Tourism

“We are driven by being agent first”: Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman

Tara Harrison

Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman has a Monday morning ritual. The first order of business at the start of every work week is to read the Trafalgar guest reviews.

Depending on feedback, he might remove a hotel from an itinerary mid-season. Or call to congratulate a highly praised travel director.

“It’s absolutely dynamic. The great thing is that as I look at our product we can tweak things,” he said.

It’s all part and parcel of a Trafalgar brand promise for transparency.

“I want us to be a glass box brand, totally transparent. Four years ago we embedded reviews, and it has had a powerful transformational impact. I no longer have to wait to see where things can be improved. We see it in real time from our guests,” Tollman said.

Tollman is, of course, part of a travel dynasty – the largest privately-owned travel company in the world, in fact.

His uncle is The Travel Corporation founder Stanley Tollman, while his cousin Brett Tollman is the current global CEO of The Travel Corporation.

Indeed, the company’s genesis began with a single hotel in South Africa, operated by Stanley and his wife Beatrice, and her approach to business back then has trickled down to today’s operation.

Gavin enthusiastically spoke of the opening of the first five-star hotel in South Africa, Tollman Towers.

“The thing that used to impress every single person was that on the second visit their personal preferences were reflected by what they had in the room.

“Beatrice Tollman had a Rolodex with every person’s name and their preferences. That legacy continues,” Tollman said.

This personalisation has now extended across the company.

Tollman’s grand vision is for a sustainable dynamic. He recounts a Trafalgar Be My Guest experience in Florence, where a local host takes travellers to a market to procure items from a shopping list and then they return to the host’s place to create a feast as a group.

More than a year ago Tollman went to personally thank the market vendors for enhancing the guest experience.

“I arrived there and they had a gift prepared and they thanked me because they used to have a negative, stereotypical view of tourists. But by our [Trafalgar’s] guests coming on a continual basis they had begun to understand more about the guests and themselves,” Tollman explained.

On a similar note, overtourism was the hot topic of 2017 and finding ways to negate the negative impact of tourists on communities is something Tollman considers to be a responsibility for Trafalgar.

“The concept of sustainability cannot just be something we just pay lip service to. It’s actually an imperative for us. We have to have a long-term vision.

“For Trafalgar, respecting the places we go and maintaining a commitment to sustaining the communities we visit will always be important.”

This is just Part One of our chat with Tollman, stay tuned tomorrow to read Part Two.

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