We as travelers and industry leaders, need to ensure we are getting tourism right.

John McGrillen, CEO of Tourism Northern Ireland, laid out for me his vision for doubling tourism by 2030, a goal that should be easily achieved as the world rediscovers this currently overlooked yet deeply inspiring destination. It is in this magnificent part of the world that the future will now be shaped through hope, through unity, and through tourism, because its people refuse to be defined by its recent past.

Northern Ireland

TTC’s CEO Brett Tollman, Belfast’s Lord Mayor, and Tourism Northern Ireland’s enigmatic CEO John McGrillen and myself in Belfast, August 2019.

TTC’s CEO Brett Tollman, Belfast’s Lord Mayor, and Tourism Northern Ireland’s enigmatic CEO John McGrillen and myself in Belfast, August 2019.And so, I too have joined the chorus. Under-tourism: our call to action to spread the powerful benefit travel provides to the places like Northern Ireland. In doing so, not only does it address the looming risks of over-tourism south of the soft border, it also opens up the opportunity to discover new unexplored corners of the Emerald Isle, reminding us to do similarly in other destinations across the world. It re-energizes the power of travel that we know to be true: building relationships with people, places, culture, and communities we visit. All this with the added benefit of being able to explore something new and totally raw, gained simply by taking the proverbial road less traveled.

There are endless, undersubscribed places that you can discover for your next adventure. Our world has a multitude of tourism’s unsung heroes that are waiting to be revealed, waiting to be discovered.

So, to help you out, in 2020, with the assistance of the Trafalgar Tribe, here are an additional nine “alternative” destinations that we believe you should consider adding to your beyond Northern Ireland travel wish list:

Georgia A jewel of the Black Sea region, Georgia is a destination for those who love preciously protected ways of living. A natural and cultural sanctuary with an 8000-year natural wine-making heritage, this crossroads of culture is both rugged and unexplored and extends a warm, heart-felt welcome to visitors.

Sossusvlei, Namibia – Few places in the world are as breathtaking as the continuously changing canvases of colour of Sossusvlei. The Namib desert’s towering drifts of history represent centuries of winds blowing over this majestic landscape. To see the sunrise over its endless dunes, to feel the colours come to life, is to observe the power of Mother Nature waking on a soul-stirring morning.

Balkans beyond Croatia – Look beyond that which has already been discovered, journey further than the beauty of Croatia that has lured your heart to this beguiling part of Europe. Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Kosovo – the region will inspire you to venture deeper into one of the most enchanting locations to discover the exquisite gastronomy, fairytale architecture and soothing landscapes.

Cartagena, Colombia – Think soft colour, soft texture, soft sea breezes and soft-hearted people. The beauty of this pastel-hued port city is not only its innate richness of history and tradition, it is its vibrant, vivacious spirit of the future. Central to this? The fact that Cartagena, and Colombia as a whole, has risen from a history once defined by conflict to a future shaped by hope. This gives residents a heightened level of appreciation of all that they have, their hearts open to visitors to share in their blessings.

Bogota Colombia

Colombia, one of our brand-new destinations, waiting to be rediscovered in 2020 and beyond.

Porto, Portugal – A port city, Porto proudly invites travelers to explore northwest Portugal’s home of port wine. With its cobbled streets, rustic merchant shops and cafes, quaint traditionally designed homes and gilded churches, it is clear why and how this medieval-inspired town decorated in glistening, ornate carvings were such a magnet for European explorers of centuries past.

Jaisalmer, India – A magnificent fort city, Jaisalmer sits in the heart of the Thar Desert. The vibe and bustle of its historic role as a medieval trading center is still felt when walking its sandstone alleyways busy with artisans of semiprecious stones, textiles, leather and local cuisine. Also called the “Golden City”, Jaisalmer is, without question, one of the finest cultural adventures any traveller can undertake.

Albania – Here, where Adriatic and Ionian coastlines meet, this crossroads of history, culture and cuisine offers foodies and folklore-lovers a feast of discovery. Museums, castles, mosques and a myriad of frescoes reflect the fusion of its Italian, Greek and Turkish neighbours that once passed through this idyllic boutique destination.

Galway, Ireland – An explorer’s paradise, rural Galway offers barren fields, a rugged coastline and beautiful sunsets all perfect for someone who loves nature. No question about it, this is a place that has for centuries been a muse for poets and storytellers, a landscape lived on by people who take pride in preserving their customs and unique character, charming you from the moment you hear their thick, musically-accented ‘dia dhuit’ (hello).

Navajo Nation, USA – This ancient Native American homeland, steeped in spiritual significance, is also a hiker’s delight. To join our Navajo guides and learn about their incredibly rich history and culture in one of the most dramatically beautiful areas of the USA is an experience that will resonate in your heart forever. This is a place that will fill your eyes, mind and wanderlust spirit with more than your memory bank can store, a place where the stars shine brighter far from the city lights.

I, you, we all owe it to ourselves to continue to play our part in shaping the world around us, making this great industry a continuing source of prosperity, understanding and unity. For me, the urgency of travel is not about rushing to see places before they go away, it’s more about visiting them now, with care and purpose so we ensure they’re around to be enjoyed for generations to come.

And so, as you venture out, many of you heading to unknown cities beyond the must-see lists, here’s my advice: Let’s do better this time. We all have the ability, in fact the responsibility, to travel with purpose. When we meet new people, we should honour their home as we do our own, shopping local and paying a fair price, leaving places better than we found them, taking time to learn from them, broadening our own horizons.

Powered by TTC’s TreadRight Foundation, as part of our JoinTrafalgar responsible travel initiative, on 27 September to mark World Tourism Day, we signed the Make Travel Matter Pledge to cement our commitment to having a positive impact in the places we visit. I invite you to join us and sign this pledge, the first step in making meaningful change and enabling the true (positive) power of tourism to reach those that need it most.

And in doing so, we carry home our priceless stories that encourage other travellers to do the same, and thereby ensuring that together we #MAKETRAVELMATTER.

 

2020 TRAVEL TIPS

It’s that time of year for so many (thankfully and appreciatively): their holidays are now booked, their bags are packed, and excitement for the journey of discovery during the 2019 summer season is well and truly underway. But what I cherish is the fact that as I meet travellers, their thoughts are also excitedly turning to their 2020 travel plans.

I love the fact that the annual traveller already knows that the time is now to start making next year’s dream holiday a reality and get a jump on next years’ travel season.

These are the trend setters. And so often, they give us within the travel industry ideas for where to go next. So, with remarkable travel deals on 2020 trips already there for the taking, I took a moment to stop and look at the five top travel tips that I believe will dominate in the year to come and further enthuse those already considering next year’s travel.

 Tip 1: Make Your Travels Matter

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As I’ve spoken about many times, sustainability in the travel industry has become more than just a passing fad, it is now an industry must, and we must join together to ensure the joy of travel remains for generations to come. More and more travellers today are actively choosing companies that incorporate sustainable practices, speaking to their core values and, most importantly, those that the world is crying out for.  However, sadly, the rise of “sustainability” and “eco-tourism” as trending buzz words has led to a wave of green-washing, and the prefix “eco” is being increasingly overused.

It’s important that people continue to ask the right questions to ensure they make the right choices, with the right brands. It’s important to opt for a company that is incorporating sustainability into its core business model, not just as an afterthought. Choose those who operate holistically, not just hanging their hats on one ‘thing’, but making a tangible, measurable impact across the three pillars of sustainability – Economic, Socio-Cultural and Environmental. Each trip you to take has an impact on the places you visit in some way; what we need to reflect on is the fact that how you travel will decide if that impact is positive or negative. That’s why it is so important to select companies taking direct action in regard to sustainability and that walk the talk when it comes to doing good in the places they visit.

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At Trafalgar, we take a forward-thinking approach to how we can incorporate the three pillars of sustainability into everything we do. We’re not trying to change the world, we’re just doing what we can, where we can, to make it a better place. It’s as simple as that. Through our JoinTrafalgar programme powered by the decade old TreadRight Foundation, we aim to do our part to make travel matter by making a difference to the people, places, wildlife and planet on our trips across the globe. If you’re looking for inspiration, earlier this year we also put together some helpful tips on ways to make your travel more meaningful. If we all do our part, we can make an impact. The more of us that work together, the bigger that impact will be.

Tip 2: Let Your Taste Buds Be Your Guide

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We’re seeing a move away from Michelin-starred (in fact the higher the stars, the greater the deterrent for me), ‘social media worthy’ haute cuisine to a craving for cuisine that is more authentic and grassroots. Beyond its culinary merits, travellers are looking at food as a way to connect to the cultures they visit, the stories behind the meals, without the traditional fanfare that was once associated with a ‘good’ dining experience. More and more, we are realising that the way to understand a region’s unique cultural nuances is through the universal language of food; with each local delicacy having its own story to tell.

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Way back in 2009, Trafalgar realised that the best way to interact with the local community is in the setting where they are most comfortable: in their homes, at their dinner tables. Thus, our Be My Guest was born. We had no idea that a decade later, it would be one of our most popular trip highlights and now one of the biggest trends in travel.

So have some fun, and check out some of our fantastic Be My Guest experiences and how your visits help make a difference in the lives of our passionate hosts.

Tip 3: Get Involved in the Action

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With Pinterest, Instagram and a never-ending flood of blogs popping up on our social media newsfeeds, you’ve seen, watched and read about just about every destination in every corner of the earth. So, when it comes time to hit the road, seeing the world just isn’t enough, travellers want to get amongst it and really experience it.

People are lacing up their hiking boots, swapping stilettos for sneakers and taking themselves, literally, off the beaten path to get out and explore the world. And, the trend is tending towards inclusion rather than exclusion, with hikes and excursions aimed at those with even a moderate level of fitness popping up in a way that we haven’t previously experienced in the wider travel community. The motivation behind this trend isn’t pushing your physical limits but pushing the boundaries of a typical vacation to explore the cultural and natural wonders that lie further afield, on foot.

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We are excited to announce two amazing, one-of-a-kind activities that let our guests hike across indigenous lands – including the red rock plains of the American Southwest and the untamed wilderness of Tasmania – to learn about these ancient cultures with indigenous Local Guides, as they see the history of these remarkable civilizations come to life all around them.

Tip 4: Family-Bonding Through Travel

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Family and multi-generational travel continue to grow in popularity, but where traditional all-inclusive packages including separate activities for adults and children used to be the go-to option, we’re seeing a much-welcomed shift to holidays that let families experience the magic of a destination together. Our busy lives mean that we have less and less time to spend together as a family, without parents busy answering emails and children glued to their phones and tablets, often simultaneously. In response, people are now using their family holidays as a chance to spend real quality time together, away from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. They are choosing activities that the family can do together, from the children to the grandparents.

But these trips go beyond family-bonding, they serve as valuable educational moments for the children, opening their eyes to new cultures, languages, food. This form of travel takes history out of the text books and makes it real, allowing them to interact with it and begin to truly understand the important role that historical events have played in shaping the world we live in today. But most importantly, it’s fun, for everyone.

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From castles to leprechauns, gladiators to cowboys, we’ve created a selection of Family Holidays that bring a child’s imagination to life as they explore the world and pique their budding wanderlust.

Tip 5: Make travel about connections

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Too often, when planning a holiday, we have a tendency to focus excessively on what we “should” see, what items we need to tick off our bucket lists. While major attractions are a definite must during any trip, when we shift our focus from seeing to experiencing, that’s when I find the true magic of a destination is revealed.

The first step to truly connecting with a place is to get away from the crowds — dip into the small alleyways, get outside the city limits, explore the local sights that aren’t listed in your guidebook. And, it’s impossible to understand the culture or even history of a town, city or region without getting to know the people who shape its cultural legacy. It’s in these hidden gems that we find the essence of a destination. So, to connect, you have to stop looking through your camera and start seeing each new place through a local lens.

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The question then is, how do you find these gems if they’re hidden? Even if you can find the locations that lie off the tourist trail, how do you get there? How can you get access to the people behind the scenes, the store owners, the farmers, the everyday people that are the backbone of the societies you visit?

We at Trafalgar believe that travel is about connections, the connections that bring a destination to life, the experiences that permanently etch themselves in your heart and memories. All our itineraries are built around taking our guests into the local communities to meet the people that call these wonderful places home, to learn their culture and traditions through their stories in their own words, to hear the music, taste the homemade dishes, participate in the rituals that are at the core of their daily life.

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Forgive me for the direct promotion, but as I wrote this and then thought about it further, it struck me, if you want to hop on the hottest upcoming travel trends, travel with Trafalgar in 2020. Our team has done an extraordinary job ensuring that we connect you to the essence of each place you choose to visit in a way that lets you experience it without a worry in the world, enabling you to really be in the moment. And of course, if its anywhere in Europe, the time is now to get a head start and book your 2020 European holiday, at 2019 prices.

So, let your travel spirit rise and Bon Voyage.

NOTRE DAME – HOPE RISING FROM THE ASHES

Notre Dame 1

The news alerts began abundantly, Notre Dame was ablaze. My initial reaction to the news was one of shock and then grief of what appeared to be the loss of an international treasure. My mind immediately returned to my first trip to Paris, in my early teens and how vividly I recalled gazing with awe at Notre Dame’s rose windows as it created a kaleidoscope of colours dancing across the cold stone walls.

Now, writing this just over a week after the first awareness, I find my sense of irredeemable loss replaced with a feeling of hope. Firstly, in reading how human chains were formed to rescue artefacts from the fire. And then, even before the last flames were extinguished, the immediacy of a shift to restoration followed by the generosity of others; a symbol of the goodness of humanity. The feeling bolstered by seeing the country and world come together to rebuild this precious artefact and symbol of its historical legacy.

I feel hope knowing that the gallant efforts of the firefighters led to much of the cathedral’s structure being left intact and many of the most valuable religious and artistic relics being spared. This means to me, that the Cathedral was not simply a symbol or a building in France but was part of all of our lives.

Notre Dame was one of those iconic sights that lives with you forever, the first thing on my must-see list when I visit Paris. It was an icon of the city and a vital emblem for all of France. For 850 years, it inspired in visitors around the world the same sense of humbled awe that it inspired me ever since that first visit when I was a boy. Witnessing such sights is a powerful reminder of why we travel.

For almost 900 years, Notre Dame bared witness as France faced the destruction of the French Revolution and many other events that marked the country’s, at times, tumultuous history. It’s been repeatedly scarred and bared witness as the city overcame obstacles, destruction and turmoil. But each time, it has picked up the pieces and rebuild itself, better than ever. And so it will be once more.

So, now as I look at the latest pictures of what is left of this cherished landmark, in the rubble, in the ashes, I see hope. And this is what I want both Trafalgar guests and all visitors to see when they make their next trip to the City of Lights. Instead of thinking of a missed opportunity to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame as it was, I want them to see the unique gift they have been given to see Notre Dame as it will be, a symbol of resilience and unity. I want to them feel the energy emitted throughout the city as the building is brought back to life stone by stone. I want them to look at the sight, smile, and feel the same sense of hopefulness that I feel.

Notre Dame 2

EARTH DAY – A YEARLONG CALL TO ACTION

April

In 1970, the idea was born: a global initiative that devotes a day, April 22nd, each year to raising public awareness around the active role each of us can play in protecting and preserving the world we live in. EARTH DAY.

Fortunately, the volume of the call-to-action is getting louder and louder, and today, Earth Day mobilises over 190 countries around the world over to take action against the growing threat of Climate Change.

Irrespective of the naysayers, as I travel the world, there is no doubt that the ravages of Climate Change are become increasingly unmistakable. Living in Switzerland, I see the glaciers in the Alps literally shrinking before me; we all experience the heat waves caused by the rising of the planet’s average surface temperature; and according to the World Meteorological Organization, the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years. One sees the greater frequency of extreme weather events; rising sea levels, floods, deterioration of the reefs through ocean acidification, and arctic ice sheet erosion.

This is startling, and unless rapidly addressed, its influence on both safety as well as the stability of the global economy and our social wellbeing will have a direct impact on how we live and evolve into a worldwide crisis.

Despite Earth Day 2016 marking the historic signing of the UNFCC’s ‘Paris Agreement’, which aligns 120 nations around “a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so”, the need to do more, at all levels – government, business, citizenry – is required, now.

Earth Day is now celebrated by more than a billion people and is the largest secular observance in the world. It has become a day of action to stimulate changes in human behavior, hopefully foster policy changes in turn. But, while this one day has been successful in raising awareness, the focus needs to shift from inspirational words to taking action, every day of the year. I subscribe to the philosophy of Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Each of us doing our share can make a world of difference.

Therefore, for my part, my goal is simple. First, I want to raise the bar for awareness. Second, I want to encourage individual action: not just acknowledging the problem and paying lip service but actually making thoughts meaningful and turning words into actions. Finally, I believe we should focus on those who are believers and assist in translating their desire into action. And then through their actions, they will inspire others to do their part too.

In 2019, as a key undertaking for the business as well as in my personal life, I have increased focus on the elimination of the use of single-use plastics (SUP). As we continuously see, the SUP problem is considerable and escalating – beaches and open waters are being overrun with plastics, sea birds and mammals dying from ingesting, becoming impaled on or trapped in plastic waste. In fact, on the very day I began writing this blog, I read of another tragically painful story of a whale washing up on the beaches, this time in Italy, her life lost due to the ingestion of 48 pounds of plastics. This beautiful creature could no longer carry the burden of our wasteful lifestyle. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/02/world/europe/plastic-whale-dead-italy.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share.

Trafalgar’s focus on helping reduce SUPs has been guided by a vision to try and make an individual difference. I give full credit to my cousin and The Travel Corporation (TTC) CEO, Brett, for opening my eyes a decade ago. In 2009, he convinced our family that we needed to ensure our company’s living legacy – our love for travel – could be passed on to future generations so they too could experience the gift of travel. We needed to ensure that the literally millions of guests we take around the world through TTC’s portfolio of brands (https://ttc.com/brands/) play their part in making travel matter.

And so, 10 years ago, the TREADRIGHT FOUNDATION (https://www.treadright.org/), our not-for-profit foundation, was created. Its name was carefully chosen to emphasize that as we journey out into our increasingly fragile world, we must take care to do it the right way. Today, over 50 projects later, we know we can’t do it all, but we can do our best. Our focus is on having a positive impact on the people and communities we visit, helping them to preserve their cultural heritage, working with them to protect their natural environments, and empowering them to personally reap the benefits from travellers visiting the places they call ‘home’.

It was through this vision that JoinTrafalgar was created, powered by TreadRight’s philosophy and expertise, with the goal to assist in using use the positive power of travel to make a difference for a sustainable future. And, we now have over 80 experiences on our itineraries, each making a direct difference to the people and places we visit, across all seven continents.

Brett believed in the mission of Earth Day, acknowledging the dangerous path the world was headed on, and he prompted us to see where we were going and where we could end up. With our eyes opened, reducing any negative environmental or social impact from our business, and in our personal lives, became not just a nice-to-have, but the core of much of what we do.

It is clear that SUP, our greatest, most used, most durable convenience is having a debilitating effect on the globe. I was recently with Celine Cousteau, a TreadRight ambassador, who shared with me that there are an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic – the equivalent of 630 billion single-use plastic water bottles – finding their way into our oceans every year. On this trajectory, by 2050, there would be more plastic in the oceans than fish.  Last year, whilst in Auckland, I met Ryley Webster of Sustainable Coastlines and heard one of the disquieting impacts of plastics. When ingested, they cause fish to release excess estrogen which, in regions with a high seafood diet, causes young girls to enter puberty prematurely and boys to develop breasts.  These facts are too alarming to ignore, and it was time to put our commitment to action.

On World Environment Day 2018, TTC and all of our 29 brands committed to the elimination of all avoidable SUP in our operations by 2022. We implemented an immediate ban of more than 60 types of single-use plastic items such as straws, coffee stirrers, water bottles, plastic bags, and cutlery in our 30-plus offices around the world.

And, already, the result has been encouraging. It was wonderful to see Mae Cheah, who directs our Asian sales team, give our Singaporean as well as Malaysian agent partners a gift of a reusable set of biodegradable crockery and chopstick (which I use here in Geneva). In my South Pacific travels, the Australian and New Zealand Tribe put me to work alongside them for a beach clean-up, which we’ve also done around Lake Geneva. Nowhere is immune from this need. If you haven’t participated in a clean-up of your local area, do so. Volunteer, because you will be surprised at how neglected many of these places are.

But we are not stopping there – we continue to push further.

GT Central Park clean copyright Michael Marmora

Central Park – Photo by: Michael Marmora

For Trafalgar’s 2019 operating year, the sale of SUP bottles has been eliminated across Europe, USA and Asia trips, and we will be encouraging guests to bring or buy their own reusable water bottles. We will also disclose where potable water is available on all trips. And last month during our European Travel Director meeting in Seville, I was shown an app, TAP, which allows you to find the closest place to refill your water bottle so one never has to buy bottled water again.

Even before taking these actions, we had already decided to eliminate SUP name badges and changed to a multi usage luggage tag. And on trip tote bags, we stopped using recycled-plastic tote bags and chose to order cotton canvas bags instead. We also dropped our wallet order by 70% thanks to our guests selecting paper-free documentation. In 2018, for each of the 74% of our guests who selected paper-free documents, we planted a tree with our partner One Tree Planted in Northern California or Tanzania. By the end of the year, we had planted over 150 acres of trees. And for those who still prefer hard copy documents, their trip wallets are now cotton canvas over recycled plastics.

With this momentum, we have prepared a document to enable our contractors and operational personnel to begin the process of identifying and working with suppliers who will join us on the elimination of SUP in their area of our trips. It is still early days, but the response has been extremely encouraging. There is no turning back – the future is right in front of us.

Which is why, even with all of these waves of positive change, our commitment continues. In New Zealand, Trafalgar is the first corporate partner to sign up to an initiative with Sustainable Coastlines (http://sustainablecoastlines.org/) which will eventually see 110+ monitoring sites around the country gathering data using the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) methodology. The data will be publicly available for use by policy makers, environmental lobby groups and, very importantly, to educate the public about the state of our shores, providing solutions for improvement in each unique bio region of our coastlines. In addition, seven of Trafalgar’s Tribe have undergone training to implement Sustainable Coastlines’ new citizen science project (The Litter Project) which will see them lead groups of colleagues and industry partners to collect beach litter data at Little Shoal Bay four times per year for the next three years.

Change comes in many forms, I was recently inspired by a young lady, Lauren Smith with whom I worked for a number of years. She will soon be launching SustainableTravelStore.com to offer tips, resources and a carefully-curated collection of eco-friendly, low-waste and made-from-recycled goods for responsible North American travelers.

Our journey is underway, but ultimately, the belief that our planet is our responsibility – and the degree to which that responsibility is taken – is a personal one.

On this Earth Day, I would like to sincerely commend and applaud so many of my fellow TTC team members on the strides we have made, together and within our own brand environments as well as ffriends and associates in our industry, who share our vision. I believe strongly that, cumulatively, our actions will start to have an impact. And we can then begin to pressure our respective governments to do the right thing. But it needs to start with us, one by one by billions. I hope you join us on this journey of making a difference, making travel matter.

After all, Celine’s grandfather Jacques Cousteau once said: “The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it.”

April 2

BEING BETTER AT GENDER BALANCE IN BUSINESS

We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.  I recently came across this quote from Sheryl Sandberg and it really struck a chord as I began to think about the now-imminent International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8. It resonated with me for many reasons, in both my personal and professional life, particularly when I related it to this year’s theme for IWD #BalanceforBetter

Saying I am grateful for the exceptional women that inhabit and generate balance in my world, would be a gross understatement. Hoping I do the  same for them is a perennial aspiration. The females leading the charge in my universe are my wife Toni and her mother Bea. With their  remarkable combination of strength, courage, vision, passion and compassion, to me they are a daily example of what balance in life represents. Collectively, they have inspired several generations of both females and males, always exuding an air of effortless capability and balance in all that they do.

Trafalgar IWD Graphic-01

To mark IWD last year, I saluted the ladies of the Trafalgar Tribe and recognised the vital role they played in the success of Trafalgar, Costsaver and Brendan. Their part in changing the dynamic of these brands has undoubtedly led to the favourable position we now find ourselves in in the ever-evolving world of travel. Across our business, I remain focused on ensuring that true gender equality becomes a reality and is forever integral to the DNA of our brand. In my view and in my business, female empowerment and advancement are wholly necessary. Equality is an action we all live and breathe within our tribe. It’s never about only this one day, but a consistent recognition throughout the entire year that enables the women in our tribe to understand that they are appreciated for everything that they do. Every single day.

In the past year we have committed to an even greater advancement of women in our business; in reviewing our female ratio,  it fills me with immense pride to see our sustained and steady growth in gender equality. In three of our seven regions we now have 100% female leadership: The Americas, Asia and South Africa, with Europe & Britain and Canada coming in closely behind with 90% and 88% respectively. This represents +11.5% in the Americas, +24% in Canada compared to same time in 2018. Overall in our teams we have bettered our balance, with the brand comprising 87% females in New Zealand, 85% South Africa, 84% Australia and 81% in Asia.

As we start to follow #BalanceforBetter and continue our commitment, I will personally be driving the change and ensure we are nominating our female colleagues for yet more opportunities. Far more importantly though, how do we go beyond the hashtags? Beyond this one day in 365 where we collectively commemorate women worldwide? How do we push past the sometimes obstructive boundaries of men vs women?

Firstly, we all have a critical part to play – every day, every week, every month and every year. And everywhere.

Balance drives a better working world. Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, gender-balanced governments, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth and gender-balanced sports coverage.

Wherever I travel, I find myself engaging with inspirational women, with increasingly more of them playing a prominent role in our business. In 2019, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of a concept that not only changed the Trafalgar brand, but changed the travel industry. Be My Guest (BMG) blazed a trail that satiated the desire for travellers to engage locally and authentically. More than a third of our BMGs in Europe are fronted by female enterprise.   Too many to mention here, I’d like to share just two of our shining stars that have embraced the opportunity to be heard and heeded:

Travelling in Tuscany to meet Giada:

Giada Landi

Image: Giada Landi

As the owner of Villa Il Leccio, a successful agri-turismo enterprise in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Giada Landi seeks inspiration from the strongest woman in her life. “I am inspired by my mother, a great woman who preserved our family’s legacy and lovingly passed down our family traditions from generation to generation”. These traditions are generously shared with Trafalgar guests during each Be My Guest experience that is hosted at Giada’s home, a 19th-century villa that she still lives in today with her own family. Prepared by Giada herself, guests can tuck into an Italian feast made from ingredients grown on the property and wash it all down with locally-produced Chianti. “Working with Trafalgar is a fantastic opportunity to share our beautiful home, its history and the Landi family traditions with people from around the world.”

Further afield there’s a destination and a dynamic group of ladies that found themselves in a situation that made it imperative for them to reshape the conversation (to quote Sheryl) and needed to #BalanceforBetter to sustain their livelihood.

Woman of Demicidere

Image: Woman of Demircidere, Turkey

The small village of Demircidere is home to quite possibly Turkey’s most empowered and liberated women, having elected their first female muhtar (head of village) in 1933. Fast forward eight decades to discover the pine-nut production in the village decimated by an insect infestation. With a rapidly diminishing economy, the community came together. Rapidly. Driven by the women, with Trafalgar’s support, they opened up their homes to welcome guests from around the globe the chance to break bread with them, quite literally. In partaking in this particularly humbling Be My Guest, Trafalgar travellers are benefitting the local community and enabling the production of jam, raisins and wine, as well as fostering a positive culture of equality for Turkish women. The ladies wear dresses with a kaleidoscope of colourful sequins, believing shiny things deflect negative energy.

As we all join the conversation and strike a social media pose to advocate #BalanceforBetter this International Women’s day, let’s all channel the vibes of empowerment, equality and unity: to quote Shery Sandberg once more: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 

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Image: Gavin striking the balance pose in Verbier 

FOR THE TRUE LOVE OF TRAVEL

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Red alert! No sooner do the holiday decorations and fir trees disappear, then the sea of hearts arrive. The ubiquitous explosion of crimson signals the imminent onset of the most renowned February day, that of St Valentine.

In February, love is in the air more than any other time of year. And there’s no escaping it. When I see the flutter of red hearts take over our daily lives, I cringe. I cringe not because I am a skeptic of the power of love or the Grinch who stole February 14th. It’s entirely the opposite, as I’ve been blessed with great love.

My disdain for the omni-present homage to adoration is the public nature of it – not only is it on show, but all of it is for sale. Everything has a price, including our hearts, it would seem. Why do we need the commercialisation of the occasion to generate a sentiment that feeds the forced pressure to gift to our nearest and dearest. Who deemed it a day for chocolate consumption for no real reason?. And just why do we subscribe to so much style over substance to mark a day in our lives that has no credible not historic connection to romance?

With the long lead-up, comes the quick disappearance of the big day – within 24 hours, roses return to their normal price, restaurants revert to their scheduled menus and greeting cards slashed and all manner of heart-shaped gifts beg to be bought for half-price. Personally, I find it far more palatable and sincere to surprise those I love with thoughtful and heartfelt gestures throughout the year. Never underestimate the true value of excitement over expectation.

Still, for all of my inclination to turn away from the somewhat overwhelming wave of red marketing love, one aspect I wholeheartedly (pun intended) embrace at this time of year is my particular passion: the love of travel. Its significance soars to the forefront of my thoughts more so each February.

I love to travel. It’s as simple as that. I genuinely, truly and deeply love it. Every moment, every mile, every memory makes me who I am. Despite my many attempts to regale friends and acquaintances either face to face or via the written word about it, the Asian Proverb “it’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times” always springs to mind. Like the old adage of “a picture paints a thousand words”, for me, there is no better way to experience that picture than to travel and put yourself truly within it.

For me, the adrenaline fires the adventure regardless if I am travelling for business or leisure. Looking up at the departures board in an airport is like looking through a telescope – my mind fills with a sense of wonder, my heart beats in awe. Some places prompt mental images, others are blank slates. All of them send my imagination into overdrive and get me ready to go and ready to connect.

With connection in mind, it brings me to think of the five senses and how alive they are when we see, hear, touch, taste and smell a new place for the first time. The latter is always a standout for me.

It instantly transports me back to moments in time, links me to special places and reignites precious memories

It therefore seemed a perfect partnership when we talked about bringing travel to life with leading French perfumery, Fragonard Parfumeur. Working with the celebrated scents of Southern France, Trafalgar has created the world’s first travel fragrance. ‘La Belle Vie’, in which we celebrate the love affair between our sense of smell and the travel memories that evokes.

Like Trafalgar, Fragonard is also a family-owned brand and a leader in their industry, Fragonard was established in Grasse on the French Riviera in 1926 and has been a partner with Trafalgar for over 40 years. When Agnes Webster, CEO of Fragonard, told me that the parfumier took inspiration from a scented flower once used as a love potion in ancient times, I knew she was sharing not only a special scent but a symbolic labour of love to share our passion for travel. Our hope is that when smelling ‘La Belle Vie’ it will bring travels back to life for our guests – transporting them in their minds back to The Good Life of wherever in the world their happy place is. What’s not to love about travel? And what’s not to love about sharing that most precious privilege in life with those you love.

Needless to say, my true favourite gift for those I love? Travel to a place I know they will adore, giving them the gift of memories for the rest of their lives. So, this February 14, I urge you to give the gift of love and embrace life as Confucius said “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. I wish you, Happy Traveltines

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.