WELCOMING THE AWE OF TRAVEL … AGAIN

Without a doubt the most common question I am asked is, what is the next, new, great destination? Following hints of new countries and remote destinations opening up the world, the quest becomes like a treasure hunt. What new discoveries can be made? Where else can we go? What new ‘Insider’ experiences can we unlock for our guests? And then, where to after that?

This past month, however, I was reminded of how some of the greatest discoveries we can make are, in fact, rediscovered destinations. Taking in their beauty a second, third or fourth time can be as spectacular as the first.

On this occasion, the location was Zermatt, Switzerland. The occasion: Schweizer Ferientag/ Switzerland Vacation Day, the annual conference for almost 1’300 members of the Swiss Tourism industry who come together to share and learn. The presentation: Tour Operators today and tomorrow. Snowboarding Verbier

As per usual, I arrived armed with my invitation from my kind hosts, my ready-for-stage presentation, and admittedly, an innate sense of comfort being in a destination that is entirely familiar to me, in an area I frequently visit in the winters in my adopted homeland. However, the advantage of being in a known place, does risk becoming a blur.

Thankfully however, this blur quickly had the brakes applied when I awoke to see the sun rising reflecting off of the grandeur and splendour of the Matterhorn. There, towering over me, powerfully yet ever so peacefully, stood one of the great natural wonders of our world. In that moment my thoughts were frozen in genuine awe.

Matterhorn image

Poignantly, the sight of the Matterhorn reminded me of one of the great truths of the travel industry; Switzerland is one of the most beautiful, truly spectacular places on earth.

The beauty I experienced all around me was not limited to the landscapes. Equally, over the duration of the meeting, I was reminded of the authenticity of the people – the local artisans from chocolate to cheese, to less traditional wares. With their passion for their homeland, and an exceptional welcome to all – Swiss hospitality is both true and genuine.

Switzerland Tourism does an exceptional job of capturing and sharing with the world a true gift; destination Switzerland. They bring life to a word that can be so often overused in our tourism marketing world – ‘real’. Somehow this is simply in the essence of their nation, Switzerland Tourism makes ‘real’ an honest travel experience, one that was far deeper, richer and more embracing than I would have ever imagined.

Swiss Tourism event

Returning back to my home in Geneva, I found myself walking a step slower along Lake Geneva as the fresh mountain water acted as a perfect mirror for the sun’s rays. Not only could I feel myself breathing in the pure, clean air, I could also feel myself breathing in the incredible sense of blessing.

How remarkable and renewing it was, and continues to be, looking out over those waters and appreciating again and again all that surrounds me each day, wherever I am in the world.

May places newly discovered, and those comfortably familiar, continue to slow your steps and awaken your most grateful of senses.

 

SHARED SOLUTIONS FOR SHARED GROWTH

The global travel & tourism industry is one of the few, enduring sources of optimism and growth in our world today. The way in which the world is opening up to new places for discovery and engaging with different cultures, is occurring not just because of advances in technology, aviation and economic empowerment but equally so in mindsets. It is a significant change.

Travel and tourism is an industry in which vision is a fuel that turns possibility into powerful, purposeful reality.

For those of us who have committed ourselves to the promotion, protection, and preservation of the future of travel & tourism, we have an innate obligation to work together to unlock barriers and strengthen enablers for industry advancement. Additionally, we must ensure we work with governments to promote the uniqueness of each country. I do become concerned when disconnects appear between the public and private sector, and it becomes business versus government.

This phenomenon is not unique to any one country. At this very moment several countries across the tourism world are locked in struggles.

A case in point: the tourism industry in South Africa (country of my birth, and a place I remain personally passionate about as an advocate promoting my country as an exceptional travel destination) including the Department of Tourism, currently colliding with the Department of Home Affairs. The issue: new visa rules requiring biometric testing of potential tourists. Why? To put a stop to child trafficking. Only one issue – tourism and traffickers have nothing to do with one another. The regulations have become a direct deterrent to tourism yet will have minimal impact on child traffickers, if any at all. The damage is being done. At time of writing, the 2014/2015 year-end high season has lost significant traveller numbers. The ripple effect of negative impact on tourist sector earnings, jobs and competitiveness will further negatively impact an economy already in recession following strikes in the mining sector. As the damage to tourism image and arrival figures grows, the voice of the tourism sector in opposition to Home Affairs is getting louder and louder.

Still, no movement, and no signs of hope. Positions are being held firm. Business continues to increase its appeals towards government for action, feeling unheard and losing faith in leaders in highest national office.

Sadly, it happens all over the world. Issues may differ, but responses are the same. It may be visa regulations, taxation, poaching, investment attraction, development, any of a number of critical tourism sector issues central to industry growth, or decline.

So what is the solution?

The answer to this fundamental question is not somewhere out there, it is with us. We, the leaders of the travel and tourism industry, must be the solution.

The reality is this: no one in public office can ever understand the realities of the front line of travel & tourism like the people who provide the ultimate experience – tourism businesses. And so:

  1. We as the private sector need to work collaboratively as a singular voice. For an industry that contributes over 9.5% to worldwide GDP and generates over 265 million jobs, still, sadly, we have a limited voice. Which is why we must join together and work through organisations like the WTTC (http://www.wttc.org/ which The Travel Corporation (TTC), parent company of Trafalgar, is proud to be a part of as a Board Member, represented by Brett Tollman, TTC’s CEO) to ensure that we amplify our voice. Our daily work, our impact, our research, the feedback we receive from travellers is what needs to be heard.
  2. With governments, a commitment to pushing not just the problems, but also the solutions is needed. That is what PPP – Public Private Partnership, is really all about. Working proactively as partners, rebuilding trust and respect for respective roles and interests, working together to achieve shared success, can be the only way that growth potential of the sector can be leveraged for travellers, destinations and industry, across the world.

To me there is no alternative if we hope to see the future of our sector as one of truly sustainable, meaningful growth. Let’s reach out and make it possible.

Travel Should Be Thanked, Not Taxed

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

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

Travel - Rio Brazil

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

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

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

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