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Gavin Tollman, Trafalgar: Travel to change the world

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, Gavin Tollman, chief executive of Trafalgar, shares his thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.


What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?


Actually, I was born into the industry – third generation. I was literally born into the hospitality side.

Travel is truly embedded in my DNA and when you understand the Tollman family, you understand it’s huge passion for travel.

One of my greatest loves is travel – there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing and discovering new destinations and understanding new cultures. How fortuitous it was for me that I was born into a family that was part of it.

So, I don’t see myself as being part of the travel industry, it’s very much a part of me – 24/7, 365 days a year. It always has been and always will be.


What concerns you about the industry today in terms of its long-term viability?

Japan TeaCeremony Trafalgar

I really don’t have a concern about travel or travellers today for travel is no longer a luxury, it’s become almost a given.

A holiday has become one of the single most researched items that consumers will purchase on an annual basis. Consumers’ love of travel and the fulfilling of their travel dreams has never been of greater importance.

They have a huge wanderlust to go, explore and discover more.

It’s an enormous responsibility for us and one we talk about at Trafalgar all the time.

We need to be conscious that we do not overly exploit or damage the destinations we take our travellers to.

One of the biggest concerns I have when travelling the world is homogenisation. All downtowns look the same – you often find the same stores, the same coffee shops. As a travel company, we want to enable people not to have to succumb to that so that we can support and preserve what makes the destinations unique and different. That is why it’s so essential that we have cultural sensitivity and that we tread lightly.

If you take all these factors into account, then I think you can ensure you fulfil and engage with your travellers and also be hugely successful in doing that.


Do you think travel can change the world?

Gavin Tollman

Absolutely and in many ways.

One of my greatest frustrations when I read the news every day is when I see a shutting of doors – I won’t be specific on countries but I think it’s pretty obvious which ones I’m talking about.

As those borders slam shut, we all become more insular so what better time to celebrate the power of travel and what it actually does give us?

The way we enable our customers to travel the world is totally effortless – you don’t need to be this huge adventurer. We give you access to different cultures, ideologies and identities – the diversity that makes humanity so wonderful.

When you look at the bigotry and narrowmindedness which is becoming so pervasive, nothing can break down those barriers faster and more impactfully than travel.

Often travel is the least understood contributor to economic growth and the beauty of the industry is that you don’t need to have a huge degree to participate in it – anyone can do it.

We want to ensure we continue to engage with the locals to maintain the very essence of what makes it unique and distinctive, enabling local economies to grow and prosper.


Are you seeing positive change happening in the industry that you really admire?

Trafalgar's Be My Guest program includes a visit to the Schieszl winery in Budakalász, Hungary

Trafalgar’s Be My Guest program includes a visit to the Schieszl winery in Budakalász, Hungary

One of single most exciting things I’ve seen has come out in last year and that’s the UNWTO commitment to sustainable tourism.

2017 has been declared the international year of sustainable tourism for development and what is wonderful to see is that the United Nations itself is seeing tourism’s importance and the opportunity that it can make to the peoples across the globe – to locals as well as the travellers themselves.

The UN gets the social, cultural and environmental opportunities that exist, so 2017 is a great time to get that message out there and communicate it to the world.

What projects is Trafalgar undertaking in this space?

Gavin Tollman London Eye

I’d be remiss if I did not stress that it’s not just Trafalgar – we work hand in hand with Treadright, The Travel Corporation’s not for profit foundation. Our mission is really to ensure we maintain travel for generations to come.

We work a number of projects with Treadright by most recent is our involvement with ME to WE – a social enterprise that empowers people to change the world with their everyday consumer choices.

The result is a voluntourism program with experiences in both Ecuador and India where guests can stay in cottages or tents for three or four 4 nights while they volunteer and make a difference to those local communities.

When we talk about Trafalgar itself, we’ve created an initiative which we’ve called Join Trafalgar which is all about having a long term vision for sustainable tourism – we travel today to sustain tomorrow.

We invest in local communities ensuring that they can prosper through tourism. We also really focus on how we can become a better corporate citizen and that is really by protecting the environment.

Coach travel itself is one of the greenest ways to travel. When you travel with us, you’ll see that we are religious about recycling – every one of our brochures, all our collateral is printed on recycled paper. Come to our offices in Geneva or Sydney and you’ll see we’re all about recycling.

Last, but by no means least, are our efforts to build partnerships for a better future through charitable giving – for example working with Habitat for Humanity to assist with portable housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In Italy, we started a charity last year for a former travel director of ours who lost a child to SIDS called Run for Riley.

A lot of money has also gone to those impacted by earthquakes in Italy, including emergency animal care for homeless animals – I’m a huge animal lover.

These are a just a few small things that we do – we’re not looking for accolades, it’s just part of our brand and core values.


Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.