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”.

 

 

 

 

THE NEW REALITY AND A PASSION FOR TRAVELLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADERSHIP CAN AND MUST STIMULATE TOURISM GROWTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 2012 Games an Emotional Trap?

Olympics in London 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Forgotten Destination Icons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God save the Queen.

Travel Should Be Thanked, Not Taxed

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

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

Travel - Rio Brazil

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

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

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

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

The Current & Anticipated Absurdity of UK Arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

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