SUSTAINABILITY – LIVING THE LANGUAGE, LEAVING A PRICELESS LEGACY

The words ‘sustainable tourism’ are quickly becoming one of the most clichéd and over used in the travel industry. I see this politically correct language being applied superficially. I’m acutely aware that travel (and other) companies all too easily define themselves as sustainable simply because they put ‘Only print if essential – save the environment!’ messages at the bottom of their emails. Because of this, “green washing” is rapidly becoming a synonymous term. This is frustrating for those who are genuinely and legitimately fighting to make a difference for what they know is right, and must be addressed right now.

Technically speaking, the UNWTO defines ‘sustainable tourism’ as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities“.

One of the most exciting aspects of travel to me is the people that I meet along the way. In my recent travels to both Botswana and Myanmar, I had the great fortune of meeting two unique, but like the places they live, very different individuals that stripped away the rhetoric and pomposity of the overused sustainability expression, but through the very essence of their existence are making a difference. They’ve encouraged me. Here’s why:

Map Ives, the Director of Rhino ConservatioMap Ivesn Botswana, is a gentle giant of the African bush, a man who is, without question, a treasure to wildlife conservation in Africa.

Map has always lived in and remained committed to his life’s calling to understand and conserve Africa’s wild places. Today he is leading the charge on rhino conservation in Africa to ensure that our generation is not the last to see African rhino roaming freely. Listening to Map, it is impossible not to get completely absorbed and inspired by in his personal commitment for the African bush and its rhinos. He has been on the forefront of developing new approaches to a previously accelerating Rhinoworsening situation. It was this realisation and establishing systems and new practices behind the re-location of rhino that for the first time there are now a few minor shoots of hope. And he does it without any wish for praise, fame or attention. He does it because he feels in his heart it is the right thing to do. His love for his homeland and its creatures both great and small is his quiet yet powerful legacy.

Similarly whilst discovering Myanmar, fortune enabled me to meet another genuine individual. Myanmar is a remarkable country, rich in spirituality and the most striking smiles of its people. It is here that fortuitously I met meeting Ye Htut Win. He is the son of a Diplomat who has travelled the world, yet his heart never left his homeland. An obvious maverick, he returned home with a vision for success, his passion for food and a desire to make a difference. Sharkey's

He has established a business that showcases Myanmar’s magnificent produce, but with a difference – their produce is inspired by the foods Mr. Ye tasted around the world, and then made better. Crafted using his own Myanmar organic produce and artisanal methods, his fare is true artistry. He has developed and trained a network of artisans as well as farmers who are now growing organic heirloom fruit & vegetables as well as raising animals. Both the plants and local breeds are carefully chosen for those that can become accustomed to Myanmar’s climate and soils. All are cultivated using only sustainable, environmentally friendly methods.

So extraordinarily, whilst in Yangon I found myself in his eatery and unexpectedly savouring some of the most astonishing delicious cheeses (and I live in Switzerland!), breads, chili fondue and heavenly gelato. If your travels take you to Myanmar, ensure that you make a trip to Sharky’s. You will be amazed too. But what will warm you, wont just be the quality and delectableness of the food you eat but understandably the passion and pride in what has been achieved. Sharkey's eaterie

In meeting these two very different but unique individuals, in two completely parts of the world, what I found so enlightening was that through their shared example, sustainable tourism is not about doing what looks good today, it is about doing good for tomorrow regardless of who is looking today. Thank you gentlemen for keeping it real. In doing so, you are leaving a true legacy.

 

LEADERSHIP CAN AND MUST STIMULATE TOURISM GROWTH

It is hard to imagine that we are already on the second half of 2015. Once again, this will be another record breaking year of unprecedented “tourism” challenges; From Greece to Tunisia, Nepal to South Africa, and so many tourism nations in between, a year again in which millions of people have seen significant disruptions in their ability of attract tourists.

I am acutely interested of the benefits that tourism brings nations. This sector not only keeps economies strong, but also affects a country’s spirit and social fabric too. It is therefore particularly painful when a nation’s tourism sector goes awry. Whether it is Greece losing tourists as Grexit debates cause uncertainty around the islands being open for business, Tunisia’s tourists fleeing from tragedy brought on by terrorizing acts of man, Mother Nature acts of unnatural awe causing Nepal’s tourism sector to tumble to the ground, or South Africa sending its tourism sector into free-fall with poorly thought through new visitor entry regulations, the list of tourism economy casualties grows.

Consequently, you can understand my intrigue, when I recently read that Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron was focusing on, and made a personal commitment to, embedding the United Kingdom as a truly ‘GREAT’ place to visit.

GETTY IMAGEIn what is described as an ‘unequivocal statement of support’, the Prime Minister singled out the need to ensure that Tourism – an industry generating 9% of GDP, 1 in 10 British jobs, and a GVA multiplier of 2.8 (for every £1,000 spent a further £1,800 is generated through the supply chain and consumer spending) with the over 34 million international visitors that travel to and within Great Britain each year – remains on a strong, steady growth trajectory.

But my interest increased when I read that he was looking to do more than just simply say the right things. Prime Minister Cameron is in fact putting his words into action.

How? He is creating an inter-ministerial group focused on ensuring that the doors, essential to tourism invitation and implementation, are wide open. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has been appointed as the champion of this “great” effort for Great Britain’s tourism growth and leadership, tasked with bringing together all key public and private sector players together with a goal of inspiring travellers to easily and meaningfully explore all that Britain has to offer.

What they see is that tourism greatness in Great Britain, true greatness, is not about logos and GREAT campaigns. It is about working hand-in-hand with a sector that will have the greatest impact on the lives of their people.

The holistic thinking around this initiative is what gives me a sense of confidence that Prime Minister Cameron’s vision will come to life, and we will see more travellers visiting United Kingdom in the years to come. I think they get it: tourism growth does not occur by coincidence it requires an understanding of the vastness of the competitive environment, and defining the national tourism “product” and brand image. I believe that this approach will ensure that the tourism sector:

  1. Becomes a better co-ordinated sector
  2. Aligns private sector investments with established priorities
  3. Builds skills and jobs to meet the needs of the sector
  4. Emphasises common sense regulation
  5. Prioritises investment in transport and tourism-related infrastructure
  6. Embraces all of the above with an improved welcome, by all local destinations across the nation.

It is early days, but this common sense approach to tourism development, if actioned, will be more than just a boost to tourism in one of our key markets. It has the opportunity to become example of best-practice that other nations could, and must learn from.

 

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.

The 2012 Games an Emotional Trap?

Olympics in London 2012

Many of us are in the tourism industry are all too familiar with the effect of major events on destinations after the stadiums go dark – the inevitable post-event dip…

The London 2012 Olympic Games flame has been extinguished, and the flag officially handed over to the proud hosts in 2016, Rio de Janeiro. As widely acknowledged, the London Games were a great success – showcasing both the warmth and eccentricity of the host nation whilst never detracting from the main event – the competitive beauty of each of the sporting disciplines. The world became transfixed on numerous emotional comebacks, stirring victories, new world records, along with the return of familiar favourites and the introduction to fresh fame-achieving faces.

For Britain, the 2012 Olympic were the greatest Olympic Games in more than a century.  Truthfully it was their greatest-ever, with an impressive collection of both unforgettable moments combined with gold, silver and bronze medals.  The country stands proud.

And for the moment, the floodlights are shinning on the London Paralympics. However, for us in the business of tourism, it is time to ask the real question – what impact will the Games have on increasing tourism demand?

Before and during the games we witnessed the effect of the local authorities’ warnings around Games-related traffic congestion, hassles of traveller movements, and general anticipated chaos that an additional 600,000 extra overseas visitors would have on the City. Ironically, because of these warnings, and the Games events being for the most part outside of the city itself, London was a pleasure. For the few non Game attendees, getting around, sight-seeing and dining reservations were never easier.

But back to the central question – I am concerned that after all of the great mood and spirit generated by the Games, there is little effective action been taken to capitalize on the glow.

Many of us are in the tourism industry are all too familiar with the effect of major events on destinations after the stadiums go dark – the inevitable post-event dip. After the closing ceremony fireworks end, the hotels empty out and frequently the travel industry grind to a halt, for months. In this instance, the focus of travelers will, unless inspired, move beyond London. London could quickly become last season…

What does this mean? We need to be clear of the impact – good and bad – of major events. And must plan and promote accordingly. Now is the time to ensure that post-event interest and activity is re-ignited. Now is the time to ensure that we sell destination London and the United Kingdom.  The medal count and sold out event has become meaningless for travellers. We need to make sure there is still reason to love London.

Hosting major events is a huge high for the travel industry. It is however our job to make sure that we manage the risks of altitude sickness. London, take action, let’s ensure that you don’t fall into the same trap as others host destinations.

TOUCH versus TECHNOLOGY

Travel Makes You Richer

“her passion for her country was both refreshing and knowledgeable and she added so much to the enjoyment of the holiday experience. It was a holiday that we could have ever imagined”

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking more and more about what we gain from technology. Mobile phones. Tablets. Laptops. 24/7/365 connectivity. It is simply remarkable how technology has entered (as well as often invaded) all areas of our daily lives. Literally with one click we can reach almost anyone, find information on what we need, from almost anywhere, almost any time.

For those of us in the travel industry, technology continues to have a huge impact on not only how we do business, but also how travellers travel. Travel e-commerce is evolving at ever accelerating speeds. And with it, holiday decision-making is changing too and through technology we are finding a new world of travel. The concern is that both agents and suppliers are focusing on this channel, investing huge amounts to attract customers to their sites, with price as the primary differentiator.
What more could a traveller ask for?

What more, indeed.

What seems to be lost is why we travel in the first place. What about the ability to enjoy, stretch back, relax, and soak up all of the feeling of holiday rest, relaxation, and exploration dreamt of? What about the peace of mind that comes from knowing that all of the little things that take the big hassles out of getting from A to B and onto C are taken care of? What about the delight of discovering the little insights that only an insider – someone who knows and loves the destination – can share? And what about the moments of magic created for travellers that could never be known and planned by the traveller himself or herself.

And so importantly, what about the power of touch?

This is why guided holidays are so important as a travel choice. And so valued by travellers.

This morning, the first letter on my desk, following a whirl wind trip to Perth Australia, was once again a reiteration and reminder for me. It came from a very happy Australian guest who had recently traveled on one of our Trafalgar European trips. He is a self-professed experienced traveller. In addition to the complements that this client could not stop extending about the “quality of their journey, the attention to detail and the exceptional service”, he also could not stop complementing his travel director: “her passion for her country was both refreshing and knowledgeable and she added so much to the enjoyment of the holiday experience. It was a holiday that we could have ever imagined

Needless to say, client letters like these are an important reminder to us of the significance of what we do, directly, client by client. For all of the changes to our industry, the more technology out there, in fact the more we need touch. Travel is not about seeing the world has to photograph, it is about feeling all that the world has to share.

While clients may turn to the digital revolution to plan and book their trips, because they have instant access to supplier information and virtual price transparency. We cannot loose focus that the only variable that truly matters is the need to deliver an outstanding customer experience – the details, moments, and personal connections that turn a holiday into a lifelong memory.

The Forgotten Destination Icons

Royal Barge at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee River PageantWhen we think about travel and destinations, we often default to focusing on the icons, monuments, feats of engineering and natural wonders. We speak of their majesty, their history, their importance, their creation, and how they define aspects of each destination.

What we so often forget are the iconic personalities of a place – the people, past and present, who add a depth of richness and meaning to a place.

At no time, and nowhere, has there been a more powerful display of this than in London from 2nd to 5th June 2012. It was over these few days that the people of the United Kingdom and the world, came together, to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 60 year reign.

Through English summer weather of  a cold pouring rain and winds blowing Union Jack flags into a dizzy show of the red, white and blue, an estimated million people lined the banks of the Thames to soak up not only the rain, but the spirit of her majesty. As the Queen and her family sailed down the Thames on the royal barge, decorated in Diamond Jubilee best, with a never-seen-before one thousand water craft following, she herself standing for a solid four hours despite the challenging weather, tens of millions around the world watched in warmer, drier environments, many with envy, thinking ‘how I wish I was there!’ And this was only the start of the events that took place in honour of the Queen.

One woman, 60 years at the throne, truly an icon. And while Big Ben stands tall, Westminster Abbey stands proud and Buckingham Palace stands royally, London’s icons simply became backdrops for the icon that was the crowning glory of not just the Commonwealth, but of the world – Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

For all of us in the travel and tourism industry, there is an important lesson here – one that we must literally and figuratively take to heart… we mustn’t forget the importance, influence and incredible impact of the iconic personalities of a destination.

The spirit of the Diamond Jubilee that took over not just London but all of the United Kingdom was not about a place; it was about the love and respect for a person. With this came an incremental hundreds of thousands of tourists to London in early June – shoulder period in tourism industry terms – as a random act of tourism impulse, or to see the city before the Olympians moved in. It was because of a Queen – a woman who has embraced for sixty years the duty that fell onto her elegant yet sturdy shoulders at a young age. Even the most cynical of royal family followers, could not deny it – She is special.

Through all of the celebrations, the pageantry and beauty of the city, ensured that destination Britain remained aspirational, and through the Queen a renewed ‘must see’ on “travel wish lists”. One iconic personality can be the difference between tourism industry stability and fragility. Iconic personalities are tourism assets, and must be celebrated with equal importance as buildings and history.

Destination London is able to see through the rain of the ongoing global economic crisis because of its love and appreciation of its most majestic of icons.

God save the Queen.

Destination USA – Leading By Example

Every once in a while – a rare occurrence as of late, but it does happen – a powerful leader exercises authority by acting with incredible humility, expressing genuine desire to learn more about an issue that is growing in importance. Such a period of learning has taken place, surprisingly, in a nation historically not known for humility – the United States of America. The issue: the value of the Tourism industry to American jobs, earnings and general wellbeing.


Trafalgar USA It all started with a flippant statement made by President Obama in 2009 at the beginning of the global economic crisis. His comment was targeted at Watt Street bankers hosting expensive conferences in Las Vegas while Main Street citizens were losing their jobs and pensions. That relatively simple comment opened up a complex process of presidential ‘re-education’, with leaders of American travel companies and associations descending on the White House, united by the US Travel Association, to set the record straight: travel, conferences and holidays create American jobs, fuel the American economy, and strengthen American competitiveness. Travel is exactly what America, and Americans need to get the economy moving again. With one of the most sought after, diverse, naturally, historically and culturally rich destinations of travellers worldwide, the United States of America has an asset that must be put to work.Since then, and to his credit, the President has taken concrete, confident steps to put travel and tourism at the centre of the American economy. Major national initiatives, from the relaunch of Brand USA (first time all states have come together with one voice), the passing of a bill regarding step-changing visa facilitation, creation of ESTA (tourist tax), increasing Consulates to issue more Visa’s in China and now the recently launched National Travel and Tourism Strategy, Significant, strategic, steps of substance which will transform the national tourism industry, quickly.As recently expressed in a White House bulletin,: “Last year, 62 million international tourists visited the United States and pumped a record $153 billion into local economies, helping to support the 7.6 million jobs in our travel and tourism industry. These numbers make tourism America’s number one service export.”

Clearly the President ‘gets it’, and is focused on getting the industry working harder, smarter, stronger, together.

I am in fact currently travelling in the Unites Sates, on Trafalgar’s Historic Highlights. I am writing from the Nation’s Capital this morning – having spent yesterday with my fellow travellers awed by the beauty of the city, poignancy of its monuments and rich history. Speaking of which we leave for Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate this morning.

The global tourism community needs to take notice of this important act of leadership. Through concrete steps, the USA has ensured that it will break through destiantional clutter and showcase itself. And in doing so, positioned itself as one of the world’s loudest champions of the travel and tourism sector.

And now destination competitors!

Travel Should Be Thanked, Not Taxed

TaxesWith the world still moving from one economic crisis to the next and what appear to be no short or even medium term hope of the fundamentals changing, almost without exception, governments worldwide are becoming desperate to find ways of cutting spending and increasing revenues. Some of the their initiatives are long over due as well as some changes are for the better. Some however are ill conceived and are only going to have long term negative impacts of economies. This is especially true when it comes to the travel sector.

Those of us in the industry know well the incredible value and enjoyment that travel brings – the opportunity to discover all of the beauty, learning, meaning and fun that the world has to offer.  However what our governments often forget is that the travel industry is also responsible for millions of jobs, billions in investment, and trillions in revenues.

Travel - Rio Brazil

“Those of us in the industry know well the incredible value and enjoyment that travel brings…”

Sadly, the hard, quantitative, comprehensive value of our industry is not only being overlooked by government leaders – it is in fact being worked against. The travel industry has become an easy target for new government taxes. This because despite our size, we do not act with a collective voice and those who frequently are taxed are not local residents but the international traveller. This is shortsighted, as the impact is decreased demand.

Travellers in the UK and Euro-zone already know this painful reality all too well. The creation of new charges being applied onto travel such as APD (Air Passenger Duty), ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme), local room taxes and entry visas to name just a few of the most recent, are already acting as an increasing deterrent to travelers. Many travelers are either deciding to go elsewhere or finding they simply cannot afford to take the holiday they have always dreamt of.

Governments need to recognize that they cannot afford for travelers not to travel to their Country. It’s not about governments supporting a sector of the economy that promotes rest and play. It is about governments supporting an industry that keeps people working, keeps investors investing, and keeps visitors spending. Focus of government needs to shift. Industries that work to create jobs, investment, earnings and goodwill, need to be thanked, not taxed. Credit where it is due.

The Current & Anticipated Absurdity of UK Arrivals

London Olympics 2012In a matter of weeks, Great Britain is going to see an unprecedented wave of tourists lining up at immigration desks across the kingdom. Hundreds of thousands of tourists, each one excited to have their passport stamped so they can spend their time and money in London and the surroundings areas.

The first wave will come for the Diamond Jubilee, the second wave for the Olympic Games and Paralympics, and after that, the hoped for waves of tourism legacy.

Last month Heathrow already saw a 6% rise in capacity, pushing it beyond 70m passengers in a 12-month period for the first time in its history. Local Parliamentarians are warning that Heathrow may not be able to cope with the extra passengers. The consequence is that travellers will face endless lines, something I personally recently encountered, at border control.

Why? Because the UK has decided that the most important major events of 2012, if not the decade, do not warrant special treatment at Great Britain’s front door. A skeleton staff of immigration officials is adequate. The tourists can wait. Having personally been one of masses forced to wait almost two hours to get through immigration (a length of time longer than my actual flight’s flying time), the feeling of annoyance, is acute. I, like the hundreds waiting in line around me, could not help but think: “how are they going to do the Olympics?”

The immigration and tourism officials of one of the world’s foremost tourism destinations –a destination on top of wish lists of millions of travellers, and set to experience an economic impact of the Games alone is estimated at GBP 2 billion – needs to see just how unwelcoming they are looking, and acting.

How have they forgotten the fundamental of hospitality? This is not complicated – we learnt these lessons as children when taught about how to treat visitors to our homes: welcome your guests, make them feel at home, help them as much as you can, and do all you can to ensure they enjoy their visit. I hope they wake up before the damage is done and through their actions deterring tourists from returning.