‘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.

MY EIGHT WONDERS OF THE WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

Number 1: Paris FRANCE

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

Number 2: EGYPT

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

Number 3: The Red Centre, AUSTRALIA

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

Australia outback landscape ( North Territory)

NUMBER 4: India

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

ME to WE

NUMBER 5: Copenhagen, Denmark

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

NUMBER 6:  Hvar, Croatia

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

Hvar, Croatia

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

 

NUMBER 7, Cuba

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

MY UNEXPECTED WONDER: Austin Texas

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

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

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

POKEMAN GO – CELEBRATING THE JOY OF DISCOVERY?

There is a singular word for it – ‘phenomenon’.

Within days of its launch, everywhere across the globe, downloads took place by the millions. It felt like the world was suddenly taken over by those in the know and on the go, leaving the rest of us rather perplexed.

Pokemon go

Outside my flat in Geneva I saw them daily – mobile phone gawkers, walking, eyes glued to their screens, oblivious to those around them. I couldn’t understand it. Then I learned it was all about Pokémon Go. A new game in which players Travel between the real world and the virtual world as they find and save Pokémon characters.

The game may be a play on reality, but the headlines about its impact were very real. According to Fortune magazine, within 3 days it had become the biggest mobile game in US’s history, adding US$ 7.5B to Nintendo’s bottom line, and completely reenergizing the company. The stats amazed me as much as the craze. Nintendo’s share price rose just over 9% when the game was first launched, and then saw a further surge of 24.5%, representing the company’s highest one-day climb since 1983.

So, seeing that I needed to get in the know and onto Pokémon Go to really understand what was behind the hysteria, I downloaded the App and there, immediately, was the answer – I have two Pokémon within 100 meters of my home.Pokemon Go modified

Pokémon is nothing new – the video game was first launched in 1996 and needless to say kids became hooked, spending hours playing it. This time around, however, Nintendo has licensed this to an App developer that has made it interactive as you need to get out and find these hidden characters, and they have made it multigenerational – every one of every age is getting hooked. The aim is to get outdoors and search your surroundings for little beings called Pokémon.

I must confess that initially I was anti-Pokémon Go. From the outside it looked as though it was the next level of mobile impoliteness. More people glued to their mobile phones, ignoring people and places right in front of them.

But then, as I thought about it, something very commendable about the game occurred to me: this App is getting people out of their homes and into the streets. People are getting outdoors and exploring the world around them. The App’s developers have purposely included iconic landmarks along with lesser-known places that players visit on their journey. People of all ages are getting off their sofas and starting to discover their environments, often seeing new things that have been around the corner all along, but they didn’t know existed. They are also meeting new people with a shared interest and excitement for local discovery. Less than a month since its launch, Pokémon Go is now so ubiquitous that I read that coffee shops and police stations have designated themselves ‘Pokestops’ in hopes of attracting new visitors. Museums and art installations are jumping on the bandwagon, encouraging players to visit their locations to catch rare Pokémon while taking in the destination’s tourist sites.

Speaking to Pokémon Go players in my neighborhood, I learnt that they themselves have discovered unexpected sculptures (we have wonderful art in the city of Geneva), stunning architecture, little known paths that they have been living alongside all of this time, but never paid attention to.

Interestingly, this reawakening of wonder in the world around us sounds very familiar to how we at Trafalgar put our trips together for our guests – finding special local spots alongside the icons, encouraging exploration. It was a good feeling knowing that the essence of our approach to travel is still alive and well, even if its latest manifestation is in an augmented reality form.

Because the enduring truism is this: we humans are wired for adventure. While we may have firmly set comfort zones – where we live, our habits, still we seek newness of thinking, of doing, and of being. Travel allows us these little windows into discovery, a way to venture out of our comfort zones to become exposed to other worlds, and other sides of ourselves when placed in these new environments. With this learning comes freshness of perspective of not just the world around us, but of ourselves and our place in the world. At its simplest yet most profound form, this is the gift of travel.

In many ways, the hunger for discovery that Pokémon Go is creating in game players can, and I hope will, ignite in these same people a desire to go out and seek more of their real world – the one without the hidden Pokémon.

Which is why, returning back to the real world of augmented reality coming to life around me, I accept that at this first stage Pokémon Go players may all be walking with their eyes glued to their screens. But does that matter? The intrinsic benefit is that millions of people are getting out and seeing the world around them.

Technology has already been harnessed for travel. Now travel is harnessing technology. The joy of ‘Go’ is ours to be embraced, in whichever world we choose to play.

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*

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.

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.

SUSTAINABILITY – LIVING THE LANGUAGE, LEAVING A PRICELESS LEGACY

The words ‘sustainable tourism’ are quickly becoming one of the most clichéd and over used in the travel industry. I see this politically correct language being applied superficially. I’m acutely aware that travel (and other) companies all too easily define themselves as sustainable simply because they put ‘Only print if essential – save the environment!’ messages at the bottom of their emails. Because of this, “green washing” is rapidly becoming a synonymous term. This is frustrating for those who are genuinely and legitimately fighting to make a difference for what they know is right, and must be addressed right now.

Technically speaking, the UNWTO defines ‘sustainable tourism’ as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities“.

One of the most exciting aspects of travel to me is the people that I meet along the way. In my recent travels to both Botswana and Myanmar, I had the great fortune of meeting two unique, but like the places they live, very different individuals that stripped away the rhetoric and pomposity of the overused sustainability expression, but through the very essence of their existence are making a difference. They’ve encouraged me. Here’s why:

Map Ives, the Director of Rhino ConservatioMap Ivesn Botswana, is a gentle giant of the African bush, a man who is, without question, a treasure to wildlife conservation in Africa.

Map has always lived in and remained committed to his life’s calling to understand and conserve Africa’s wild places. Today he is leading the charge on rhino conservation in Africa to ensure that our generation is not the last to see African rhino roaming freely. Listening to Map, it is impossible not to get completely absorbed and inspired by in his personal commitment for the African bush and its rhinos. He has been on the forefront of developing new approaches to a previously accelerating Rhinoworsening situation. It was this realisation and establishing systems and new practices behind the re-location of rhino that for the first time there are now a few minor shoots of hope. And he does it without any wish for praise, fame or attention. He does it because he feels in his heart it is the right thing to do. His love for his homeland and its creatures both great and small is his quiet yet powerful legacy.

Similarly whilst discovering Myanmar, fortune enabled me to meet another genuine individual. Myanmar is a remarkable country, rich in spirituality and the most striking smiles of its people. It is here that fortuitously I met meeting Ye Htut Win. He is the son of a Diplomat who has travelled the world, yet his heart never left his homeland. An obvious maverick, he returned home with a vision for success, his passion for food and a desire to make a difference. Sharkey's

He has established a business that showcases Myanmar’s magnificent produce, but with a difference – their produce is inspired by the foods Mr. Ye tasted around the world, and then made better. Crafted using his own Myanmar organic produce and artisanal methods, his fare is true artistry. He has developed and trained a network of artisans as well as farmers who are now growing organic heirloom fruit & vegetables as well as raising animals. Both the plants and local breeds are carefully chosen for those that can become accustomed to Myanmar’s climate and soils. All are cultivated using only sustainable, environmentally friendly methods.

So extraordinarily, whilst in Yangon I found myself in his eatery and unexpectedly savouring some of the most astonishing delicious cheeses (and I live in Switzerland!), breads, chili fondue and heavenly gelato. If your travels take you to Myanmar, ensure that you make a trip to Sharky’s. You will be amazed too. But what will warm you, wont just be the quality and delectableness of the food you eat but understandably the passion and pride in what has been achieved. Sharkey's eaterie

In meeting these two very different but unique individuals, in two completely parts of the world, what I found so enlightening was that through their shared example, sustainable tourism is not about doing what looks good today, it is about doing good for tomorrow regardless of who is looking today. Thank you gentlemen for keeping it real. In doing so, you are leaving a true legacy.

 

SOUTH AFRICA SLAMS THE DOOR SHUT ON TOURISM

SA wildlifeSouth Africa is one of the most unique and remarkable destinations to visit in the world. It moves visitors in so many ways with its natural beauty, the wildlife, its history, the people and the food.

Tourism is therefore fittingly an important element to the economic and social growth and development of the nation as a whole, contributing approximately 10% (directly + indirectly) to the country’s GDP and employing 1 in 10 South Africans.

Despite this, the Government of South Africa has remarkably and irresponsibly formed new laws, which will deter tourism, with total disregard to their consequence and without dialogue with the industry. For those unaware, in the latter part of 2014 the South African Department of Home Affairs imposed new entry regulations for visitors into South Africa:

  1. A requirement for children under 18 to carry copies of an UNABRIDGED BIRTH CERTIFICATES,
  2. The requirement of all prospective applicants in source markets (China and India) requiring a visa to travel to South Africa, to appear in-person to capture BIOMETRIC DATA.

Why the new, now in effect, regulations? The Ministry of Home Affairs is seeking to aggressively tackle issues around human trafficking, particularly of children. South African borders are seen to be porous, and imposing stricter entry regulations are believed by the Dept. of Home Affairs to be a ways of arresting, literally and figuratively, this social ailment.

Bones in Africa As important and as well intended as the new regulations may be, the fact is this: human trafficking and tourism have nothing to do with one another, and the blocking of entry of tourists is going to do nothing to curb human trafficking. All it will do is cut off the oxygen of the nation’s vital tourism industry – an industry that one in ten South Africans rely on for the livelihoods and the wellbeing of their families.

Here are the facts that, sadly, the Ministry of Home Affairs failed to grasp when imposing the new regulations:

  • South Africa is a nation working tirelessly to stimulate and sustain job creation, SME opportunity, national unity and productivity, not to mention national competitiveness
  • Tourism has become a vital source of jobs: as I said earlier, 1 in 10 South Africans is employed through tourism, with the sector exceeding earnings of the country’s traditional lead sector, gold
  • Visa and immigration policies are amongst the most important government policies that can influence international tourism.
  • While the new regulations only came into effect 1st June 2015, the damage is long-done to visitation numbers, national image, and attractiveness of the destination. Booking periods into 2016 are seeing painful losses.
  • Simply blocking tourism flows through increased regulations is not a solution!

And yet, despite the above and significant efforts by global tourism authorities such as the UNWTO and WTTC, along with international airlines and tour operators, to reconsider the regulations, almost a month since implemented, inertia remains. In fact, much to my surprise, I just heard that there isn’t even any tracking being done of trafficking numbers to determine if the new Tourism regulations are having an impact.  These means Home Affairs can and will continue to penalise Tourism for trafficking based on hypothesis of correlation, absent of any hard data to show a direct relationship between trafficking and tourism.

Interestingly, as we well know, travel today is a given and if South Africa becomes too hard a destination to visit, which it is now proving to be, all that the Government is doing is opening the door for other tourism nations to grow as a result of its decline.

Cases in point: India. Since the subcontinent’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, took office, profound changes have occurred in the nation’s tourism policies. Why? Because the new Prime Minister recognises the tourism sector as the panacea for a myriad of the nation’s ailments – inclusivity, investment, opportunity, economic advancement, identity and competitiveness. Prime Minister Modi has not just walked the talk, he has sprinted it, taking such dramatic actions as offering e-Visas to a total of 150 nations across the globe (issued within 24 hours), a dramatic rise from the pre-​Prime Minister Modi list of 34 countries.  The impact – an overwhelming 1024% increase in travellers in the first 5 months of 2015.

Australia and the US have seen similar upswing in tourism arrivals from key source markets such as China and India – the exact markets that South Africa has imposed biometric testing on before visas will be granted. From the 18th June, Australia now allows Chinese visitors to now qualify for 10-year visas. This was reported as a “tourism breakthrough”. To date they have seen Chinese and Indian inbound grow by 18% and 30% respectively.

GT SA As a point of reference, Thompsons Travel (which is probably South Africans largest inbound operator – I am Chairman of their parent Company) has, during the January to May 2015 versus the same period in 2014, seen painful decreases of 53% from Chinese and down 54% from Indian travellers.  Forward bookings look to maintain the grim rate of decline.

Are these tourists going elsewhere? Absolutely. Mauritius for the same period saw their inbound China and India tourists increase by 26.6% and 24.3% respectively.

Bottom line, the relaxing of visa regulations is not about eliminating of security measures; quite the contrary. All it means is ensuring governments acquire appropriate information before traveller entry and they need to take care in making their visa acquisitions uncomplicated. There are ways of strengthening our borders in tandem to simplifying our visa procedures.  Our competitors are clearly getting this win: win approach right.

To attack well-intended tourists, travelling in many cases thousands of miles to spend their time and money in a country, is to attack the major artery of the future of a nation. In the case of South Africa, with its new regulations shutting the door to visitors, this is taking the welcome mat away from my home, and this is simply unforgivable.