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Travel Leaders: David Mannix, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Arcadia Expeditions

Starting a travel company just before the pandemic isn't something that David would recommend. Though the tougher things got around the world, the more he hoped Arcadia would be able to help once everything got back on track.

Starting a travel company just before the pandemic isn’t something that David would recommend. Though the tougher things got around the world, the more he hoped Arcadia would be able to help once everything got back on track.

Arcadia Expeditions travels to remote places, and this isn’t by accident. Conscious that the global disparity between rich and poor is getting wider, David designs tours to communities off the tourist trail so he can provide cash injections into areas that are overlooked and need assistance.

Before setting up Arcadia Expeditions, David rose to prominence in roles such as GM of Aurora Expeditions and GM of Intrepid Vietnam out of Hanoi and Regional GM of Europe, Middle East & North Africa.

What’s happening in your business now, and how does the forthcoming period look?

Like most tour operators, times have been tough over the last two years, particularly for Arcadia as we travel to remote destinations.

During the downtime, we used our energy to create brand-new itineraries to places like Colombia, Morocco and New Zealand.

We’ve also been busy educating trade about Arcadia’s unique travel offering, as it hasn’t been seen before. Having the time to talk to luxury agents about our difference has paid off. Bookings are really starting to come in for our 2023 expeditions.

What are you excited about right now?

David Mannix
On the road in the Ounila Valley, Morocco

Right now, I’m most excited that the pent-up demand for bucket list travel is finally bursting through the gates. The desire to connect with people and places more deeply brings new travellers to our niche.

It is a delight to see how excited clients are about our unique storytelling concept. It’s made all the sacrifices and hardships worth it.

Research has shown for years that travellers are demanding travel suppliers be responsible in the way they run their business and how they operate on the ground.

We as an industry have to act on important issues such as climate change and ensure the tourist dollar gets to the people who need it the most.

Travellers can smell greenwashing a mile away. The need to preserve the planet for future generations has moved from being a moral obligation to actually affecting the bottom line of businesses.

What are the biggest challenges right now for travel?

Apart from everyone being overworked and understaffed and the industry’s loss of such amazing people, I think it will be the constant battle for the hearts and minds of travellers in the coming years.

Travel is now more than ever all about confidence, and when people watch the news and see rooms full of lost baggage and new waves of Covid 19, certain market segments return to their shells.

It’s up to us as travel professionals to provide accurate information to potential travellers and not be afraid to offer encouraging advice. Sometimes people just need to hear that everything will be alright before they head overseas again.

What about the biggest opportunities?

David Mannix
Spitsbergen Expedition Cruising, High Arctic

Bringing sustainable tourism to communities in the world that can benefit most from it. I feel that tourism, when practised sensibly and without exploitation, can bridge that gap.

At Arcadia, we want to ensure that as much money as possible generated from our expeditions stays at the destination.

We like to include communities in our itineraries that are off the tourist trail, such as on our expeditions to Uzbekistan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Cuba, allowing the injection of cash into areas that are often overlooked and in need of development.

The more product managers and travel advisors are conscious of spreading the tourism dollar when planning itineraries, the better it will be for our global community.

How important is leadership right now? And what does/should good leadership look like?

A few of our politicians talked about being on a ‘war footing’ during the pandemic, and if there’s one thing history shows us, it’s that leadership is perhaps most important during these challenging times.

Good leadership during times of crisis is about leading by example and showing as much empathy as possible to the staff that you manage.

If there has been one positive, it’s the realisation that we don’t really know what goes on in everyone’s life outside of work.

People can put on a brave face, but they may really be struggling to cope. It’s only with empathy, understanding and the ability to listen, that we can lift people before the cracks become too deep.

What would you like to see change? Or more of?

David Mannix
Sepik River, Papua New Guinea

I would like to see more innovation in our industry. There have been times when I was quite disillusioned with the number of cookie-cutter products being churned out by travel companies.

I feel management too often opts for the ‘safe’ mass-market travel product. This was one of the main drivers for starting Arcadia Expeditions. I really pushed the boundaries when it came to creating itineraries never seen in travel.

Yes, it can be risky, but in my opinion, it’s time to start respecting travellers’ dreams. Not everyone wants a product that has been dumbed down.

How key is collaboration in the industry?

Collaboration is everything in our industry. Arcadia is still a relatively new company, so we need to actively collaborate within the industry if we are to achieve our business goals.

We partner with travel agents, DMCs, marketing agencies, representation companies and more. Quite simply, we don’t have a business without them.

Do you think enough emphasis is being placed on sustainability in travel and addressing the climate crisis?

Yes, I do. A few years ago, I would have said no, but there is just so much momentum now that everyone I talk to in travel is taking tangible steps to help address climate issues.

What are your personal learnings from the pandemic?

David Mannix

I’m happy to admit that the last two years have been the toughest of my career. Emotionally, it’s been a real rollercoaster.

I was so frustrated that I was working myself to the bone to try and change a situation I had no control over. It took a quiet word from a family member to make me understand that I had to step away for a while.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you must actively seek time for the ‘life’ part of the work/life balance, especially during difficult times.

What’s your message to the industry?

Hang on in there! I’m genuinely proud of how my colleagues and industry friends have shown so much resilience during the most difficult time in the history of our industry.

We’ve been through so much, and we are still here, so stay patient, practice plenty of empathy with your clients and colleagues and let’s put all of our positive energy together to make travel a magical word again.

David Mannix is the Co-Founder & Managing Director at Arcadia Expeditions. You can find out more about David or get in touch via his LinkedIn profile.