‘TIS THE SEASON FOR TRAVEL GIFT TIPS

The end of 2017 is already upon us, and how this year has flown by. I believe in using this time to put a pause on daily busyness and focus on the important business of taking extra care of those we love. For me, one of the absolute pleasures that is almost equalled with frustrations is the gift selecting that comes with the festive season.

I fly often. A lot, in fact. And I truly enjoy sharing and exchanging travel tips. But in recognising the time of year, rather than travel tips, I wanted to give some more thought to my sharing and as it’s the season of goodwill and giving. I immediately thought about the questions I am frequently asked about when it comes to travel accessories and what great gift ideas I might have. So here are some of my personal favourite gifted tips plus gifts you may like to seek out, road tested, across many miles and continents, that have certainly smoothed the way on my myriad travels. I hope that these may make your holiday season shopping easier and your intrepid traveller’s journeys more enjoyable.

First, and foremost, the most essential of them all, suitcases. My belief is simple, invest in the best from those who know travel not fashion. The pieces of luggage we buy become the peace of mind we travel with. One should never have to worry about luggage letting you down. Cutting corners and cutting costs cuts directly into your ease of mobility. All it takes is one broken handle, or one loose wheel, and your ability to easily and effortlessly go from A to B falls apart (and your travel tolerance levels may also do so!)

Speaking of wheels, they are critical. However, as wonderfully functional as they are, it intrigues me that no one ever thought of putting brakes on four-wheeled suitcases. I therefore only use two wheelers. Neither you, nor your lawyers, want your baggage to show they have a mind of their own and become a giant bowling ball. And in case you are wondering, my most trusted brand: Tumi.

Tip number two: Life on the road of with a plethora of planes and time zones, when it comes to being healthy while travelling, the struggle is real. When travelling for work or pleasure it is imperative to hydrate (see tip on this below) and ensure you exercise.  There are very some simple, yet effective, strategies that will help you continue to remain healthy while travelling in order to maintain balance and reduce stress. My two invaluable and compact travel companions are my Manduka light travel yoga mat and my TRX, an over the door, very transportable, bodyweight training apparatus. Both do an exceptional job when you have limited time to train before one of “those” early morning departures.

It is always tough to begin one’s journey trying to recover from another flight, hence grabbing sleep on a ‘plane is always a good idea. Eyeshades are another essential you need to own in life – from sleep-inducer to do not disturb, they are a great anti-invasive investment. This is one where comfort outweighs cost for me and texture is all-important to rest: cashmere with silk lining is hard to beat.

All airplanes are loud. A pair of comfortable noise cancelling headphones will make every flight shorter as they reduce ambient noise significantly; making every voyage more peaceful. A few years ago, I moved from over to in ear headphones (size) and Bose are without question the best in class in this regard. The sound experience is truly transporting, in any mode of transport.

Airplane attire never ceases to amaze me. I am always surprised by those flying in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. I always travel with a zip-up wool sweater and without fail, a large scarf. A recent new addition to my in-flight attire was introduced to me by Scott, who runs our New Zealand office, when he gave me my first pair of Allbirds, the most comfortable merino wool sneakers known to man. Not only do they keep your feet warm, but now that evening trip mid-flight to the bathroom seems less concerning.  At this point, it’s worth highlighting that some people advocate sitting by the window is better for sleep, I personally always find it colder than the aisle.

The next gift tip is more about conservation and consciousness than comfort: a personal hot/cold water bottle (and hydration too). We all know that plastic bottles are becoming an increasingly present peril for our environment, especially our oceans and you cannot get them through security. I therefore like knowing I am playing my part by carrying my Swiss made Sigg bottle with me when I travel. After all, every little bit helps.

When on the road, one of the biggest pleasures comes from not only having the time to read, but also considering what we might read, whether books, magazines or newspapers. Thanks to the remarkable iPad or a Kindle, they have officially ended that need for extra kilos in the tightly-packed travel bags. Unless you are my   wife – who still delights in lugging multiple books around.

The newest addition to my travel accessories is my first Apple Watch, the 3. I have eagerly awaited this and the opportunity to be Maxwell Smart; communicating telephonically via my watch. But come on Apple, surely you should have thought about the time zone automatically updating (it requires is both iPhone and iWatch restarting, not just from flight mode).

We all know that travel can change us and how the smallest of effort can make the biggest difference at times. Don’t dispose of all your local currency before leaving a country, don’t force yourself to have that last cup of coffee or buy that non-essential useless gift. Save your change to help make a change. Almost every airport in the world and many airlines now collect currencies that are used for a diversity of worthwhile causes. It’s a timely reminder during the season of goodwill. And it’s a small gesture that can have a big impact if we all do our bit.

Lastly, my final tip, is one very close to my heart, that I feel every traveller should have a personal totem. What do I mean by this? Something small, of personal value and/or significance, that you can always carry with you and that keeps your spirit connected to you. I have carried the same Tibetan sandalwood prayer beads with me for years. I can only imagine how many air miles they have travelled. Every time I hold and quietly play with them wherever I may be, I can feel myself centering. This ability to pull out, hold, touch and absorb something highly personal is essential to carrying that precious piece of home with you wherever you are in the world. Its value is never quantitative. It is always about the emotional connection, irrespective of what it may be.

With that, I wish you and yours all the very, very best for a happy, healthy holiday time. May the gifts of the season leave you feeling prosperous with health and love and ready to travel. And, as 2018 awaits, I wish you all that you wish for in the year ahead.

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.

 

 

KEEPING TRAVEL DOORS, MINDS AND HEARTS OPEN

I love travel. For me the ability to freely discover new places and people is a fundamental part of the fabric of who I am. It is what turns my profession into my vocation.

I have never given much thought to the possibility of this right coming under threat. That is, not until recently, when I, or rather we all, noticed that matters started to go very wrong. My view of the world has always been that of a global community, and yet today our world appears to be facing unprecedented challenges not just to our unity, but also to our humanity. Basic privileges are disappearing. Boundaries are being created. Such measures, unless stopped, will not only make travel inaccessible, but also increase the inhumanity amongst us.

I am quite certain that none of us will ever forget the alarming sight of a traveler – a doctor no less – with a paid seat, being forcibly removed from a plane. Why? Because the airline crew needed to fly. Policy or not, the actions of the Chicago police, requested by the airline personnel, were inexcusable and unforgivable. Finally, after much backlash, the airline CEO even admitted so. Humanity came second to policy.

It’s easy to draw parallels to another unacceptable situation ongoing in the same part of the world: an American President attempting to place ‘un-American’ travel bans, of what appears to be outright discrimination and violation of not just democracy, but human decency.

My confusion around where our supposedly ‘civilized’ world is heading is multi-faceted. I was born into the hospitality and travel industry. My grandfather, at the tender age of 14, left Russia, alone, hidden under potato sacks with just 12 gold sovereigns sewed into the lining of his jacket. By 1920 he had established a new life for himself in South Africa, laying the foundations for future generations, where he purchased a small hotel in a remote fishing village. His vision of caring, inclusive, exceptional service, has been a guiding light for our family for over three generations. I must add that I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, where our hotels refused segregation laws, opening our doors to all, at the explicit risk of a harshly negative response. Despite the risks, my family was, and remains, steadfast in the commitment to ensure that all guests feel both honoured and respected.

I myself, admittedly in very different circumstances, have been fortunate to run a global travel business. However; I am also an immigrant, three times over in fact, having moved from South Africa to the United Kingdom, United States and now Switzerland. Every time I moved forward, I was discovering the individuality of each culture, running a business firmly rooted in a belief of individuality and respect, always putting the guest is at the forefront of all that we do.

What we are seeing today is beyond comprehension. Despite the importance of travel to economies and business that should put people and service first and foremost, sadly we find ourselves in an environment led by narrow minded political rhetoric, and poor business practices. Humanity is being pushed aside, hostility (in the name of security) is being given priority. In truth, these political and corporate policies appear to want to keep people out.

I firmly believe that travel is, and must remain, our world’s great educator and unifier – the unquestionable basis for greater understanding, respect and peace. It is the quintessential bridge that connects us all. We need to be building bridges in humanity, not walls. This truism is known by all of us in the travel industry.

Mark Twain captured this wholeheartedly: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

As an industry, and as consumers, we need to ensure that whilst fresh in all of our minds, we speak our minds. Regardless of our standing from CEO, or leaders of the free world, we must not allow this spirit of poor service, this overt segregation, to spread. There is no policy that can make the sentiment of ‘stay away’ acceptable. Never has it been more important to venture outside of our familiar surrounds, to go and discover the culturally rich and diverse wonders of the world we live in. And the people with whom we share it.

I have lived and loved the United States for many decades. Actions being taken, be they Executive Orders or inexplicable removal of airline passengers, are not what the land of the free has ever stood for and neither should it. It’s imperative that we realign ourselves with what made the United States and indeed our entire shared global community extraordinary.

It is the shared responsibility of each and every one of us to inspire, motivate and collaborate, and not separate and alienate.

Let’s return to a time when common sense created common bonds, a time when civilisation put civility front and centre.

For if there is one thing I am absolutely certain of, it is this: we are so much better than this.

AIRPORT CONNECTIONS – THE ACHES AND THE AWE

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The final countdown is on. It’s that time of year when most of the world begins to unwind from the year that was and concentrate on the holiday season. As I also get ready to sign off, I find myself thinking back to what I’ve learned, what I’m proud to have done, what I could have done differently.

I am privileged to live in one of the most picturesque cities in the world, Geneva Switzerland. There are few more extraordinary morning commutes than driving along Lake Geneva on a clear winter morning with the might of the Jet ’Eau in the foreground, and majestic Mont Blanc in the distance. To call this great global city ‘home’ is a gift which I am acutely aware.

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I am also fortunate in that my work takes me to numerous countries every year. Admittedly, sometimes it feels as though I spend half my life up at 35,000 feet, but travel feeds my soul – I love being able to venture out in new directions, knowing I am going to discover new places, people, cultures and perspectives. The opportunity to be a true citizen of the world is one of the greatest joys of my life.

For all its beauty though, living in Geneva has a downside when it com
es to setting out on life’s great adventures. As efficient as Geneva Airport (GVA) is, with an almost 80% on-time departure rate in 2015, its relatively small size often means my long-haul journeys of discovery invariably necessitate a connecting flight.

So, as I think back on 2016…the many miles I have covered, the people I’ve met, and the transit memories that linger (good and bad!), I thought today I’d share with you some of my personal favourite airports when it comes to layovers. I’ll also share my least favourites, too, so you know which ones to avoid.

Regardless of where in the world I am travelling, when it comes to airports, first and foremost for me is a singular word – convenience – defined by the relative ease of access and the range of services they provide.  In Europe, hands down – the best are Amsterdam (AMS) and Zurich (ZRH).  Small enough to navigate with ease, but with enough options on offer to keep you from getting bored when you have a few hours to kill.

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Not long ago London Heathrow’s (LHR) Terminal 5 (which was dedicated solely to BA) would have made my list of favourites. However, they’ve gone down a few notches since moving multiple flights back to Terminal 3; I think we can all agree that there is nothing worse than overloaded shuttle buses transferring an unbearable number of travelers caught up in early morning arrivals. Where do I consciously try to avoid for European transfers?  Little debate here: Paris (CDG) and Frankfurt (FRA).  These behemoths are painful to transit through in my experience; they are crowded, with long travel times between terminals and oftentimes confusing connection instructions.

When I travel to Asia, it is normally via the Middle East, either stopping in Dubai (DXB) or Abu Dhabi (AUH); these airports are like impressive cities to themselves, their immense sizes and diversity of offerings really something to behold.
Once construction is complete in these two hub airports, I believe they will be far ahead of all other global airports in holistic design. The only caveat is to make sure you have enough connection time. Both airports are immense and the scale does translate into lengthy terminal and gate distances. In the same spirit of airport experience excellence, the new Doha airport (DOH) is exceptional. Once in Asia, I always enjoy travelling through Singapore (SIN). It is still my favourite, though I miss the convenience of the old BA/Qantas codeshare days.

The best airports in the world stand to emphasise the wonder of travel that touches our lives each year. airport-384562However, as we all know, the curses are out there too. Those airports which simply add stress and frustration to the journey. So where does the award for the worst transfer in the world go? Sadly, it’s most of the USA airports that top my list. In my travel planning, every effort is made to avoid transferring in NYC (especially JFK), San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). That said, if one does need to transfer in the USA, Denver (DEN) and Atlanta (ATL) are fine; though I must tell you their track record on losing my luggage is abysmal.

Now wherever your travels take you in 2017, may your journeys be safe and smooth, and give you all you seek. But before that, may your year-end holiday season find you surrounded by loved ones.

Wishing you a happy New Year full of fun-filled travel adventures, exploring and discovering our shared world!

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”.

 

 

 

 

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*

GLOBAL CARING THROUGH TRAVEL

One of the reasons I’m proud to be part of the Travel and Tourism industry is the role we play in connecting people, as one global community. Our industry builds interest, curiosity, understanding, appreciation and affection among diverse cultures, people and places worldwide. Through travel, we learn about others – how they live and dream – and we discover similarities and new qualities in diversity.

In 2015, more than 1.18 billion people crossed an international border. Each person ventured out to find new places and possibilities and hopefully returned home enriched by the experience.

Travel and Tourism has long operated as an industry that takes care of all, to create a better world. Yet, at this time, our world is facing a severe crisis of humanity, a crisis brought to the fore as a result of the influx of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East to seek shelter in Europe. In excess of one million refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 each and every day, men, women, children and the elderly risk their lives. They travel literally thousands of kilometres on foot, by bus, train and raft, by any means available, to reach a place that is safe and offers hope for tomorrow.

A proportion of these refugees, being educated, skilled or employed, were nonetheless forced to flee their countries of origin. This perilous journey has claimed the lives of at least 5,000 people and a significant number of them have been children.

What concerns me most, over and above the numbers entering Europe, is that certain countries are shutting their doors. The Schengen zone, one of the world’s great success stories, is being severely tested. Borders are being closed and checkpoints set up. Trust in neighbours is waning.

What does this have to do with tourism? Everything. Sadly, in some nations that are anxious about how migrants or refugees may affect their society and its tourism, prejudices and paranoia are bubbling to the surface. This climate of fear suspicion challenges the core value of tourism: our global community.

Addressing the media at the opening of the tourism trade fair, ITB Berlin, Secretary-General of the UNWTO Taleb Rifai stated:

The challenge of refugees is a human obligation, with an implicit urgency and priority needed in global response. This is beyond tourism. Facing up to our human obligation is far more important than protecting our business.

He is unquestionably right. Our priorities should not be limited to business.

The refugee crisis does not bear on tourist destinations. The sites and routes of our itineraries remain as they were: iconic, quintessential and unforgettable.  What the media broadcasts internationally is, to a large extent, a selective and sensationalised representation, reflecting the inept management of the situation by local governments.  There is no reason to hold back from future travel or to make particular changes to travel already underway. There is more than enough room in our countries, and our hearts, for us all to move forwards. Our journeys must continue. The crisis is no reason to stay home.

What we mustn’t forget is that our industry is about caring for others, especially because of our differences, and working to make a positive impact on their lives. In the bigger picture, the influence refugees in Europe will bear on tourism is in one way only – constructively. These are people taking vast risks in search of a better life. Many are multilingual, highly skilled and ambitious, and in due course they too can play a role in the tourism industry in their newly found homes.

To travellers, Europe is open. Show your support and commitment by continuing to travel. Now more than ever is the time to live the spirit of tourism, by welcoming these most courageous of travellers as we celebrate the planet we share.

EMBRACING THE POWER OF OPINION

When, where, why and how we make our purchase decisions is transforming dramatically, rapidly and permanently. At the heart of this change is again the digital revolution.

Online reviews are now the very center and source of information and inspiration that is driving consumer behaviour, consumer loyalty, and the entire purchasing process. I recently read that an estimated 90% of travellers seek reviews to check out a product or a business, and 89% say reviews directly influence their decision. I therefore wonder what is going on with the other 10%?

What I find of greatest value, and quite honestly has fascinated me, is that consumers now have power regarding not only what they buy, but also what others buy. Empowered by social networks and digital devices, consumers are increasingly dictating when, where and how they engage with brands. They have become both critics and creators, demanding a more personalised service and expecting to be given the opportunity to shape the products and services they consume.

The message is clear: Consumers today have been given a louder voice, and they expect it to be heard and listened to. They are increasingly willing to share their opinions and experiences with complete strangers. As a result, a new community of trust has evolved from this. In certain categories (restaurant or hotels for example) consumers are reluctant to buy without independent recommendations. This change is disrupting the traditional path to purchase.

This is why just over a year ago Trafalgar commissioned an independent online review company to source reviews from our guests about their experiences with Trafalgar. To ensure accuracy, only our past guests could write reviews. These are all published, unedited and un-curated and online for every trip we offer. Always, 100% real and transparent.

Feefo logo

Today, with thousands of reviews collected, Trafalgar’s trips rate at a remarkable 97% guest satisfaction. In fact, the service we use, Feefo awarded us their Gold Medal for excellence. Our guests are enjoying having the opportunity to share their stories in an open format. It also ensures that as a brand we are able to amend opportunities in real-time and ensuring things are changed immediately when we do get it wrong. It is powerful, and it works.

Trafalgar has evolved our trips to take our guests deeper into a destination giving them richer experiences, bringing the gold threads of a destination alive. In being the tour industry disruptor, and having complete confidence in the experiences we give our guests, we have seen the opportunity of transparency and actively embrace online reviews.

We see and hear the voices of our guests as an opportunity to accelerate communicating this transformation, as these independent reviews are clearly bridging the gap between simple word-of-mouth to a viral form of feedback that can move virtual mountains for a business.

The importance of online reviews for businesses is truly mind-boggling; from increase of brand awareness to an overall increase of profit in the long run. Welcome to global travel’s brave new digital world. Trafalgar is, as always, excited to be guiding others, as we are directed by our guests.

DEFINING MOMENTS

The world unites in support for France

They happen when we least expect them – moments in our life that immediately, dramatically, profoundly and irreversibly shift our view of the world, and sometimes even our place in the world. I’ve experienced a few, and every time by their very nature, they catch us off guard, causing our true selves to be exposed: how we think, how we feel, how we immediately respond and of course, how we then move on.

Personally, one of those times was just over a week ago. Paris. It was a night I wont forget. By happenstance I was there with many members of my family. So were a number of our Trafalgar guests from across the globe – some readying to leave that weekend, while others elsewhere were excitedly looking forward to arriving into the city of lights. None of us had any idea that the lights were about to go out, plunging the city into darkness.

As the people of Paris and France stood teary-eyed facing down in shock, as the loss of life climbed to 129, the world stood together with the people of Paris, as one. And along with the people of Lebanon, 43 souls taken in an attack on their own streets, and the people of Russia who lost 224 souls in the skies over the Sinai.

I was one of those people, walking the streets of Paris early the next morning, trying to find some sense of calm, quiet, trustworthy footing after the ground had been shaken underneath us. Every one of my senses was heightened – the sounds, the smells and the movements around me. And, completely to my surprise, the cautious smiles of complete strangers who, for the first time I have ever found, engaged eye contact. A garbage collector, a retiree, a shop owner looking to open, a child. That morning they were eyes still tender from tears, yet willing to look at passers by, to really see them, as if to say “Nous sommes tous Parisiennes.” Whether local or tourist, male or female, whatever class, colour, creed, country, “Nous sommes tous Parisiennes.” An inner strength and solidarity united us together.

Why was this such a defining moment for me? The tragedy of the night before? There is no question about it – the terror hits you at a cellular level. But it did not stop there. My spirit experienced truly defining moments in observing, raw and unedited, what the word ‘resilience’ meant. It was a time that felt, and still feels, like the people of Paris are tightly, carefully held together by a giant Band-Aid. And they, with the help of the world, will heal.

What was also absolutely clear to me was the following. This wave of terror is trying desperately and deviously to wash over the world.

It is random.

It is heartless.

It is a few trying to exploit the masses.

It is trying to break people, communities, and religions apart.

And yet, through its unthinkable actions, it is unifying.

The weekend of the tragedy, as mentioned earlier, a number of our Trafalgar guests were scheduled to move on. And they did as per their itineraries, but with no sense of escape. Those who had the option of a few days extra in Paris chose to stay on. Our guests scheduled to arrive in Paris from Lucerne four days later? Each and every one arrived, and entered into this beautiful city with a determined spirit of “Nous sommes tous Parisiennes.” The solidarity and resilience of the Trafalgar guests, of all people, shone through.

This, dear friends, is why we travel.

This is what it means to be an ‘insider’ – living and feeling the real places, moments, milestones, memories, of the lives of people around the world with whom we will forever be bonded through a love of one shared hope – a peaceful, shared, compassionate and ever-curious world.