Gavin Tollman, CEO of global travel company Trafalgar, shares his thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to build a positive travel legacy.
Born into a family of passionate travellers, Gavin Tollman heads up Trafalgar, who began their global journey of travel back in 1947.
While he’s based in Geneva, Gavin spends most of his year travelling the world to help sustain the Trafalgar brand and it’s evolving range of unique experiences as well as grow the company’s own sustainable initiative; The Treadright Foundation.
What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?
The old adage to “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” could not ring truer for me.
Across three generations, our shared life’s work is dedicated to this remarkable industry that is travel – an industry that builds understanding, respect, and unbreakable bonds across borders, cultures and ideologies.
As a family, we spend the year travelling the world – predominantly for ‘work’, though it’s always a pleasure.
The demands of running a global business dictate the need to be everywhere, at some point in time. I always feel that the perpetual motion and ability to travel is a privilege, with work and leisure being one and the same.
However, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit life on the road can also occasionally cause me to crave the chance to be still in one place for a short period of time. Until the next day…
What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people and the planet?
In a singular word – complacency; far too often I hear too many people within our industry taking the position that topical subjects such as over-tourism, litter on beaches, impacting both humans and sea life or global warming are not our responsibility because we make up such a small percentage of local economies, local tourists etc.
To those who say that my position is simple. Change your perspective before you have to. We are faced with urgency now.
I always say to my team around the world, we’re not trying to change the world, we’re trying to change our part of the world, and make a positive impact wherever we go as we do it. As a business, wherever we can, do it in a way that is acting with conscious thought, not with lofty unachievable goals.
We recognise that we have a responsibility to give back in the places that we go wherever we can, and we have to do it and act consciously now.
Each and every one of us in the travel industry has to pitch in and do their part and if all of us do so, the impact will be significant.
Do you think travel can change the world?
Travel can have a significant positive impact on the communities and people we visit. The simple thing is that it does require conscious thought.
A number of years ago, I came up with a simple philosophy in the way we can fundamentally help the places we visit.
- By looking to see how you assist the local communities economically. What is important on this is that locals should be able to sustain a business around the year through travel as well as key sites and helping the community in its entirety – everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from tourism, no matter how large or small.
- Culturally: This is the very reason we travel to learn and discover the cultures and the uniqueness/distinctiveness of the peoples around the world. To this day, a note that I received a year ago from the last remaining renaissance weaver in Perugia, Martha Cucchia who would not be able to sustain her livelihood without our guests is something that reminds me of this importance and something I really cherish. I encourage others to do the same.
- Being environmentally conscious: we should all be thinking about how we could have a small as possible environmental footprint in the communities we visit. 10 years ago, Brett Tollman founded our NFT TreadRight, a name carefully chosen with a belief that we’ve got to tread correctly in each of the communities we visit.
In essence, we believe we can make travel matter.
Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?
Just last week I received an incredible email from One Tree Planted, an organisation we started working with 5 years ago in lieu of giving Christmas gifts to our guests and agent partners.
Two years ago, we created a paper-free documentation initiative, as we knew in effect that’s what consumers actually wanted. It was so powerful to see the impact we can make by working collaboratively with our agent partners.
One of the initiatives we focussed on was helping rebuilding California’s forests, which experienced a record-breaking wildfire season in 2017, burning a devastating 1.3 million acres.
The reforestation of 316 acres is a small but mighty indication of us stepping up and doing its part. We have now planted and will be planting 359 acres of trees in total, including our other projects in Tanzania and South Africa.
In 2019, we began removing single-use plastics (SUPS) on our European trips including bottles and badges. This was remarkably well received by both our Travel Directors and guests, as well as so energising to see the response from our teams in our offices around the world.
These are perfect examples of the enormity of how quick it is to create positive change. We’re seeing other people within the travel industry starting to make the change too, which is a great example of how standing together as an industry, we can make a difference together.
What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?
Sustainable travel is not a passing fad, it’s a must and it has to happen now.
Both as travel companies and travellers, we have a responsibility to ensure that so much of what we can take for granted is available for future generations to enjoy in the same way that we have.
According to Expedia – in the last decade, those who are focussed on making a positive impact within the companies they travel with went from 1 in 5 travellers to 1 in 3 in the past couple of years, and this demonstrates how important this will continue to be as we move forward.
What is imperative in business is that this has got to be genuine – not just saying it, not doing it as a cool and exciting marketing message, this has to flow through the entire business and this our greatest challenge.
This is an excellent opportunity for all of us to make a difference, to change the narrative, and should be approached with privilege, and in doing so allowing travellers to travel today and sustain tomorrow.
How can you travel to change the world?
Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.
Now you can easily create your own impact by sharing your new-found knowledge. Share this link to a friend who you think would be interested or post it on your own social media.
Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.