FORECAST FOR 2018 – THE SEVEN TO ANTICIPATE

The countdown is on. Ready or not, we are into the final 50 days of the year. It is remarkable that we are already so close to the end of 2017. In the same way that one naturally pauses to reflect on events of the past year, it is also that time of year when debate turns to expected trends for the next year.

Being ahead of the curve is something I love to challenge myself and my team on, hence we also take pride in it being synonymous with the Trafalgar brand. So ahead of the Christmas countdown, here are my seven trends for 2018.

Why seven? Simple: it is the world’s favourite number. There are seven days of the week, seven colours of the rainbow, seven seas and seven continents. And, there is no value in increasing the number purely for numbers’ sake.

Let’s take-off…

  1. Off-Season Travel

Travel has become a way of life. Exploring, adventuring, relaxing, escaping, reconnecting – all of these have become a part of what we do, and shape who we are. The numbers of travellers are growing annually, dramatically. Clearly, however, in key cities, the industry can’t build accommodation fast enough to accommodate high season peaks, and travelling on your own can result in long queues that simply exhaust the desire to fulfil a travel dream.

Re-adjusting our mind-sets to embrace year-round travel as a genuine prospect allows travellers to fully enjoy every moment and not have that sinking feeling of worrying about battling crowds at each turn. Lack of crowds means lack of frustration of time and space lost as you embark on the same “bright idea” to travel to the same place at the same time as everyone else. The following three variables are being increasingly considered and I believe we will see more travellers shifting to embrace year-round travel:

If you’ve ever been to the same destination during the typical peak season and the off-season, you could relate to me instantly. The way locals treat visitors when there aren’t many of them is also worth noticing. Welcomes are warmer and more sincere – you will feel more like a traveller than a tourist.

You will also see more. Without traffic and queues one acquires more time and the opportunity to discover a whole new range of activities to enjoy and take part in during the less-traditional “peak’ periods.

Finally, there are the prices. From air to activities to transport, depending on time of year and season, rates can vary significantly. Discounts are for times of low demand. The plus points make it all a rather obvious alternative.

  1. True Sustainability Will Become A Requisite, Not A Nice To Have

“Over-tourism” is a growing concern. During the peak European summer travel months, destinations such as Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik find themselves simply overwhelmed, local residents growingly angered by the takeover of tourists. The insurgence of what I have termed the “ice cream tourist’. We have all just read about the changes coming for cruises in Venice, which will serve only to increase the concerns.

For travel to remain true to people and place, we must ensure that we work to grow tourism in a sustainable manner – assisting local communities to celebrate who they are, respecting their uniqueness, as a prelude to building their economy and protecting their environment. Through JoinTrafalgar, as well as our TTC-aligned Treadright Foundation, we must all play our part in ensuring that tourism remains a force for good. The term “sustainable” has been increasingly paired up with “travel” and “tourism” to denote a desired way of operating. We are hearing more and more from our travellers that they are becoming increasingly engaged with spending their money on “sustainable” ventures. It is not about being eco-friendly, it is about being environmentally-conscious – being part of the bigger picture, preserving something for the long-term.

But how do we really give meaning to the term “sustainability”? These are my three criteria for sustainable travel in 2018 and beyond:

  1. Economic – how, the business model that supports an enduring tourism economy
  2. Cultural – being sensitive to the history, traditions, identity and ideologies of a people and place
  3. Environmental – preserving, protecting and promoting the gifts of natural environment all around us

TreadRight Heritage supporting Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti in Perugia, Italy

As previously referenced, differentiated seasonality will diminish – no more FOMO for those that don’t travel in summer in Europe, for example. We will see people travelling at traditional “off peak” or shoulder periods as is, not only to avoid excessive crowds but also to avoid compromising some of those destinations that cannot cope with the burgeoning influx. It will help pace the tourism intake and also sustain businesses that might otherwise be stretched with having the highest percentage of their business boom during the key summer months (more longevity and sustains business and tourism).

 

 

  1. Technology, Enriching The Travel Experience

From AR and VR and IoT (internet of Things) they are all becoming integrated into  daily life. In 2018, I envision them further assimilating into the traveller experience, making them an integral part of the journey to the ultimate destination. It shouldn’t be surprising that holidaymakers in 2018 will want to ensure that technology works for them to leverage their travels – before they go, whilst travelling, and after, especially when sharing reviews. As an industry, we need to ensure we are tapping into this trend, embracing technology that genuinely enriches our experiences.

There is no doubt that the written form is quickly evaporating and today consumers are ever increasingly looking at video for inspiration; and particularly short form video, (from 5 – 30 seconds). I know that when a video starts, I look at the time bar and if its long, I click off.  In 2018 we will see short form video help drive original content as well as engage and inspire travellers.

Finally, if I recall correctly, last year, we reached the tipping point when we viewed more websites on our smartphones and tablets than our desktops. This milestone highlights how our interaction with technology is rapidly shifting. With this distinct trend and seeing how our guests use technology whilst travelling with us. In 2018 Trafalgar will be introducing an innovative new way for our guests to get information via mobile pre, during and post their travels, as well as enabling them to engage with fellow travellers and share their experiences across their social channels.

  1. It’s All About Personalisation.

Lest we never forget: when travelling, personalisation is no longer a pleasant surprise for customers, it is an absolute expectation. There is no reason at all why the power of touching one should be lost to the masses. Today’s connectivity means that consumers are rightfully expecting, and demanding, more. From our perspective, for every single one of our Trafalgar guests around the world, no one matters more than each of them. Their needs, their expectations, are simple: recognise, understand and respect me for the individual that I am.

Why? Because consumers want to feel like their interests and preferences are not only taken seriously but also applied. They want their holiday to be as individual as they are. And rightly so. And because they, our valued customers, have invested time to research and finally choose their holiday with us over others, it is expected that we reciprocate by honouring not just their choice, but honouring them. Their happiness is our unequivocal goal.

Food Foraging in Lahinch, Ireland

  1. HDD – Holiday Deficit Disorder

An expression given to me by wife. It wasn’t that long ago that taking all of one’s holiday time was almost frowned upon. Today the importance of unplugging is greatly understood. Never before has there been such awareness of the strong relationship between wellness and taking time off.

Today, “Holiday Shaming” is rapidly becoming an ideal of the past. Encouraging personal time out is the evolved way of looking at employee wellbeing, on and off the job. At the same time, travellers recognise that regularly recharging, refreshing and rejuvenating is part of a healthy work-life balance. What better way than to travel to new places, get away from the day to day and completely escape. The need to learn more to increase one’s productivity, creativity, sense of purpose and sense of participation is not only acquired in the workplace. There is no better school for personal growth and decompression than the travel world that surrounds us all.

In the back yard of our Stay with Stories, Las Sasas de la Juderia, in Seville

  1. Off the beaten track destinations

Discovering the mysterious and the new remains vital to travellers. I continue to see more and more people visiting cities that were, until recently, overlooked, unheard of or inaccessible. There is no doubt that the proliferation of low-cost airlines is having a profound, positive impact on these lesser known places. Regional low-cost carriers continue to proliferate globally, making discovery of somewhat unexplored destinations a delightful reality. In so doing, these new air routes unlock previously unseen economic, social and cultural uplift. Over the past decade, airlines have added over 10,000 new routes — serving more than 37,000 city pairs. There are now 1,280 international airports serving 48,977 routes worldwide. What does this mean for travellers in 2018? More choices, more exploration, more learning, more opportunity to create more in life for the people accessing these remarkable new jewels of travel.

Geiranger Fjord, Norway

  1. Bragging Rights

If there is one thing that is going to distinctly differentiate this travel generation compared to those of years, and generations, past, it is the articulation of feedback – posting, rating, bragging. Today’s travellers are more ambitious and adventurous, both in their travelling, and in their travel-sharing. It’s no longer about checking boxes. Travellers want adventurous, participatory experiences. Sight-seeing is important but not enough.

Sight-doing is the way to touch their travel souls and make memories to last a lifetime. The quest for realness – living local – has put heightened pressure on the most over used word in travel, ‘authentic’. What must never be forgotten is what travellers are ultimately looking for: getting below the surface of destinations, understanding their uniqueness and very essence. In 2018, I think there will be an increased swathe of people fully engaged in the sharing economy, communicating to the world the wonderfully enriching experiences that they have discovered but that their friends haven’t. Yet.

So, these are my Top Seven Travel Insights for 2018 – my truths for the year ahead. May they serve you and your aspirations well, as the new year unfolds.

WE ARE FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gladiator school, Rome

Annaliesa’s son at Gladiator school in Rome

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

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

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John Veitch and his family enjoying the mountains

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Melissa DaSilva in the US with her girls

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

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

 

 

PARIS ONE YEAR ON, AN UNWAVERING LOVE AFFAIR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

SHADOWS OF OUR PAST, SHAPING OUR FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan

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

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

Arigatō, Japan. Thank you, Hiroshima.

POKEMAN GO – CELEBRATING THE JOY OF DISCOVERY?

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

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

Pokemon go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CELEBRATING GREAT VISIONARIES OF THE LAND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NEW REALITY AND A PASSION FOR TRAVELLING

Again, again our world is shaken. On 11 September 2001, I was safe in Brussels. But this year, it was the city of Brussels that was attacked – its airport and a metro station – in only an hour. The attacks took the lives of 35 souls, leaving 230 more injured from direct exposure to terrorism. A nation and the world are left numb from shock, horror and profound disbelief.

Reflecting on these events a week later, it is clear that we are facing a new reality, one in which anything might happen, no matter where we are. Nowhere and no one feels safe. Last week it was Brussels, the most recent of a long list of global cities rich in cultural and religious diversity – from Paris to San Bernardino, from Sydney to Istanbul – forced to look terrorism in the eye.

With each attack, the immediate reaction of government officials, those charged with the protection of their citizens, is to revert to the measures implemented post – 9/11, that of curtailing movement. Governments are telling people to stay close to home, stay vigilant and stay away from certain cities, countries or icons. The message is almost to ‘stay scared’. This is the wrong message to be spreading.

Governments should focus their resources on prevention and on identifying where real risks lie. Those who threaten us appear to have moved on, yet our governments’ strategies are retrospectively focused. The threat is no longer about liquids and shoes.

Recently, I read a book by an expert on avalanches, in which the author introduced the concept of a “pre-mortem” – anticipating the variables with which to predict an outcome. Our governments could learn from this as they pursue both security and those responsible for eroding it.

Equally so, it is our responsibility as individuals to maintain a free and open society. Let us remember and embrace those freedoms that made us strong. As we face our new reality, let us consider the real risks in a balanced way. Despite accidents occurring in travel by automobile, air, or train, for example, these modes of transport never stop. Similarly, no blanket warnings are imposed when the annual flu comes around. We carry on with our lives.

Should we be more careful, more vigilant? Absolutely. We need to instil a community-wide, shared responsibility for keeping one another safe. It is my responsibility to protect my neighbours and their families, and theirs to protect me and mine. Simple. That is how we stop the sparks of social discontent from flaring up into flames of destruction.

In this current environment, we need to carry on travelling. Such a cry of defiance serves then as a powerful and positive reaction to the attacks being committed around the world. Each time an attack is carried, this movement of defiant travel grows stronger. This movement states, loudly and purposefully, that travel will improve understanding and appreciation among countries and cultures, worldwide.

As a matter of principle, I will be part of this movement by travelling wherever I choose. And such a sentiment is what I hope to see and feel daily at Trafalgar: a resolve to travel, to heighten the desire of travellers to keep exploring, and in so doing, to show that fear will never cloud freedom. Together with our teams and guests, I will show others the ongoing passion we feel towards the world we share.

It is this spirit of defiance and this confidence, we can call upon when we hearing chilling news riddled with terrorism. And such a spirit serves as a unifying force providing comfort, inspiring courage and keeping travellers of the world moving forward.

This is why I am confident that tomorrow will, unquestionably, be a better day.

SOUTH AFRICA SLAMS THE DOOR SHUT ON TOURISM

SA wildlifeSouth Africa is one of the most unique and remarkable destinations to visit in the world. It moves visitors in so many ways with its natural beauty, the wildlife, its history, the people and the food.

Tourism is therefore fittingly an important element to the economic and social growth and development of the nation as a whole, contributing approximately 10% (directly + indirectly) to the country’s GDP and employing 1 in 10 South Africans.

Despite this, the Government of South Africa has remarkably and irresponsibly formed new laws, which will deter tourism, with total disregard to their consequence and without dialogue with the industry. For those unaware, in the latter part of 2014 the South African Department of Home Affairs imposed new entry regulations for visitors into South Africa:

  1. A requirement for children under 18 to carry copies of an UNABRIDGED BIRTH CERTIFICATES,
  2. The requirement of all prospective applicants in source markets (China and India) requiring a visa to travel to South Africa, to appear in-person to capture BIOMETRIC DATA.

Why the new, now in effect, regulations? The Ministry of Home Affairs is seeking to aggressively tackle issues around human trafficking, particularly of children. South African borders are seen to be porous, and imposing stricter entry regulations are believed by the Dept. of Home Affairs to be a ways of arresting, literally and figuratively, this social ailment.

Bones in Africa As important and as well intended as the new regulations may be, the fact is this: human trafficking and tourism have nothing to do with one another, and the blocking of entry of tourists is going to do nothing to curb human trafficking. All it will do is cut off the oxygen of the nation’s vital tourism industry – an industry that one in ten South Africans rely on for the livelihoods and the wellbeing of their families.

Here are the facts that, sadly, the Ministry of Home Affairs failed to grasp when imposing the new regulations:

  • South Africa is a nation working tirelessly to stimulate and sustain job creation, SME opportunity, national unity and productivity, not to mention national competitiveness
  • Tourism has become a vital source of jobs: as I said earlier, 1 in 10 South Africans is employed through tourism, with the sector exceeding earnings of the country’s traditional lead sector, gold
  • Visa and immigration policies are amongst the most important government policies that can influence international tourism.
  • While the new regulations only came into effect 1st June 2015, the damage is long-done to visitation numbers, national image, and attractiveness of the destination. Booking periods into 2016 are seeing painful losses.
  • Simply blocking tourism flows through increased regulations is not a solution!

And yet, despite the above and significant efforts by global tourism authorities such as the UNWTO and WTTC, along with international airlines and tour operators, to reconsider the regulations, almost a month since implemented, inertia remains. In fact, much to my surprise, I just heard that there isn’t even any tracking being done of trafficking numbers to determine if the new Tourism regulations are having an impact.  These means Home Affairs can and will continue to penalise Tourism for trafficking based on hypothesis of correlation, absent of any hard data to show a direct relationship between trafficking and tourism.

Interestingly, as we well know, travel today is a given and if South Africa becomes too hard a destination to visit, which it is now proving to be, all that the Government is doing is opening the door for other tourism nations to grow as a result of its decline.

Cases in point: India. Since the subcontinent’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, took office, profound changes have occurred in the nation’s tourism policies. Why? Because the new Prime Minister recognises the tourism sector as the panacea for a myriad of the nation’s ailments – inclusivity, investment, opportunity, economic advancement, identity and competitiveness. Prime Minister Modi has not just walked the talk, he has sprinted it, taking such dramatic actions as offering e-Visas to a total of 150 nations across the globe (issued within 24 hours), a dramatic rise from the pre-​Prime Minister Modi list of 34 countries.  The impact – an overwhelming 1024% increase in travellers in the first 5 months of 2015.

Australia and the US have seen similar upswing in tourism arrivals from key source markets such as China and India – the exact markets that South Africa has imposed biometric testing on before visas will be granted. From the 18th June, Australia now allows Chinese visitors to now qualify for 10-year visas. This was reported as a “tourism breakthrough”. To date they have seen Chinese and Indian inbound grow by 18% and 30% respectively.

GT SA As a point of reference, Thompsons Travel (which is probably South Africans largest inbound operator – I am Chairman of their parent Company) has, during the January to May 2015 versus the same period in 2014, seen painful decreases of 53% from Chinese and down 54% from Indian travellers.  Forward bookings look to maintain the grim rate of decline.

Are these tourists going elsewhere? Absolutely. Mauritius for the same period saw their inbound China and India tourists increase by 26.6% and 24.3% respectively.

Bottom line, the relaxing of visa regulations is not about eliminating of security measures; quite the contrary. All it means is ensuring governments acquire appropriate information before traveller entry and they need to take care in making their visa acquisitions uncomplicated. There are ways of strengthening our borders in tandem to simplifying our visa procedures.  Our competitors are clearly getting this win: win approach right.

To attack well-intended tourists, travelling in many cases thousands of miles to spend their time and money in a country, is to attack the major artery of the future of a nation. In the case of South Africa, with its new regulations shutting the door to visitors, this is taking the welcome mat away from my home, and this is simply unforgivable.

WELCOMING THE AWE OF TRAVEL … AGAIN

Without a doubt the most common question I am asked is, what is the next, new, great destination? Following hints of new countries and remote destinations opening up the world, the quest becomes like a treasure hunt. What new discoveries can be made? Where else can we go? What new ‘Insider’ experiences can we unlock for our guests? And then, where to after that?

This past month, however, I was reminded of how some of the greatest discoveries we can make are, in fact, rediscovered destinations. Taking in their beauty a second, third or fourth time can be as spectacular as the first.

On this occasion, the location was Zermatt, Switzerland. The occasion: Schweizer Ferientag/ Switzerland Vacation Day, the annual conference for almost 1’300 members of the Swiss Tourism industry who come together to share and learn. The presentation: Tour Operators today and tomorrow. Snowboarding Verbier

As per usual, I arrived armed with my invitation from my kind hosts, my ready-for-stage presentation, and admittedly, an innate sense of comfort being in a destination that is entirely familiar to me, in an area I frequently visit in the winters in my adopted homeland. However, the advantage of being in a known place, does risk becoming a blur.

Thankfully however, this blur quickly had the brakes applied when I awoke to see the sun rising reflecting off of the grandeur and splendour of the Matterhorn. There, towering over me, powerfully yet ever so peacefully, stood one of the great natural wonders of our world. In that moment my thoughts were frozen in genuine awe.

Matterhorn image

Poignantly, the sight of the Matterhorn reminded me of one of the great truths of the travel industry; Switzerland is one of the most beautiful, truly spectacular places on earth.

The beauty I experienced all around me was not limited to the landscapes. Equally, over the duration of the meeting, I was reminded of the authenticity of the people – the local artisans from chocolate to cheese, to less traditional wares. With their passion for their homeland, and an exceptional welcome to all – Swiss hospitality is both true and genuine.

Switzerland Tourism does an exceptional job of capturing and sharing with the world a true gift; destination Switzerland. They bring life to a word that can be so often overused in our tourism marketing world – ‘real’. Somehow this is simply in the essence of their nation, Switzerland Tourism makes ‘real’ an honest travel experience, one that was far deeper, richer and more embracing than I would have ever imagined.

Swiss Tourism event

Returning back to my home in Geneva, I found myself walking a step slower along Lake Geneva as the fresh mountain water acted as a perfect mirror for the sun’s rays. Not only could I feel myself breathing in the pure, clean air, I could also feel myself breathing in the incredible sense of blessing.

How remarkable and renewing it was, and continues to be, looking out over those waters and appreciating again and again all that surrounds me each day, wherever I am in the world.

May places newly discovered, and those comfortably familiar, continue to slow your steps and awaken your most grateful of senses.

 

The Emerald Isle

As one arrives into Ireland, you are immediately struck by endless green landscape, stretching as far as the eye can see, giving the Country the moniker ‘Emerald Isle’. This title is as well-known as its iconic symbols; four leaf clovers, leprechauns, poets, awe-inspiring dancers, and my personal favourite, Guinness. But Ireland is a destination rich for so many more, less acknowledged reasons.

I hadn’t been to the Emerald Isle for about a year, and I was so looking forward to my return at the end of April.

Irish Brendan picture

I made the trip with three objectives in mind: (i) To continue my pledge to find additional extraordinary Insider experiences for our Trafalgar guests (ii) Visit the continuing regal restoration of Ashford Castle – a true Irish castle with a history over eight centuries – which The Travel Corporation purchased in June of last year. (This acquisition is an expression of belief in the future of Ireland through its unique, enchanting offerings for travellers) And (iii) importantly, I wanted to see first-hand how the Irish people are recovering from the economic malaise that has plagued the country since the GFC began in 2008.

I must admit, as a world traveller, I found my trip to Ireland to be inspiring, humbling, and reaffirming. I was reminded of the importance that travel and tourism can play in building, and rebuilding, sustainable economies.

Gavin sheepdog Ireland April 2014

Gavin holding one of the farmer’s remarkable sheepdog

The people of Ireland are exceptional, gracious, warm and welcoming. From the ‘Garda’ at the airport in Knock who greeted us at immigration, to the pipers upon our arrival at Ashford, their genuine friendliness and hospitality make them enchanting. They have endured hard times of late, seeing their nation go from a period of unprecedented growth and confidence to economic devastation. Yet,
their natural strength and brightness of spirit shine through. Their hardships have inspired their passion and creativity. Whatever the circumstances, the Irish have an innately charming, authentic, stalwart and engaging spirit, which makes being in their company enriching, genuine and uplifting.  One immediately feels “at home” in Ireland.

As I looked for experiences for our guests to enjoy– from third generation Connemara sheep farmers whose remarkable dogs make this rugged landscape manageable, to Smokehouses that specialise in smoking wild smoked Irish salmon, or age-old story tellers like Mick and Eddie – all locals whose personal, lifelong knowledge of history and lifestyle make time stand still and memories to last a lifetime. It is these discoveries, uncovering these special opportunities to expose our guests to the real heart of our travel destinations that gives me an incredible sense of motivation and satisfaction.

Then there is Ashford Castle…

Ireland_AshfordCastle

Ashford Castle in Co. Mayo, Ireland

Last year The Travel Corporation became the custodian of Ashford Castle, and over the winter began a loving, thoughtful multi-year project to restore this proud building to all of the grace and grandeur that it once was. It is remarkable to meet, and be able to directly support local artisans whose skills have created such a work of art as Ashford Castle. The love and care that they put into their craft injects an emotion into each and every piece. It is impossible not to feel it. I will never forget my time with gifted individuals such as Edward and David, who have rebuilt their businesses and put their greatest talents into each and every part of the castle, making Ashford a truly unique estate. And then there are the local community – in the adjacent town of Cong (where the Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in 1952) who welcome and greet you at every street corner.

Ireland is a nation that rises above others. Anyone can find the statistics; an island of just under 4.6 million people, currently boasting a tourism sector attracting almost double its own population size. The tourism sector generates just over 9% of the country’s GDP and it creates jobs for over almost 1 in every 10 Irishmen/women. But, it’s truly what is behind the numbers that matters most.

As I write this, I know that Ireland is so much more than its history and its headlines. Like Irish poetry, when one looks closer, and deeper, the true richness is found. There is nothing ‘predictable’ about this small yet so diverse destination; rather it provides one with an enriching and rewarding experience.

Like any destination full of surprises and secrets, Ireland is best discovered by listening to the locals.  Their heart-warming sharing, the memory making, the spirit, the sentiment, the unparalleled personal connections are what make local experiences exceed all expectation – this is Ireland. This is what I will ensure we bring to life.

I am frequently asked where I would travel to next. For all the wonder that new destinations offer with their journeys of discovery, sometimes, just sometimes, the greatest adventure is one of rediscovery. Having been touched once more by Ireland, I have a new answer… Visiting Ireland.