TTC CEO Gavin Tollman on top trends for 2024
by Carolyn Ray
If 2023 was the year of the post-pandemic travel rebound, then 2024 is about rediscovering the adventure of travel, says Gavin Tollman, CEO, The Travel Corporation (TTC) Tour Brands. While many in the travel industry felt unprepared for the surge that came in 2023, Tollman says it had a beneficial outcome, because governments and travellers alike realized how important travel is, both as an economic driver, but also as a source of enjoyment and purpose. Now, he thinks travel today is more like what it must have been like in the 50s.
“Travel is an adventure again,” he says. “We shouldn’t have an outdated expectation based on what it once was. Things will still happen, but they take longer. It’s real and we can enjoy it. We can embrace travel as it is now – as an adventure.”
When it comes to finding out what’s next in travel, there’s no one better to ask than Tollman, who is known as a passionate leader, industry innovator, lifetime traveller and adventurer, and has worked in the travel industry and his family’s business for more than 30 years. With some of the world’s leading travel brands under his purview, including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Costsaver and Brendan Vacations, he has dedicated his career to revolutionizing guided travel.
Reflections on 2023
As one of the world’s largest and privately held tour companies, TTC serves over two million travellers a year through the 40 brands in its portfolio, including river cruises, luxury, adventure, hotels and guided tours. Needless to say, the Travel Corporation’s influence in travel is impressive.
“As an industry, we were unprepared for the surge that came in 2023,” he says. “The airlines couldn’t find enough pilots. Hotels couldn’t find enough staff. Restaurants couldn’t find enough servers. We couldn’t get enough people to hire in our call centres.”
However, he believes we won’t see a repeat of 2023 in 2024.
“Basically, the travel ecosystem could not respond fast enough to the actual interest that came but with the endemic changes within our industry. By taking all of the stress out travel and letting people just go and be, touring became one of the most relevant and meaningful ways to travel in a post-pandemic world.”
All the credit, he says, goes to TTC’s operations team, which he calls the ‘swans of the world’.
“Outwardly, our teams were gliding across the water seamlessly, but underneath they were paddling in absolute craziness. It has been unbelievably difficult to operate in this environment but that’s why you travel with us. For our expertise, our knowledge, our ability.”
Gavin Tollman, CEO of The Travel Corporation
After the pandemic, Tollman says that 71 percent of TTC’s total travellers were new to the company. “That is a transformation,” he says. “This was not done at the expense of our repeat guests. Our repeat guests are still there. It’s just we spoke to an entirely new audience.”
Looking ahead: Four travel trends in 2024 from Gavin Tollman
1. Desire for travel will remain high, but there will be a rebalancing
In 2024, the desire for travel will remain unbelievably high. People still want to go. There is no doubt about it. International travel was definitely the big winner in 2023, but we’re starting to see the rebalancing between domestic and international travel as well.
2. Longer booking patterns
Again, we’re seeing a shift in booking patterns. Consumers are desirous to make the commitments to travels earlier. They don’t want to pay for it all upfront, but they are prepared to make the commitment. We’re seeing great demand very early on.
3. More temperate destinations
It should not be lost on us right now that for 2024 the two growth destinations are Holland and Scandinavian countries, particularly Norway. There’s nothing really going on in either one of those that will be driving that except one thing — and that’s climate change. With the heat of the summers, people are looking for alternative ways where you can still get the beauty of Europe without the heat.
4. Pent-up demand
We’re also seeing a shift back to other destinations which are seeing a great surge that never really got it in 2023. We’re seeing pent-up demand come into 2024 and the two that are real standouts are Japan and Costa Rica.
Making travel more sustainable
At the top of Tollman’s agenda is sustainable travel. He believes there is genuine power in travel if it’s done correctly. That starts with understanding the impact we can have through travel. The company is a leader in sustainable travel through the TreadRight Foundation, a not-for-profit organization created in 2012 that now supports some 60 projects that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
“Consumers are aware of the importance of sustainable travel,” he says. “Understandably, they don’t want to pay for it and we’re not asking them to do that. However, we all have a responsibility — as the creators of travel, and you as the writers of travel, and those who consume travel — to actually make sure that travel is sustainable.”
With a goal to be net zero by 2050, one of TTC’s biggest initiatives is nature-based solutions. In 2023, TTC eliminated all branded merchandise and is repurposing those funds to projects that fight climate change on behalf of our guests, partners and internal team members.
“Across all of our brands, we are taking all of that money we used to spend on branded gifts and putting them into one of two nature-based solutions, like GreenWave’s Kelp Climate Fund Project, ” he says. “With those donations, every single one who gets it, gets an ongoing communication as to how much carbon they have then removed from the earth’s atmosphere.”
“If we want our children, our grandchildren to be able to do the things that we took for granted, we’ve actually got to bring a greater consciousness into our actions to actually sustain them.” — Gavin Tollman
Four things we can do when making travel decisions
1. Ask: Is it real or greenwashing?
When it comes to travellers understanding the difference between substance and hype, Tollman says we need to look below the surface.
“There are too many in our industry who greenwash — verbiage rather than actions,” he says. “So the first thing is the Latin, caveat emptor, buyer beware. Do your homework. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is, right?”
“If there’s one thing we can all now see, it’s that we were probably not forward thinking enough,” he says. “If we want our children, our grandchildren to be able to do the things that we took for granted, we’ve actually got to bring a greater consciousness into our actions to actually sustain them.”
He continues: “If we don’t change, we are going to be legislated to change,” he says. “I can promise you governments do not understand our industry and they will make travel harder than any of us could ever imagine.”
2. Consider the impact of travel on local communiites
“First and foremost, travel should be as positive for the visitor as it is for the visited,” he says. “So if you are there, make sure that you tread right. Be respectful. Be understanding. This is their culture. Really go out of your way to try and learn more and embrace the differences.”
A sustainable business model means that companies should be adapting and thinking creatively, he says.
“At TTC, we are talking about our supply chain. How do we get our supply chain aligned to us. All of us as an industry need to work together in step. We all need to define what this means, because otherwise, if we have one set of criteria, and one of our competitors has a different set of criteria, if a hotel has a third set of criteria and ocean cruises have a whole other set, what ends up happening is nobody has any idea what this all means and it becomes confusing.”
3. Try Off-season travel
He also wants to make travel about 365 days a year, and encourage off-peak travel.
“I am very proud of how we were able to shift guests from traveling only in peak months,” he says, noting that October and April were their most important travel months, a historical shift from September and May.
In 2024, TTC has committed to not add any capacity to summer departures in Europe, so as not to add to the issue of over tourism. The company will also encourage those who can, to travel off peak and beyond Europe.
4. Look for ways to support small businesses
TTC can be a force through good through its MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experiences, which are embedded into all of its tours. At least one MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience is included in every itinerary, which is aimed to give back to the people, planet or wildlife in the destination, and are overwhelmingly locally owned, often by women and/or increasingly by Indigenous families.
“We are going to be a force for good individually, directly, and impactfully,” he says. “We are making changes in our business and invite our guests to embrace them and come on the journey with us.”
TTC employs over 10,000 people and supports countless small businesses around the world.
“I cannot even begin to tell you how rewarding it has been to read the notes that we got from small suppliers we work with on the ground,” he says. “These small companies really suffered immensely in the pandemic and were grateful for how we stuck with them.”
Final words of inspiration
Throughout the pandemic, Tollman found inspiration in Nelson Mandela Madiba.
“He has always inspired me because of how he approached life with such immense fortitude,” Tollman says. ”From him, I learned that change comes from the inside out. Don’t expect it to be easy. Even when things get messy and dark, you persevere through it. One of the things that is most powerful with change is the fact that it’s actually the hardest times where we grow our most.”
To learn more about tours from The Travel Corporation, visit our Women’s Travel Directory. In partnership with our clients, we regularly offer deals and discounts with Trafalgar Tours, Insight Vacations, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Brendan Vacations.
A Q&A with Gavin Tollman: Watch the video
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