REDEFINING THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL

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.

TRAVEL AT A CROSSROADS – THERE’S NO TURNING BACK

You can see it and feel it, all around us. It is simply wonderful. The travel world is on the move. Finally. Freely. Festively.

With immense excitement and expectation, travellers are once again taking to the skies, streets, rivers and even seas, turning their long pent-up desire and anticipation into action. And as they venture north, south, east, and west, it is very easy to feel a sense of massive celebration – a celebration reflecting relief in being released from restrictions on movement, a celebration of rediscovery, a celebration of our ability to reconnect once again.

The spirit of ‘because I can’ is everywhere. It is understood. It is being felt by the visitor as much as the visited. We can all empathise with it. How can we not? We ourselves are not only travel organisers, but also travellers. We have longed to travel. The exceptional levels of busyness in airports, train stations, seaports, on our coaches, across all methods of transport, feels liberating.

Simple things such as the airport experience – arriving at the airport whether by train or road, venturing through airport security, through the air-side terminal, through to the boarding gates, finding your way onto the plane – in many ways it can feel as if we’ve gone back – back to the old days, back to the old ways.

‘Back to normal’ many would say. Travel excitement, travel celebration, is a very good thing. Many would say it demonstrates how much we have all been missing travel, connecting to people in the places we’ve longed to return to or dreamed of exploring for the first time, and once again learning more about ourselves.

Making Chapati, Gurdwara Sikh Temple on Contiki’s Eternal India Itinerary

But just going back to what was, is not a good thing. Nor is it an option.

As both a global travel industry and as a travelling community, we must be very careful when we use the word ‘back’. In fact, we must remove it from our vocabulary completely. Why? Because if the past two years have shown us anything, it’s the enormous impact that our travels can have, both good and bad. The choice on the way forward will be ours.

We must recognise that pent-up demand can very easily and rapidly turn into reverting to bad habits that used to exist in the days pre pandemic. The busyness that used to consume us, spending our time going from A to Z, running through the alphabet while so often failing to recognise all the letters in between.

Pre 2020, still too many were travelling unconsciously, taking for granted the precious gift our planet gives us – the gift of travel, discovery, wonder. Now, as we stand on the precipice of a new travel age, unless consciously addressed these same habits will, sadly, endure. Instead, we must recognise that we are not the same people or industry in 2022, as we left behind in 2019. Travel has changed. Our industry has changed. And we have changed, on so many levels.

The reality is this: we need to be conscious of the fact that when we travel, we are always guests in someone’s home, someone’s city, someone’s life.

This means that as we experience the celebration of the gift of travel once more, we must not lose sight of gratitude for this gift, nor of the opportunity to make a meaningful, measurable impact.

Celebrating the return of travel deserves to be honoured, but this celebration must come hand in hand with gratitude in our hearts, for the blessing of being able to travel once more. We need to be honest; we need to be humble, and we need to act together to ensure that every day, on every itinerary, we book every guest with a commitment to fulfil their travel dreams in a way that makes travel matter.

What is important about this time of celebration is that we do not forget for one moment, what we have come through. For if we speed away too quickly from the past, into the present and out to the future, we will simply jump over all the lessons that we have learned; lessons that we must never forget.

It is unlikely that the coronavirus will ever completely disappear and immunity against the virus will always be imperfect. But we have equally seen that we can live and travel with it.

As we do so, we must never, never forget what these past two years of global grounding have taught us all in the tourism industry, and all of us as travellers – to never lose a sense of gratitude for the ability to venture out into the world, whether for business or pleasure.

We can’t fall into the ways of the past, a time when a spirit of entitlement to go anywhere at any time for any reason, eclipsed the sense of privilege that is, without question, at the heart of travel and tourism.

Which begs the question: how do we reimagine and rebuild global Tourism in a way that is sustainable and meaningful for both the visitor and the visited? We must all consider our impact. That is why in this spirit of responsibility, transparency and accountability, I was enormously proud when The Travel Corporation (TTC) released its 2021 Impact Report. https://impact.treadright.org/progress/. An honest, accountable representation of the positive impact we make to people and places worldwide

These are exciting times, but equally thought provoking and action-oriented ones too. We must never forget our core responsibility that as we re-emerge, we seek purpose, we seek passion, and we truly shift to more sustainable form of tourism, always ensuring that in all our actions, we in fact do MAKE TRAVEL MATTER.

‘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.