MY EIGHT WONDERS OF THE WORLD

The days are distinctively shorter, the evenings tinged with a chill, and the trees are shedding shades of brown: for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is certainly here. I love this time of year, as during a period of three months, I will visit five continents, supporting our remarkable Trafalgar Tribe with the launch of our 2018 Europe and Britain offering. Part-way through the big trips, there is already a child-like feeling that during my sleepless, jet-lagged nights, my mind and heart race as I reflect on the places I’m fortunate to have been to and those places where I want to go.

For those of us born into travel, it is our business to know the next hotspots – what’s trending – for who and why, where the ‘in crowd’ go and where the who’s who is doing you know what.  In fact, it I am frequently asked by friends, family, colleagues and curious media alike, “what are your favourite places?”

We know that travel and what drives us to certain places is innately personal. The spectrum of choices for travellers literally stretches across a world of experiences, emotions, end-goals. And with the expansion of the travel industry’s reach through technology, ever-expanding airports and airline routes to places we never knew we needed to go to, today there is just about nowhere out of reach.

Clearly subjective choices, my motivation for considering these eight wonders of my world varies considerably, though the immense opportunity for discovery is the common connection. The voyage of doing, seeing, living and breathing places for the first time are some of the abundant reasons I adore travelling.  My passion for travel extends so greatly that I don’t subscribe to never visiting the same place twice (or more) – I firmly believe there are many places worth revisiting over and over again. As I set out my intention for 2017 to embrace meaningful travel experiences, I’ve also embraced the privilege I have of being able to go where Trafalgar, or I, personally, can make a difference.

Without further ado, from 30,000 plus feet, here are my current sleep-deprived eight wonders:

Number 1: Paris FRANCE

I have been countless times, but the city of light never fails to set me aglow. I am forever in awe of its ability to make me fall in love with it… again and again… and again. A stroll along the Seine or indeed anywhere in Paris enlivens and seduces every sense. Every parting is a sweet sorrow…. until I return once more. What more can I say? Paris is always a good idea (an Audrey Hepburn quote).

Number 2: EGYPT

It’s time to return. I emphatically believe this. As a traveler with an inherent love for ancient history, Egypt never fails to deliver. A country over 5000 years old, it forever remains a place that made, and continues to make, profound history. In 2018, the incredible Grand Egyptian Museum will open, showcasing the Ancient World’s riches right on the edge of the Great Pyramids. Perspective is critical in Egypt. To see the treasures from land is breathtaking. To see them again from the vantage point of the River Nile is even more captivating. Literally standing in the shadows of a mind-blowing rich cultural heritage – the seat of one of the longest histories of any modern country.

Number 3: The Red Centre, AUSTRALIA

The spiritual heart of Australia, this central region of this vast continent is one of the most culturally-rich places on the planet. Home to so many of Aboriginal Australia’s sacred sites, the soul-stirring moments are palpable from the second you arrive. From the captivating stories of the Anangu and the changing colours of Uluru at sunrise and sunset, to the awe-inspiring landscapes and exhilarating beauty of Kings Canyon and Alice Springs, to the mysterious and intriguing series of 36 ancient red rock formations that are Kata Tjuta. It would not do justice to the 50,000+ years of the Dreamtime to try to describe the significance of this area: it has to be seen and more importantly, felt in person, to truly even be able to begin to appreciate how precious and spiritual these places are. And I, for one, cannot wait to feel that energy in person.

Australia outback landscape ( North Territory)

NUMBER 4: India

So many places in the world have an adjective associated with them, but none are more befitting than when we describe India as “incredible”. In every sense of the word, this country is full of the most exceptional experiences and a true treat for all of the human senses. Whilst known for its opulence when it comes to delivering some of the best hospitality on the planet, there is, of course, another side to this diverse land. Both personally and professionally, I feel very strongly about ensuring we give back to those places that we visit. As such, I’m thrilled that we are now able to offer Trafalgar guests the opportunity to work with the inspirational organization ME to WE by participating in a sustainable development project in Rajasthan. Close to the Aravalli Range, the oldest plateau mountains in India, this project has been created in conjunction with TreadRight and JoinTrafalgar. I’m looking forward to experiencing it in 2018 and making a difference.

ME to WE

NUMBER 5: Copenhagen, Denmark

For me, the true foodie capital of the world and of course now widely-recognised as the edible jewel in Scandinavia’s crown. We all know about Noma but the impact has been considerable: the 2017 Michelin Guide of Nordic Cities awarded 16 Copenhagen restaurants a total of 20 stars. Travel here today with a large appetite – for both food and beauty, of which this city has an abundance of.

NUMBER 6:  Hvar, Croatia

Having celebrated 25 years of independence in 2016, Croatia is seeing a major uptick in tourism (thanks, in part, to Game of Thrones and me convincing I think nearly every member of the Trafalgar Tribe Buzz Ambassadors to visit there this summer), ask Dee, Lauren, Rae and Claire if they too now see why Hvar and Dubrovnik must be on the top of everyone’s need to visit list.  Croatia undoubtedly is one of those hidden treasures – somewhere everyone is now going and asking themselves “why have

Hvar, Croatia

I never been here before?”. With the influx of tourism almost overwhelming for some of the places, my advice is to book early or go out with the traditional peak season. The “shoulder” seasons still offer great weather and the spectacular landscapes, food and hospitable people don’t change year-round. For obvious reasons, Dubrovnik is the jewel in Croatia’s crown, but I urge everyone to visit Hvar for the real thing when it comes to a slice of the good Croatian country life. 

 

NUMBER 7, Cuba

And with a new USA travel advisory, my desire to visit will need to be delayed. But, my curiosity with Cuba has been long-standing and now the whole world is joining me in thinking now is the time to go and uncover this most fascinating slice of Latino life. Sadly my travel plans didn’t work out this year, given the recent devastation in this small island nation. It’s sometimes a delicate discussion around visiting a place after a natural disaster or tragedy. For me it’s a no-brainer. It makes me want to go to Cuba even more. I’m proud to be part of a community that sees the value in tourism for good. After tumultuous times in this country, it’s more important than ever that we support them in the best way we can…by going and seeing and exploring and helping sustain those communities who desperately need our holiday dollars more than they ever have before. Our thoughts are with the people of Cuba, and I hope that you, like me, will all be inclined to help them get back on their feet, sooner than later.

MY UNEXPECTED WONDER: Austin Texas

In March this year I revisited Austin after around 20 years. Upon arrival, it looks and feels like the usual homogenised high-rise city. But, it most definitely isn’t: it transcends being the live music capital of the world. In two simple words, Austin is cool and its fun. What I discovered this time around was a city obsessed with the latest artful food, exceptional BBQ options, interesting young and unexpected fashions abound. And when my BA flight was ubiquitously delayed, I didn’t mind one bit, as I sat savouring great BBQ flavours from a food truck, listening to a live outstanding blues band, air side. Only in Austin…

So these are the eight places where I am planning to go to in the near future, Why eight, I have no idea. These all spontaneously came to mind hence I called them my eight wonders of the world. As I re-read this list, I note the vast difference in their locations and lifestyles, but know they will all fuel my sense of adventure and feed my soul. Some will be firsts and others a reintroduction, but the certainty of all is a new voyage of discovery.

I’d like to make one small request – please stop, contemplate and make your travel list. Then spread your wings and go. Most importantly, in this sentence is a singular word, wherever you choose to visit, don’t just make bucket lists, don’t dream about “one day”. Go. This is about you and your wellbeing, Enjoy and wishing you safe and truly enriching travels, wherever you choose to go. Bon voyage!

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.

 

 

DEFINING ‘WHY’ WE TRAVEL

When I think about travel, I remain dedicated to the WHY, rather than the WHERE, WHAT and WHEN.

What do I mean by this? Simply that when it comes to making travel plans, they are often defined by the WHERE – the destination, the WHAT – the things we want to do whilst there, and of course the WHEN – as we try to fit our travel around our hectic work schedules, school holidays or other similar time constraints.

The question that is often overlooked, though, and therefore missed as the heart of the benefit of travelling, is the WHY. WHY do you want to travel?

This simple question can often uncover the real reason someone seeks to explore the world. It may be the fulfilment of a personal dream or a pilgrimage of some kind. It might be a place that holds special meaning. It could be the quest to discover…or the desire to disappear.  The answer to this question can reveal the true value of one’s travel experience, and ignite our passion for the journey.

I believe that now more than ever it is imperative we focus on the WHY when it comes to travel. At a time when borders are slamming shut, it gives me great optimism when I see people celebrating the power of travel to connect different cultures, different ideologies, and different identities around similar dreams of hope, discovery and opportunity.

Through our sustainability iy_logo_english_whiteprogramme, Join Trafalgar, we have  a vision of leading the way on sustainable tourism with our partners – safeguarding the natural beauty, cultures and traditions of the people and places we visit. I was therefore delighted when the United Nations declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.  The UN is seizing upon an important opportunity to help the world recognize the overwhelming contribution that tourism makes for people across the world and how it can significantly impact their lives, not just economically and socially, but also culturally and environmentally. Without a doubt, 2017 is a vital year to ensure our travels also have purpose.

It makes me incredibly proud to share two examples of how and WHY Trafalgar and The Travel Corporation (TTC) are committing to their passion for travelling with a purpose.

Firstly, on January 18th 2017, at the official worldwide launch of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in Madrid, it was announced that TTC has become a Diamond Sponsor for 2017 in a partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, spoke of the perfect alignment between the UNWTO and TTC, saying:

“The UNWTO is very proud to have TTC as a partner of International Year. Across three generations of Tollman family leadership, TTC through its business and its TreadRight Foundation, has evolved to become a reflection of excellence in delivering traveller experiences that are grounded in the core principles of social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability. Great admiration is also held for their efforts in building traveller awareness around the positive impact that travellers themselves, can make on the communities and places they visit.”

This is a partnership that will put the spotlight on best practices for people and the planet through tourism throughout 2017 and beyond.

In addition to this exciting news, last October in New York City, through our TreadRight Foundation, Trafalgar, along with six of our sister TTC brands, m2wannounced its commitment to an organization that truly defines the principles of purposeful leadership for the betterment of our world at local level: ME to WE.

The organization was founded by two brothers from Canada, Craig and Marc Kielburger, who recognized early on in their lives the potential that travel has to empower people to not only learn about themselves, but to impart a positive impact throughout the world. I sat with Craig at lunch, and his passion and hands-on approach inspired me as we discussed their various travel-based programmes which enable travellers to support and sustain local communities via a range of actions such as helping to fund and build schools or supporting local economies by purchasing from local artisans.

m2w-luncheon

Attending the global partnership launch with TreadRight Ambassador Céline Cousteau, ME to WE co-Founder Craig Kielburger and TTC CEO Brett Tollman

In their own words, the Kielburgers said, “Living ME to WE means working together to create sustainable change, and making a difference with everything you do—from choosing travel that leaves a positive footprint on the planet, to making purchases that give back.”

Working in close partnership with Me to We, I am particularly proud to announce Join Trafalgar’s two new immersive voluntourism trips for 2017 which will give our guests the opportunity to truly travel with purpose in Ecuador and India.  


It’s a privilege for us to be able to offer these programmes because they reinforce Trafalgar’s ability to make a genuine difference by enriching and sustaining a diversity of people and places across the globe. In a nutshell, they bring a very passionate WHY to the forefront of my own personal love for exploring the world.

So please, join me in making 2017 the year of meaningful travel.

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.

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*

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.

 

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.

THE MAGIC OF THE FIRST MOMENT: Discovering a Destination for the First Time

Gavin Tollman drinking Turkish Coffee – following which my fortune was read

Gavin Tollman drinking Turkish Coffee – following which my fortune was read

For those of us who work everyday to inspire people to discover the world around them, the greatest destinations can sometimes become a series of business plan strategies, marketing images, media exposure, and bookings targets. Our focus often shifts to the scorecard – to be filled by the number of guests taken to the destination, not the unforgettable sensation that our guests feel the first time they see an iconic place. I recently had an invaluable reminder of the sensation of first time travel, when a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of experiencing Turkey for the first time (yes, this surprised me as well).

Gavin Tollman Departing the Blue Mosque, a visit that profoundly moved me

Departing the Blue Mosque, a visit that profoundly moved me

I arrived in Istanbul with a head ready for business meetings, but found myself awestruck, absolutely wonderstruck, by the excitement in my heart. Looking around me, the overwhelming wonder of all that I was seeing, hearing, sensing for the first time, had me no longer thinking about my travel business commitments in Turkey, but feeling this destination’s magic as a traveller. It was simply remarkable, and it was a ‘first moment’ experience I do not ever want to forget.

Gavin Tollman - A revealed masterwork inside Hagia Sophia

A revealed masterwork inside Hagia Sophia

As my few days in Turkey unfolded, and I visited some of the most unique places I have ever had the great fortune to see, it reminded me how our guests must feel. Similar to ourselves who work in the travel industry our clients arrive on their holiday, into a new place, ready to get down to business – exploring specific iconic sites, strolling the markets and savouring the regional delicacies, uncovering local haunts and meeting new friends as each day reveals an even greater understanding and emotional connection to the destination. The excitement of checking off highlights on their travel bucket lists suddenly is brought to a halt and they are simply awed by the magic of the first moment of being where they are, after dreaming of this place for so long. We have all seen it happen, and recently I felt this powerful sense of wonder again.

Gavin Tollman - Spice Market – a magnificent intermingling of smells, colours, tastes and sounds

Spice Market – a magnificent intermingling of smells, colours, tastes and sounds

Being there in Istanbul, immersed in the rich, deeply-rooted history of the city that has stood tall as the capital of three empires, admiring its majestic beauty, enjoying its delicious food – I found every single element of this truly captivating. But what was most penetrating for me, what I took with me that has been the most evocative, was its people – the voices, the smiles, the buzz, the pure beauty of the moment – these are the vital components that turn points on a map into places of magic. These are the ingredients that we need to ensure never ever fall by the wayside when we create those unforgettable holiday memories with Trafalgar.  After all, aren’t these ingredients why we all came into this great industry in the first place?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS A FIRST PRIORITY

Arrivals

First impressions are critical, especially in travel and tourism, where meeting new people in new places is part of the joy of the journey of discovery. The immigration personnel and their processes need to be part of a destination’s welcoming committee.

Every day of the year, the Trafalgar team and I work tirelessly to promote travel and tourism. Our time, energy, money and focus are dedicated to enticing travellers to visit and discover new places. Despondently, there is one moment that can bring all of the excitement of travel to a painful halt: arrival into the Immigration Hall at an airport.

This painful reality was made vividly clear to me last Saturday evening when I arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport from New Zealand, followed by my cousin’s arrival at Heathrow from South Africa on Sunday morning. Both of us had to wait over two hours in line to go through immigration, which gave me plenty of time to mull this over. What I find baffling is that this exact moment of frustration is often a traveller’s first impression of a destination. The immigration hall is the first time that, once arriving into the country, contact is made with locals. This is where the promise of tourism marketing starts to be delivered… or not.

Knowing this, what should be a warm welcome often becomes a cold questioning of character. Staffing for arrivals cannot be that complicated. And these stern questions: Why are you here? Where are you staying? and When are you leaving? Is it possible to be any more unwelcoming?

Border control is of course an essential means of protecting citizens, and visitors. That is understood. The ‘why’ is not the issue – it’s the ‘how’.

If nations strive to make visitors feel welcome, training must be available to airport staff – immigration, customs, etc. – to fulfill their responsibilities, by looking at numbers and greeting travellers with a smile and a sense of pleasure. Even at London Heathrow airport, the world’s busiest international airport, it is possible. We saw and felt it during the 2012 Olympic Games. The airport experience was a smooth, swift, seamless and welcoming delight.

It can’t be that difficult to schedule teams around aircraft arrivals – after all, they always arrive announced, one knows how many travellers there are in every aircraft and they even know their citizenship.

First impressions are critical, especially in travel and tourism, where meeting new people in new places is part of the joy of the journey of discovery. The immigration personnel and their processes need to be part of a destination’s welcoming committee. This vital aspect of delivery of promise should always be a first priority of tourism authorities. There should be no second-guessing this global truism of travel.

As many unfortunate examples as there are in our travel world, there are examples of how to get it right, and keep it that way.

What have your experiences been? How would you improve the arrivals at airport immigration?