Trafalgar from the top

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richerA few weeks ago I had the pleasure to be invited by Traflagar to participate in a sampling of highlights from one their Northern California guided vacations. I am going to be writing about the wonderful experiences that I had jam-packed into three days and my impressions of the locations (and of course the food!), but I think there is something really important to write about first.

A company really is the sum of its parts, and that is its people. If the small representation of the Trafalgar team I met is any indication, this company is truly exceptional.

And it is from the top down.

Before I write about the team, I wanted to share my impressions of their leader.

I had a brief opportunity to meet the CEO of Trafalgar, Gavin Tollman, and was instantly smitten by this charming man. It is clear that he is passionate about his company, his team and the experiences that they are responsible for creating all over the globe. Trafalgar offers some pretty unique options for travelers, some of which I partook in. Things like Hidden Treasures (these are so fun and I will share mine in Napa) and Be My Guest which offers intimate meals in a home environment.

Gavin graciously agreed to be interviewed about himself, his company and some of the his travel secrets.

Gavin Tollman CEO of Trafalgar

[MWA] Trafalgar Tours has been around since 1947 which is an incredible feat considering the ever-changing nature of the travel industry. You've now been at Trafalgar for 15 years yourself, how do you keep the company fresh and modern and on the bleeding edge of travel?

[Gavin] I have a deep love of travel, so I enjoy surrounding myself with individuals who feel the same way. They get extreme gratification in being able to validate their local knowledge in finding new and exciting venues, sites or unknown spots.

[MWA] People have lots of choice when it comes to vacation planning, what are some of the unique differentiators of Trafalgar Tours?

[Gavin] We're looking to transform an entire sector of the travel industry by revitalizing Guided Holidays by taking our knowledge and expertise and allowing our guests to discover a destination in a manner that they couldn’t do if they were traveling on their own. The foundation to achieving this is not only ensuring our guests receive a completely hassle-free vacation, but also discover authentic experiences. What we do is genuine and local. When you travel with Trafalgar you walk away with a deep understanding of what makes a destination unique.

[MWA] Travel is in your family's blood, was there ever any doubt that you wanted to work in the travel/hospitality industry?

[Gavin] No, not really. For a short while in the early 80’s I worked as a banker, but reverted back to my roots and have never looked back since. The industry is like a moth to a flame — once you’ve seen the light, it would be impossible to do anything else.

[MWA] How was the concept of Be My Guest conceived?

[Gavin] Travel is about adventure, and to me, a nation's food is the perfect lens in which to get below the superficial view and understand the people and their culture. We trialed a Be My Guest Experience three years ago with a wonderful family in Sorrento, Italy. The memories our guests left with and the notes we received from them were so powerful that it swiftly became one of the key features we developed in being able to allow travellers the opportunity to be a part of such an authentic experience.

[MWA] Asia is an interesting area that Trafalgar is growing its presence, how do you envision the Be My Guest program working there?

[Gavin] Similarly to Europe and North America, our Asia product development teams ensure that we open doors and we let our guests to live life like a local. As an example, in Vietnam, Trafalgar takes travellers to Tra Que Herb Growing Village which is situated just outside Hoi An. Tra Que village is dedicated to the growing of traditional vegetables and they supply Hoi An and its neighbours with most of the fresh produce that goes into making distinctive central Vietnamese dishes, such as Cao Lau and Quang noodle.

The origin of the village dates back more than a hundred years to when a band of fishermen decided to settle on the land and farm. An afternoon excursion to the village enables guests to meet a local family and discover the traditional techniques used in the gardening of herbs and vegetables. Guests can also roll up their sleeves and join the farmers in the fields before sampling local delicacies such as ‘Tam Huu' spring rolls. It's not just hard work, though! Afterwards, they relax with a foot soak in the herb remedy solution before the drive back to Hoi An.

{Note, Mr. Misadventures and I are going to heading to Vietnam next Christmas and are seriously considering checking this out!}

[MWA] Despite having traveled extensively all over the world, I am sure there are still a few spots that you would like to get to, do you have a bucket list? What's one spot that eludes you?

[Gavin] I have been extremely fortunate in that I have had the opportunity to travel extensively and have seen many extraordinary places. There is one constant, though — the more I see, the more I want to discover and learn. I haven't seen enough of Asia nor South America, both of which are high on my travel list.

[MWA] Of the places you have visited, what's been one of your favorites and why?

[Gavin] There are many elements that make a destination unique. If I could only see one place time and time again, it would be the Veld of Africa. It's said that you can take an African out of Africa but you can’t take Africa out of an African. I exemplify this as it’s where I feel the most at peace, at home. However, the country I enjoy discovering most is Italy – the people, the food, the history, the incredible beauty.

[MWA] You joked about someday writing a book about jetlag, but you shared a few secrets: no drinking on the plane and no eating either (both airport and airplane?) – how do you eat?!

I often land and after a shower, I am off to work, so fatigue is not an option. The secret is that it’s all about the flight. If I do eat at an airport, its will always be a very light meal. The flight itself is different. I always joke with flight crews that its has nothing to do with their cooking ability, so they stop trying to offer me food from the time you take off. What I try and do is adjust myself to the time zone I am flying to. I literally change my watch as soon as the plane leaves the gate and try and shift my internal clock to the time zone I am flying to. This might necessitate going to sleep immediately or having a back-to-back full day of work. Although it might make me boring to travel with, I also only drink water during the flight.

Thank you Gavin, it was such a pleasure to meet you and learn more about Trafalgar, I am a big believer in what you are trying to achieve and I wish you every success.

I was really impressed with Gavin and the more I read about him the more I find myself further falling in love with what Trafalgar has to offer. In fact the featured image, and the one that opens this post comes from a post that Gavin wrote on his own blog about touch versus technology that I thought was superbly written.

I am looking forward to sharing more about the Trafalgar team and my experiences in upcoming posts!

Disclosure: I was a guest of Trafalgar for a tour in San Francisco and Napa. I was not required to write this post, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions are 100% my own.

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    1. @AndiP, couldn’t agree more!

  1. Like a moth to a flame… couldn’t agree more! Whether it’s travel, writing or baking, it’s the same for me. Great interview, he sounds like he’s right where he should be!

    1. @Lindsey, he certainly is, I really enjoyed meeting him, he is quite a charmer!

  2. What a great interview. The banking industry’s loss is clearly the travel industry’s gain. I love Gavin’s picture. It’s like it reflects the Trafalgar brand. Interesting! What a great company to work for. Do they need a local contact for Oklahoma. =)
    Regarding Vietnam – that is so fabulous, Andi. There’s a movie, Heaven and Earth, based on a short story (I think – maybe it was a book) called When Heaven And Earth Changed Places. The author is Hayslip. (SP?) Anyway, despite the plot of the book – Vietnam War and PTSD, etc. – I fell in love with with Vietnam from this movie. The cinematography and landscape remain my favorite of all movies I’ve ever seen. If I made a list of top three places to visit, Vietnam would be on that list. I’m fascinated by it and its people. And, most recently, have been trying to build connections with OKC’s Vietnamese community. It’s tight-knit. I admire them so much and all that they have achieved in America. Those who immigrated loved our soldiers…OK – Sorry for the long comment. (TL – DR) (Have you seen that on blog posts: TOO LONG, DIDN’T READ). Ack. Anyway, great interview. I love the idea of intimate dinners. Local is exactly what everyone wants. Even locals wants local!!

    1. @Jen, thanks! Gavin has a very interesting background and is such a gentlemen. Your comments can never be too long! I know the movie and agree the scenery is extraordinary. I look forward to discovering it.

  3. Quite the bullshitter than man – whilst extolling the virtues of local knowledge and experiences, Trafalgar are also quietly getting rid of all their actual local veteran tour managers in favour of younger and cheaper idiots from Australia and the like. The result for me was a tour manager who quite clearly had no idea of his surroundings, language skills akin to a 12 year old (and even my pathetic French was better than his) , and ultimately I would’ve done better simply buying a copy of the lonely planet.

    Sad state of affairs if you ask me – wouldn’t surprise me if they were getting Brazilians to do the “local” experience in California next, or maybe the “authentic” Scandinavian view of Africa. What a bunch of jokers… I certainly will not be using Trafalgar again – and thoroughly would dissuade anyone else from doing so too

    1. @John, hello there, I am sorry that you had such a bad experience. I can only report on my trip which was exceptional. Our local expert spends several months a year traveling through the West of the US continuing to refine the sites we visited and enhance the areas that he covers. I was very pleased with my trip and am sorry you did not have the same experience.