TRAVEL brand Trafalgar is in the business of creating “pinch me” moments for travellers — those moments that are so incredible, you think you must be dreaming — and its chief executive Gavin Tollman has had plenty of those.
He’s been (almost) everywhere in the world, many times over — which is no surprise when you run one of the world’s biggest travel operators — but there are a few moments of total wonderment that always take his breath away.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been to Venice but I do not remember a single time I didn’t feel this way: when you’re on the water taxi and you come around and you see St Mark’s Square for the first time from the water,” Mr Tollman told news.com.au.
“Every single time I see that skyline I just go, wow.
“I had a similar moment recently going to Ashford Castle in Cong, in Ireland, when I came around and saw the castle in the distance. I had that same moment when you just feel you are at one of the single most beautiful places in the world.
“It is one of the reasons I love to travel, when as soon as you arrive and see something for the first time you get that heartbeat going faster.”
These “pinch me” moments are a big part of Trafalgar’s new campaign, The Good Life, which is about letting guests experience the “real” people, places and cultural experiences of the destination they’re in — without having to worry about the logistics of their holiday.
And at a time when it’s becoming easier for travellers to plan and carry out their own trips, it’s still one of Trafalgar’s major advantages.
“This is a campaign designed to show how we can make travel so much easier for guests, so they can get so much more out of [their trip],” Mr Tollman said.
“What we go out of our way to do, from the time somebody arrives with us until the time they leave, is make sure they simply do not have to worry about a single thing.
“It’s that ease, that effortlessness of travelling with us — there’s no worrying about checking in, there’s no logistics — it’s just getting to understand the places.”
Sustainability is another big focus for Trafalgar, Mr Tollman said. Not just in terms of environmental sustainability — and coach tours are one of the most sustainable ways to travel — but also in terms of what responsible tourism can offer destinations.
“The biggest type of tourism we have to eradicate is coming in with preconceived notions of what is right and what is wrong and trying to apply them to the destinations we visit,” he said.
“That is the change we are trying to bring, one of greater understanding. And that is the positive impact tourism can have, because it is a truly sustaining force to the local economy. It’s not just about coming in to see something superficially and then leaving.”
Trafalgar has just launched its Europe and Britain 2018 offering and Mr Tollman said Europe remained a massive focus for most Australian holiday-makers.
“In terms of where Australians are travelling to, Scandinavia is off the charts,” he said.
“It’s become the go-to destination. Number two in Europe is Spain. And number three is Britain. Britain has become cheaper, but whatever the reason might be, we’re seeing huge increases.
“Elsewhere in the world, Australians are going to places like Japan and Canada, which is incurring huge, double-digit growth.
“Exotic destinations are always of interest, but in terms of where the largest numbers of people are going, they’re going to these iconic areas of the world and what Trafalgar makes sure they do is have a great time without a worry in the world.”
Mr Tollman, from South Africa, has spent a lot of his life travelling — he hails from travel royalty.
His family owns Travel Corporation group (Trafalgar’s parent company), which employs many generations of the Tollman family. Travel is the family business and he is, in his own words, “perpetually on the move”.
Is there anything this seasoned traveller never travels without?
“This is a very quirky thing, but I always travel with a light yoga mat,” he said.
“If possible at my hotel, there is nothing better than waking up early and doing yoga at sunrise and greeting the morning sun. It always sets up your day.
“And I love music, and one of the greatest changes for me has been the whole way of how transportable music is. When I’m in a hotel I don’t like listening to music on earphones so I have this incredibly small but very powerful bluetooth speaker, Ultimate Ears, and I travel with it everywhere.”
And he also has some tips for travelling parents, which he learned from many long-haul flights when his now-grown children were very young.
“Number one is, and it’s so obvious: before travelling, never ever [let them eat] sugar,” he said.
“I became the biggest advocate for on-board entertainment and back in those days. I’m showing my age, but you used to be able to get portable DVD players and I used to have two of them, one for each child. I was a huge advocate of never going with an expectation that the entertainment on the aircraft would be enough.
“Bring your own food that is good for your children and never rely on airline food. And take them to the bathroom while everyone else is eating.
“And the most important one, and I learnt this once at JFK airport, when the plane is on the descent, never ever believe your children when they say they don’t need to go to the bathroom.”
Mr Tollman started working with Trafalgar 20 years ago and today, the company offers 230 itineraries across six continents.
But is there anywhere in the world Mr Tollman has never been? Yes, he said — one of those places is Vietnam.
“My son just finished a gap year and his greatest excitement before he went to university was that he’d been to destinations I’d never been before,” he laughed.