September. How is it possible that I am already in the midst of my annual Q3 multi-continent tour, each stop feeling too short, knowing that before I know it, I will again be into the 100-day countdown to another year’s end? Another year is passing by in the blink of an eye.
So too, dare I say, has passed too long a period of my own silence in my personal writing. Mid-year momentum has meant that the bustle of business strategy and management has silenced other aspects of my valued responsibility to guide a great brand and exceptional business.
And yet timelessly, as I now travel the world, it is both interesting and stimulating to be asked sincere, pointed questions around the future of tourism. Much of it is focused on the perception of ‘over-tourism’ – a term that has become the cringe of our great sector. Many, far too many, make the accusation and stop there, failing to think of the implication of slowing, or even stopping, an industry on which millions of people rely for their lives and livelihoods.
My belief is simple: all of us in the industry have a part to play. Through thoughtful, respectful, strategic management of tourism industry growth and activation, we can ensure that we support all destinations economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. In doing so, we need to move beyond peak season, making travel a 365, inclusive, truly responsive and responsible enterprise for locals, visiting and supporting the less-visited areas in these trending destinations.
But while some destinations are struggling to handle the side effects of over-tourism, in August, my travels took me and many from my Trafalgar family to a place experiencing reborn tourism – the quest to break through under-tourism. It is a place I had not visited since 1997, a place that has re-energised my mind and heart because of its bold, unwavering ambition to become more than anyone ever thought possible: Northern Ireland.
This visit struck a chord, illuminating the duality of travel – how so many destinations aren’t getting enough tourism while others complain they are getting too much. We as travelers and industry leaders, need to ensure we are getting tourism right.
John McGrillen, CEO of Tourism Northern Ireland, laid out for me his vision for doubling tourism by 2030, a goal that should be easily achieved as the world rediscovers this currently overlooked yet deeply inspiring destination. It is in this magnificent part of the world that the future will now be shaped through hope, through unity, and through tourism, because its people refuse to be defined by its recent past.
TTC’s CEO Brett Tollman, Belfast’s Lord Mayor, and Tourism Northern Ireland’s enigmatic CEO John McGrillen and myself in Belfast, August 2019.And so, I too have joined the chorus. Under-tourism: our call to action to spread the powerful benefit travel provides to the places like Northern Ireland. In doing so, not only does it address the looming risks of over-tourism south of the soft border, it also opens up the opportunity to discover new unexplored corners of the Emerald Isle, reminding us to do similarly in other destinations across the world. It re-energizes the power of travel that we know to be true: building relationships with people, places, culture, and communities we visit. All this with the added benefit of being able to explore something new and totally raw, gained simply by taking the proverbial road less traveled.
There are endless, undersubscribed places that you can discover for your next adventure. Our world has a multitude of tourism’s unsung heroes that are waiting to be revealed, waiting to be discovered.
So, to help you out, in 2020, with the assistance of the Trafalgar Tribe, here are an additional nine “alternative” destinations that we believe you should consider adding to your beyond Northern Ireland travel wish list:
Georgia – A jewel of the Black Sea region, Georgia is a destination for those who love preciously protected ways of living. A natural and cultural sanctuary with an 8000-year natural wine-making heritage, this crossroads of culture is both rugged and unexplored and extends a warm, heart-felt welcome to visitors.
Sossusvlei, Namibia – Few places in the world are as breathtaking as the continuously changing canvases of colour of Sossusvlei. The Namib desert’s towering drifts of history represent centuries of winds blowing over this majestic landscape. To see the sunrise over its endless dunes, to feel the colours come to life, is to observe the power of Mother Nature waking on a soul-stirring morning.
Balkans beyond Croatia – Look beyond that which has already been discovered, journey further than the beauty of Croatia that has lured your heart to this beguiling part of Europe. Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Kosovo – the region will inspire you to venture deeper into one of the most enchanting locations to discover the exquisite gastronomy, fairytale architecture and soothing landscapes.
Cartagena, Colombia – Think soft colour, soft texture, soft sea breezes and soft-hearted people. The beauty of this pastel-hued port city is not only its innate richness of history and tradition, it is its vibrant, vivacious spirit of the future. Central to this? The fact that Cartagena, and Colombia as a whole, has risen from a history once defined by conflict to a future shaped by hope. This gives residents a heightened level of appreciation of all that they have, their hearts open to visitors to share in their blessings.
Porto, Portugal – A port city, Porto proudly invites travelers to explore northwest Portugal’s home of port wine. With its cobbled streets, rustic merchant shops and cafes, quaint traditionally designed homes and gilded churches, it is clear why and how this medieval-inspired town decorated in glistening, ornate carvings were such a magnet for European explorers of centuries past.
Jaisalmer, India – A magnificent fort city, Jaisalmer sits in the heart of the Thar Desert. The vibe and bustle of its historic role as a medieval trading center is still felt when walking its sandstone alleyways busy with artisans of semiprecious stones, textiles, leather and local cuisine. Also called the “Golden City”, Jaisalmer is, without question, one of the finest cultural adventures any traveller can undertake.
Albania – Here, where Adriatic and Ionian coastlines meet, this crossroads of history, culture and cuisine offers foodies and folklore-lovers a feast of discovery. Museums, castles, mosques and a myriad of frescoes reflect the fusion of its Italian, Greek and Turkish neighbours that once passed through this idyllic boutique destination.
Galway, Ireland – An explorer’s paradise, rural Galway offers barren fields, a rugged coastline and beautiful sunsets all perfect for someone who loves nature. No question about it, this is a place that has for centuries been a muse for poets and storytellers, a landscape lived on by people who take pride in preserving their customs and unique character, charming you from the moment you hear their thick, musically-accented ‘dia dhuit’ (hello).
Navajo Nation, USA – This ancient Native American homeland, steeped in spiritual significance, is also a hiker’s delight. To join our Navajo guides and learn about their incredibly rich history and culture in one of the most dramatically beautiful areas of the USA is an experience that will resonate in your heart forever. This is a place that will fill your eyes, mind and wanderlust spirit with more than your memory bank can store, a place where the stars shine brighter far from the city lights.
I, you, we all owe it to ourselves to continue to play our part in shaping the world around us, making this great industry a continuing source of prosperity, understanding and unity. For me, the urgency of travel is not about rushing to see places before they go away, it’s more about visiting them now, with care and purpose so we ensure they’re around to be enjoyed for generations to come.
And so, as you venture out, many of you heading to unknown cities beyond the must-see lists, here’s my advice: Let’s do better this time. We all have the ability, in fact the responsibility, to travel with purpose. When we meet new people, we should honour their home as we do our own, shopping local and paying a fair price, leaving places better than we found them, taking time to learn from them, broadening our own horizons.
Powered by TTC’s TreadRight Foundation, as part of our JoinTrafalgar responsible travel initiative, on 27 September to mark World Tourism Day, we signed the Make Travel Matter Pledge to cement our commitment to having a positive impact in the places we visit. I invite you to join us and sign this pledge, the first step in making meaningful change and enabling the true (positive) power of tourism to reach those that need it most.
And in doing so, we carry home our priceless stories that encourage other travellers to do the same, and thereby ensuring that together we #MAKETRAVELMATTER.