Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Fri October 30 2015

Gavin Tollman on Trafalgar's 'Journey of Change'

Tour Operator | Trafalgar | David Cogswell | October 30, 2015

Gavin Tollman on Trafalgar's 'Journey of Change'

PHOTO: This group on Trafalgar’s “Highlights of Peru” were greeted by the owner of Casa Diez Canseco in Lima to celebrate their arrival with a home-cooked meal. (Courtesy of Trafalgar)

Trafalgar held a product launch media event at the NoMad Hotel in New York at which Gavin Tollman, the CEO of Trafalgar based in Geneva, presented Trafalgar’s new product line for 2016, its new slogan “Simply the Best” and an explanation of how the slogan came about.

Tollman told the story of the company’s transformation in recent years, its "journey of change," going back to 2011 when the company “looked in the mirror” and discovered that most people “have no idea what tours were or what group travel was about or what Trafalgar’s name even was.”

At that time, Tollman said, Trafalgar made a “conscious decision to change.”

The company took a close look at its guests to try to understand what they were really looking for, and came up with some criteria to guide their efforts.

“First and foremost we understood that what we needed to do was take our 70 years of knowledge and expertise and see how we could take guests into a destination and bring it alive in a way they couldn’t do if they were traveling on their own,” said Tollman.

The second criterion was to make the experience fun, and in order to make that possible, to make it effortless. They wanted to use Trafalgar’s institutional knowledge to create an experience that would make it possible to have the utmost fun and enjoyment at the destination.

In researching travelers, Tollman said, “Without a doubt the most common thread I heard about why people travel today is that they want bragging rights. They want to come home and tell everyone about things they did: ‘I went to the same destination you did but I did something you never did.’”

One of the first changes the company made in order to provide those bragging rights, and to bring the destination to life for its guests was to “make sure our travelers met the locals,” said Tollman.

Upon that inspiration was born Trafalgar’s Be My Guest program, which provided, said Tollman, “an opportunity to break bread with the locals.”

“I’ve always believed,” said Tollman, “that if you sit down with locals over dinner you have the opportunity to understand what it is that makes that destination so real and so different.

The Be My Guest program created structured opportunities for Trafalgar travelers to meet with local people with various kinds of skills and knowledge that they can share with their visitors. The company takes guests to places they would not be able to find on their own, to meet people who share with them their arts, crafts, skills, culinary knowledge and other lore and culture from the area.

The company now has 200 such Be My Guest programs.

Also new for Trafalgar and possibly a first for the industry is the company’s practice of allowing past travelers to post their comments directly to Trafalgar’s website with no editing or interference from the company.

When he talked to guests, Tollman said, he heard many stories of “how Trafalgar had changed their lives in a way that was powerful.” The company’s biggest challenge was to find a way to get that message from past travelers to people who were new to Trafalgar.

About 11 months ago, Trafalgar signed a deal with an English company called Feefo to gather unedited guest commentary and provide it to the Trafalgar website. The only way a person can post through the system is after proving that he or she has traveled with Trafalgar.

In less than one year, Trafalgar won Feefo’s Gold award, which comes from achieving a 95 percent satisfaction rate.

One unexpected benefit of adopting the public user feedback system is that it gives the company a way to quickly monitor its performance and use the feedback to improve its practices.

“By adjusting to it I believe we are making even greater impressions,” said Tollman. “It really has created a powerful impact on change. This is how people travel today. The experience Trafalgar is giving our guests, as they write about us, is a really powerful way, the best way, to see and discover a destination. And it is with that in mind that we are using the tagline ‘Simply the Best.’ Why do we say that? Not because we are saying it, but because it’s what our guests say about us.”

At the event itself, Tollman said, he had spoken to someone who had talked to someone who had traveled with Trafalgar recently. “And she said, ‘You know, this was simply the best holiday I have ever had,’ That is what you see if you look at our Feefo reviews. That is what our guests say about us. And that is where our tagline came from. It’s not what we say we are. It’s what our guests say about us.”  

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