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.

TOUCH versus TECHNOLOGY

Travel Makes You Richer

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

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

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

What more, indeed.

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

And so importantly, what about the power of touch?

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

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

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

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