The Importance of Sustainable Travel – Interview With Brett Tollman
I’m on the road a lot. We sell just one-third of our family of brands in the USA, where the largest are the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and its new offshoot, U by Uniworld, for younger and more active guests, Contiki for young active travelers, Trafalgar for guided coach and family travel, African Travel, Inc. for wildlife safaris, and Luxury Gold for VIP experiences.
WHY DID YOU REBRAND UNIWORLD?
We were seeing that our guests stay healthier and more active longer, into their 60s and beyond, and that they were looking for more immersive experiences, including culinary, and more engagement with local and community leaders in the cities we visit. So, we took two of our ships and re-invented them for a younger experience, not necessarily a younger age group, matte black outside, modern décor inside with no paper on board so everything is digital, including menus and the daily activities program, and the staff wears uniforms from recycled materials. We have mixology classes, yoga in the mornings on the top deck, silent discos, and a farm-to-table cuisine.
“EVERY TIME SOMEBODY USES AN E-DOC INSTEAD OF PAPER, WE PLANT A TREE IN VIETNAM, TANZANIA OR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, TO REPLACE WHAT’S BEEN LOST”
It’s been hugely popular in terms of response, even though it’s not easy to establish a new brand or niche within a category like river cruising. We’re also building a new ship for the Mekong, between Vietnam and Cambodia, including Angkor Wat, to launch in 2020. And, we’ve partnered with EatWith, which has 30,000 places around the world to have a meal or cooking class in somebody’s home or take a guided food tour with a local expert, for both U by Uniworld, as well as Contiki, Insight Vacations and Uniworld.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR TRAVEL ADVISORS BOOKING BOTH RIVER CRUISING AND LAND PACKAGES?
Cruisers tend to book six to eight months out, but we have seen booking trends be much closer in to date of departure, up to 30 days for destinations such as Europe and Africa. The key is to make sure we have new programs and pricing in place, so we can announce them well in advance. We’ve modified early booking payments for 2019. It was a 5%-10% discount across all departures, which we are now limiting to certain dates and itineraries, to better engage with our ASTA travel advisors and make special offers for past guests.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SUSTAINABILITY TO TTC AND TO THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY IN GENERAL?
Cultural sustainability is growing in importance to most travelers. We created the TreadRight Foundation 10 years ago to return some of our profits to local communities. The three program pillars are people, planet and wildlife. We work with artisans to help them preserve their crafts, such as weavers in Peru, a Native American group in Canada, who make mukluks, and a women’s crafts cooperative in Jordan started by Queen Noor. We also work with ME to WE, which offers immersive week-long programs to build schools alongside local residents, in places like India, Kenya and Ecuador. If you book to India or Africa with us, you can do a pre- or post-trip with ME to WE, and 50% of the profit of each trip stays in that community, to provide employment, clean water, safe food, education and women’s empowerment programs.
HAVE YOU BEEN ON ANY OF THESE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES YOURSELF?
Yes, I took my kids to Kenya last year, India this year, and we’re going to Ecuador next year. It’s an amazing experience for kids, teaching them how lucky they are. Mine learned that some kids wear their school uniforms even on holiday, because it’s the only clothing they have. And they delighted in meeting kids from another culture, playing soccer together, beading with the mamas and learning Bollywood dancing, which you don’t get on a ship or in a hotel. These trips are great for any age, and we are seeing more trips with grandparents and grandchildren, without the parents. It’s a great opportunity for uninterrupted time and memories.
WHAT ELSE IS TTC DOING TO SUPPORT THE ENVIRONMENT?
Our longstanding goal is to continue to reduce our footprint, in many ways. We are moving to e-documents and mobile based tools. Every time somebody uses an e-doc instead of paper, we plant a tree in Vietnam, Tanzania or Northern California to replace what’s been lost. Working with the One Tree Planted organization we’ve planted more than 250,000 trees. We have already eliminated unnecessary single-use plastics on our ships and in our offices. Water bottles are the number one culprit, so we are looking at re-usable bottles with charcoal filters for Contiki.
WHAT NEW DESTINATIONS CAN WE EXPECT?
We are working with the Jordan tourist board across Trafalgar, Luxury Gold and Contiki to bring them more travelers. Also, Sri Lanka is a new destination for 2019 for Trafalgar and Contiki, since tourism is such a force to strengthen an economy. We’re also taking more travelers to India, including river cruises on the Ganges. Colombia is next as a new destination for some of our brands.
SOURCE: November 2018 Issue of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA)