Desert Jeep ride at Six Senses Shaharut, Negev Desert, Israel

Industry voices:
Brave new world

OutThere travellers have shown their resilience time and again, being among the first to venture forth after major crises. Here, we speak to four distinguished industry figures to test the mood of travel optimism and find out more about the forces driving positive change in this time of flux.

Malik Fernando
Managing Director, Resplendent Ceylon

I am an optimist and, while we are faced with unprecedented challenges, I’m confident we will come back strong next year. I’m convinced there will be a burst of travel – ‘revenge tourism’ some call it – when the time is right. Humans have an innate need to explore the world and encounter new cultures and, as someone well bitten by the experiential travel bug, I for one will stick it out until good times return. 

My biggest fear is that, in our hunger for recovery, inbound tourism to Sri Lanka is at risk of developing in an uncontrolled manner. We must not lose sight of why travellers love to come here in the first place. I understand that one in 10 families in the country relies on tourism as their main source of income, so it is important to keep the industry alive and thriving, but we must ensure we do this in a way that protects our biodiverse landscapes and incredible wildlife – something I’m very committed to. 

The bright side of the turmoil Sri Lanka has suffered in recent years is that it’s been lucky to have been spared the type of rapid tourism development seen in other parts of Asia. We’ve had the chance to start with a clean sheet, adopting best practices in terms of sustainability. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened adequately so far, but steps are being taken to develop in alignment with the demands of tomorrow’s traveller – low-impact, people-led travel experiences that showcase as much of the island nation as possible, while protecting our precious wildlife and natural environment. 

I pray this is successful. It was a key reason I co-founded the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance after the Easter attacks last year, to drive the sustainable-tourism agenda. We now have over 1,000 members and the alliance is more of a movement than a conventional association that lobbies for its members. If you think the pandemic has been terrible, I think it is just a taster of the chaos that climate change can wreak. That’s why I’m so focused on conservation, sustainability and community engagement. From leopard research stations, to climate-change research centres, these activities are crucial to protect an island with the broadest biodiversity and wildlife experiences outside Africa.

I’m also proud of the three very distinctive resorts we have developed at Resplendent Ceylon, without any previous knowledge of tourism. I often call myself an ‘accidental hotelier’. I had originally thought I would spend my life growing and selling tea – our family business is Dilmah, the brand of Ceylon tea my father founded. But my inexperience may even have worked to my advantage, given that much of Sri Lanka’s tourism mindset is in a bit of a time warp. But, happily, there are some significant outliers. 

With three more resorts in the pipeline, nothing gives me greater joy than to conceptualise elements of design, service and experiences at a detailed level and meet the needs of post-COVID visitors looking to travel slow. To have the amazing canvas that Sri Lanka provides is a great luxury. 

Resplendent Ceylon’s three family-owned boutique hotels deliver authentic, sustainable travel experiences that celebrate Sri Lanka’s local culture and incredible natural environment.

www.resplendentceylon.com

Bryan Gabriel
Chief Commercial Officer, Six Senses Hotels, Resorts & Spas

I don’t know about the new normal. I’d like the old normal back. But since that is unrealistic, I’m ready to shift my consciousness to match those who, like me, are taking stock, working out who and what can be trusted and how to be more personally accountable for their choices, their health and the health of the people around them. 

It’s interesting to see more thought going into how we are choosing holidays, ones with less risk and ones that have consumer trust already built in. Our empathetic ‘At Home with Six Senses’ campaign and our ‘Plan Now, Play Later Certificates’ with a 20 per cent bonus that’s open for three years have been amazing at keeping us front of mind. 

At Six Senses, we have always considered hygiene of the utmost importance and our remote locations, villa component and outdoor communal spaces resonate with guests. We’re open to adapting the way we work and communicate with our travellers, hosts and each other, leaning into our company values to make decisions and move forward. As we reopen, people will want to know that they can stay carefree and have the flexibility they need. That’s why we have taken all the extra steps when it comes to cleanliness, health and safety, as well as providing unprecedented flexibility around cancellation policies. 

We are committed to staying bold, particularly in our wellness offering and sustainability commitments. We’re proud to be a brand that pushes wellness boundaries into less visible fields, such as sacred energy and connection. Being in tune with our bodies and minds, as well as the people and the world around us, is not only vital for our survival, it’s also important to enjoy and live life fully. So, we are working on experiences and concepts that are geared towards deepening our connections with nature, local communities and their cultures, that bring our attention to the present moment and to people around us and that lead to more balance and gratitude in our lives. 

As to what the future holds, the best we can do is be prepared and ready to move with speed once we see change. Innovation is incredibly important. We are constantly challenging ourselves in every aspect of our operations and the uniqueness of every location is respected. 

I’m very proud of what we do. I would never have imagined being where I am today when I was in my twenties. As someone with travel ingrained in his DNA – from a father who built hotels, to a long career rising through the hospitality ranks across Asia and the USA – I’ve had the most amazing times. Even when Thailand went into lockdown just six weeks into my dream job here in Bangkok for Six Senses, I continued to recognise that this fascinating, dynamic industry is one that I love. To be a part of it makes me an extremely lucky person.

As Chief Commercial Officer, Bryan oversees the global sales and marketing efforts of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, as well as spearheading the brand’s fantastic and ambitious expansion.

www.sixsenses.com

Christopher Kenna
CEO and founder, Brand Advance

Racism is systemic. We know that or at least I think we know that. And it’s rife in the travel industry.

I like to speak from what I know and, though I haven’t spoken to everyone that works in travel, I hear there are everyday instances of organisational racism or discrimination to the end user, whether unintended or not. But where I can speak from is my own experience of working in advertising with luxury brands. I recently had a look at around 70 different ads from the past 10 years. It seems that in the eye of the industry only white people go on holiday and BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people do the serving. You have to question why the protagonists of the piece are always white. That’s not a reality. BAME people go on holiday, too. The consumer spend for BAME people in the UK alone is £300 billion and it’s many times more that in America. It astounds me that travel brands don’t want some of that.

Travel brands need to make sure they reach their BAME audiences and other diverse audiences, such as LGBTQ+ ones, with as much vigour, as much consideration as they do their white target audiences. Not just on black-history month or pride month. They need to support these important communities all year round. 

I speak as a black gay guy. My blackness and my gayness aren’t rubbing off, they’re never going away. I’m the CEO of a media company, regardless of my race. Many travel brands will be unaware of the colour of my skin and on paper would see me as a prime marketing target. But if you want to attract me to your hotel or holiday destination, then I want to know that you’ve actually seen me and value me. 

I’m encouraged that brands are waking up to diversity in an authentic way. There’s still a way to go in travel. The world isn’t the same as it used to be. With the Black Lives Matter movement, trans activism, general politics and COVID, things are changing fast. It’s important to know who your consumers are. The travel industry needs to be ready. And, while we ask that brands consider diversity, that’s really not what it’s all about. It’s about marketing to today’s audiences and a group of people you haven’t reached before. 

What I want from today’s travel brands is for them to change the processes of their companies and the way they work, to be more open to difference. And it has got to come from the top. When leaders start to do something about it, it stops being an uphill struggle and acquires a downward momentum. I truly believe that travel can be a force for good in this way.

Brand Advance is a media network rooted in cultural marketing. It understands that the key to meaningful brand growth is diversity and inclusion and reaching audiences beyond the mainstream.

www.wearebrandadvance.com

John Tanzella
CEO, International LGBTQ+ Travel Association

Several members of my family worked for airlines when I was growing up and I myself spent 15 years at Delta Airlines prior to taking the helm of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA). Travel lives in my DNA and exploring the world is a part of who I am. For those of us who are passionate about travel, COVID-19 has not only threatened our health and livelihoods, it’s also thwarted us on a core level, a personal level. I mean, there are only so many times I can cycle around my neighbourhood in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

As LGBTQ+ travellers, we have demonstrated our resilience so often, being among the first to resume travel after major crises (a recent IGLTA global LGBTQ+ traveller sentiment survey underscores that the desire to get back out there is alive and well). There is so much joy in the early travel posts I’ve seen on social media from our network – mostly images captured within the posters’ own countries or within the EU, border controls permitting. 

The domestic travel trend will continue, with the range of motion widening as restrictions ease. This is the first summer in years I’ve missed a trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and I cannot wait to return. And, as much as LGBTQ+ travellers have been known to seek out like-minded people in their journeys, I’ve also seen a newfound appreciation for nature and the great outdoors. Sparsely populated but welcoming Iceland, which has seemingly managed coronavirus well, reaped the benefits from LGBTQ+ travellers as soon as it opened its doors. 

Although long-haul travel won’t rebound as quickly, this experience has taught me that there is no time like the present to plan a dream vacation. I’ve heard from IGLTA-member tour operators who have received inquiries for the cherry blossoms in Japan or a safari in South Africa – even if that time is so way off. And I’ve been thinking that my first trip to Greece is long overdue. 

Many of our members are offering virtual tours and, while armchair travel can never replace the real thing, it creates the ability to vet your tour guide. LGBTQ+ travel advisors, tour operators and our industry allies will become even more valuable in the next normal, using their expertise to curate welcoming holidays and provide us with guidance through the ever-shifting rules of travel. Just as heightened security became part of post-9/11 travel, we’ll adjust to a landscape of elevated hygiene and vigilance. I’m confident nothing is going to keep us from the world for very long.

The IGLTA is a non-profit organisation whose members include LGBTQ+ friendly accommodations, transport, destinations, travel agents, tour operators, events and travel media in over 80 countries.

www.iglta.org

Photography by Sander Don via Unsplash, Tom Parker, Sebastian Posingis, Chumpol Chaikanarakkul and Rachel Covello/OutCoast Photography