The pandemic deprived of us both the wonderment as well as the stresses of travel. Yet finally, it’s happening; the transformation of travel we’ve spoken about for the past two years is taking place. However, it’s happening at a speed and scale that our industry never anticipated, nor is ready for.

We knew it would come, but we did not foresee the degree of the travel flood once borders and skies reopened. 

We are therefore all being tested – right here, right now.

Antiparos. Unsplash: Image by Alex Voulgaris

Many thought that this would be the year for travel – one in which the world would cast aside memories of being grounded and finally return to a normal freedom of movement.  But as this new world re-opens and rebuilds a ‘next normal’, it is now abundantly clear that, as I have said many times before, there is no going back to normal. There is no ‘back’ and there is nothing ‘normal’ about these times. 

Many across the industry are busy trying to predict what is ahead, what trends are emerging, what ‘new normal’ we can anticipate. Much time is being spent evolving words:

‘Responsible travel’ evolved into ‘sustainable travel’ and is now ‘regenerative travel’. 

‘Bleisure travel’ has become ‘blurred travel’. 

‘Staycations’, ‘workcations’, ‘schoolcations’ – pick a ‘cation, any ‘cations.

The list goes on and on. The language now, as in the past, is creating new labels for how the industry is rebuilding back – building back better. These efforts, while interesting and hopeful, are inconsequential and hollow. Clearly that is NOT where our focus needs to be right now. We cannot spend our time wordsmithing how we are building back better – we must build forward better, and adjust to the needs, wants and desires of the new explorers. 

We are all acutely aware of the horror stories emerging across the travel experience. Cancelled flights, varying admission policies to attractions, reduced access to iconic places, long queues and evolving options to move freely and easily. We continue to see people trapped in the breakdowns of our travel systems. As passionate travellers ourselves, many of us have experienced this first-hand.

There is no doubt that the travel industry is in the midst of “the perfect storm”, with multiple contributing factors converging at the same and with it, critical links in the chain cracking under the pressure of the immediacy in demand. We therefore must face this reality head on, because however turbulent the skies, travel is and will always be an extraordinary gift. It teaches us about ourselves and each other, broadening our horizons. It is and remains the perfect reset button after the COVID isolation years. Understandably, never before have travellers invested so much emotion in their travels, to create new memories, to connect with people, and to see new places.

Therefore, never before has there been an imperative for the industry to move from semantics and ensure we help travellers fulfil their dreams.

But there are no trends to lean on to shape the future. We must therefore recognise what must change not just in our analysis, but redefine in our actions, based on:

  • Changes in traveller motivations: the desire to travel has intensified, fuelled by not only people missing people and places loved, but the recognition of the importance of travel to their mental and physical health,
  • Changes in travel experience delivery: our need to ensure not only creation of good surprises for travellers, but careful protection of travellers from unexpected bad surprises especially as regards changes in regulations, travel mobility and personal security,
  • Changes in industry policy: governments, travellers and the general citizenry demanding our industry to take action around critical issues including sustainability, diversity, employment equity, and health and safety,
  • Changes in employee desires and wellbeing: workers across the travel industry world rightly expecting they be respected and rewarded for their commitment and contribution to brand and business,

and without question,

  • Changes in endemic challenges: working with the reality of crisis, be it medical, political or natural, being a fact of life that we must learn to live (and safely travel) with wherever we are in the world.

These are truly transformational times. Different yes, exciting too. 

This is why we cannot become intoxicated by all of the excitement for travel we are seeing around the world without actively stepping up the responsibility of travel. We must step up and roll up our sleeves, adjusting to this new reality. We must focus on what we can do individually to be the difference, and to ensure we do not, under any circumstances, build into the future of our industry the failures of the past.

This is where our TTC focus is, knowing our brands, knowing our systems, knowing our people, and knowing our shared passion in keeping the dream of travel alive.

As for me and my personal pent-up demand, my bucket list remains firmly in place. I have returned to my travels. I am in fact writing this blog enjoying a twice delayed trip, looking out at the the perfect Aegean Sea, relishing the tranquil beauty of the Cyclades Island of Antiparos in Greece. In the fall I hope to visit Patagonia, Argentina and then spend the year-end holidays season in Cape Town, South Africa. It is wonderful to again be immersed in the wonderment of being in a place, where I am the foreigner. 

So, in closing, I thought I would share a few of my practical tips on how I travel in these evolving times:

  1. Be a realist: Understand and embrace that travel today is an adventure. Anticipate that the unexpected can occur and that even the most certain plans can change. When something is time critical, build in caution – like recently when going to a wedding in Morocco, we built in an extra day. Bring patience. Be flexible. Be kind. Stay positive. 
  2. Be early:  Get to the airport early. I have been arriving three hours before an international flight, which has made the serpentine lines less stressful. Try and fly early in the day. Book early, and dream. The last minute deals are no longer there. Use airline apps, they seem to know that things are changing before anyone else. 
  3. The essential carry-on: Anticipate delays and absent luggage. Pack a carry-on with essential items for the first few days of your trip. And vitally, any necessary medications should always be with you. Always.
  4. Use a travel agent, someone you can trust: These invaluable individuals will be there to assist you navigate the obstacles of the domino effect of undesirable changes to your itinerary. 
  5. Buy travel insurance: There are so many moving variables that it is hard to anticipate what situations might arise, so be protected, and vitally, read the fine print. 
  6. Be travel-smart in these still-COVID times: I choose to wear a mask whenever I am in crowded indoor spaces. Why not? Everyone has to respect other people’s choices. A fundamental in travel is never being judgmental of others. This applies to mask wearing too. 

Yes, these travel times are testing. But the journey remains worthy of the adventure. It is said that the first leisure travellers were the Ancient Romans. Brave and bold in their quests, they understood and were deeply motivated by the fact that travelling was a way to discover other cultures, enabling the pioneering of advances in many areas of science and technology, creating tools and methods fit for need, inspired by the world.

As our world reopens, this spirit of motivation and inspiration is as true today as it was back then. The opportunity, and responsibility, to bravely and boldly reshape and redefine the travel world is ours once more. Our next great adventure awaits. Embrace it.

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?