Gavin Tollman

Who knows travel better than those who have dedicated their lives to it? In this series, 7travel talks travel & tips with industry experts. Learn the best travel tips, what mistakes not to make, and what destinations should be on your to-visit list.

The golden age of travel happened nearly a century ago. But hope should never be lost. As we get ready to enter the next decade of the 21st century, it’s imperative that we take a look at how and where we travel - but more importantly, how we can move past the information we’re inundated with that shapes our notions of the world before we see it for ourselves. Enter Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar and Chairman of The Travel Corporation, whose DNA is made up of travel. His personal and professional mission is to reignite our sense of wonder and meaningfully give back to the destinations we’re so fortunate to visit. We had the great opportunity to sit down with him to discuss how to achieve it and what travel will look like in the next few years. 

Travel is evolving at break-neck speed. What do you believe will be the biggest changes for travel in 2020 and beyond?

There are a handful of destinations where tourism is not doing what it should. I believe that in 2020 and beyond, every person involved in tourism should take it as their responsibility to to look at travel through the eyes of the local communities. If they’re not happy with you, you have to change. There are 3 key ways to making sure that tourism helps a local community: economically, environmentally, and culturally. We have to make sure that the community benefits economically from tourism. We have to enter a destination consciously and not just dirty it. And we have to visit to understand their culture and not impose our own. 

The opposite is under-tourism. Yes, there are a handful of destinations that have become saturated by tourism, but there are still many destinations that are begging for tourism. And the same three components of helpful tourism must be applied once we enter those destinations. Some of these places are in within in-demand places. Let’s take the USA - we have looked beyond the national parks and looked at the west to design a new series by working with the native tribes to use their guides and facilities so that our guests don’t just see the region, but really understand it through their eyes. I think it’s going to be transformational. 

Be My Guest program at CASTELLO DEL TREBBIO

Trafalgar's Be My Guest program lets guests get an authentic at-home experience

Balancing the scales between over- and under-tourism is of such great importance. Can you tell me what else Trafalgar has in store that’ll transform the travel industry?

In Colombia, we’re doing something that’s never been done before. We’re going into Tayrona National Park and working with renowned Anthropologist Dr. Santiago Giraldo whose life work has been working with remote tribes. The people of the tribe have been completely unexposed to tourism and thanks to Dr. Giraldo, we’ll be able to introduce our guests to the tribe and vice versa for an unprecedented experience. We’re on the forefront of tourism’s evolution. 

That’s incredible - what important work! And it really answers the demand of Australian travellers to have authentic experiences. 

There’s an aspect of actually getting an authentic experience that travellers don’t often realise: it’s very difficult to actually achieve. You can’t just arrive and knock on someone’s door. And just because you saw something on Instagram doesn’t mean it’ll look exactly like that. So as we’re going into our 74th year, we’re evolving our offering even more to take authenticity and local-takes to the next level. Take a series we have in NYC: we’re going to take our guests on the subway into Brooklyn, where a whole local guide will meet them and give them an entire introduction and history of hip hop in the borough. 

How cool is that?! It speaks to preservation of culture and digging into the ‘real’ heart of a destination. What about sustainability and protecting the environment as a travel company?

Sustainability has become an over-utilised word. I think we have too many people in the travel industry who see it as a marketing ploy. Not only for the brands I run, but as a member of the Tollman family, I live by the mandate to be a responsible traveller. We set up the Treadright Foundation with the singular mission of responsibility to look after the places we love to go so that our future generations and do the same. That has been our vision and we encourage everyone in our industry to adopt the same vision - not just words, but in action.

Sustainability, of course, is so much more than a trendy mandate. But when it comes to other travel trends, what is one that you wish would go away?

The way I like to look at travel is that it’s something that is such a powerful impact in all of our lives. The greatest opportunity to engage with people who want that voyage of discovery. “Wanderlust” still inspires me and the one thing I worry about is “wonderlost.” A lot of wonderlost has been driven by the excessive availability of information so that people don’t know what’s genuine anymore and it’s taken away a bit of travel’s beauty. 

What is Trafalgar doing to make sure that travel maintains its beauty and shine?

Well if you asked me what I am most proud of for Tragalfar, it’s that we no longer run ‘group tours.’ In fact, I remember my epiphany moment: in 2009, I joined a trip to Britain and Ireland. We were leaving London and I found that one gentleman was so knowledgeable about history - really detailed history of the country, just fascinating - but no one on the tour was listening to him. I realised we had to change. We were already bringing together like-minded travellers with common interests, but we could do more to celebrate it. It ceased to be about the size of the group and becomes about how the power of each individual’s experience can be leveraged. 

We train our guides to look at every guest as an individual to make sure they understand why that guest is here, why they wanted to see this destination, what they want to get out of it. Some of the most powerful, touching moments are from individual, personalised things we do for our guests. 

Now let’s talk about you and your own travel habits. What’s one destination you never get sick of visiting? 

It’s different for different types of travel. For the food, the people, the culture, it’s Italy. For a destination that fundamentally moves my travel soul, it’s the bush of Africa, where you can see nature the way it’s intended. But for me to unwind, I need to be hugely active. So the one place that relaxes me more than anywhere else in the world is the Swiss Alps. I’m a very adventurous snowboarder - I’ll disappear, hike for days, and it’s at altitude that I’ll have my most creative ideas!

Trafalgar Switzerland

Trafalgar takes on Switzerland

One last question: you’ve travelled everywhere… but is there anywhere you haven’t been? 

I have never been to Vietnam. I’ve tried to get there but things come up. And I’m currently making plans to be there… so hold that space!