French playwright Victor Hugo one said, beautifully and poignantly,: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
This statement, reflecting the moment when a small ember breaks free into a flame, perfectly captures these times for global tourism.
Never before has the value of the sector been so clearly exposed, so concretely measured, so collectively appreciated, inside and outside the sector. Never before has the global industry been so aligned in working together to maximise the enrichment of travel for travellers, and the benefit of travel for destinations. Never before has the role and responsibility of stakeholders across the tourism delivery chain been taken so seriously.
Because, never before has the role of global tourism as a ‘force for good‘ been so desperately needed.
The times in which we live can, so easily, feel so selfishly separating. Lines of division are being tested, not in their opportunity for removal, but in their threat of re-drawing. Walls vs bridges. Fear vs hope. Today vs tomorrow. As much as technology and travel have increased out ‘connectivity‘, sadly the stirring sentiments of division are bubbling aggressively, and audibly, to the surface. Social media is becoming increasingly anti-social. The global community is becoming increasingly local.
But then there is tourism – the only sector in the world that proactively, purposefully and proudly unites people of different places, different cultures, different faiths and different ways of living because of a desire, a genuine desire, to learn about, understand, and appreciate these differences, and in so doing, finding a common bond through shared time, shared values, shared appreciation. The only industry into which people invest their precious time, energy, money and dreams into this discovery of not just the world around them, but themselves.
For leaders in the tourism industry, the business case of the sector is a solid one. With global demand growing at a consistent 4%-5%+ since 2010, and future growth showing signs of sustained performance to 2030 and beyond, how does one prioritise? The number of moving parts is ever-increasing: increased momentum of travel excitement from existing source markets, along with new destinations, niches and travellers, reinforcing both the strength and that resilience of the sector, making for intense demands on the time and attention of leaders.
What new industry opportunities need to be understood and leveraged? What competitor activity must be carefully monitored? What geo-political and/or climatic challenges are critical to watch out for, and protect one’s businesses from? How does one power and protect performance?
For most leaders, the bottom line is top of mind.
But then there are the exceptions – leaders who have a different way of measuring performance – prioritising investments of time, energy and budget, and of measuring ROI. ROI is not simply ‘return on investment‘: default metrics: visitor numbers, revenue generation, margin. The measures of success are deeper, farther reaching, and more fundamentally enduring.
It is about ‘return on impact‘ – the difference travellers can make in the places to which they travel.
One such leader is one preferring to lead by example rather than by exhibitionism. Brett Tollman, Chief Executive of The Travel Corporation (TTC), the world’s largest, family owned and lead travel company serving, through its portfolio of almost 30 award winning travel brands, touching 70 countries across the globe with its over 1.9 million guests.
Knowing this officer and gentleman of the global travel community both professionally and personally, I am confident that he will be instinctively shying as the spotlight shifts in his direction. For this, I apologise. Sometimes, however, the brightness of the light must be endured, as what it reveals is vital to sharing lessons in leadership, full-circle leadership.
Why Brett? Because he knows that travel matters. He quietly, yet deeply and passionately, recognises the ability that travel has to uplift the lives of individuals, communities, societies and environments of the places that TTC takes its almost two million travellers per annum. And importantly, he knows that for all of the blessing, learning and enriching travel brings those who travel, a direct responsibility exists for his business, and his millions of travellers, to play a direct part in protecting the people and places kind and caring enough to welcome them into their home.
Why now? Because unbeknownst to so many, millions, this marks the 10th Anniversary of TTC’s not-for-profit foundation, Treadright, that was created by Brett and his family – as the ‘giving back’ half of the circle, which it now does through its 50+ sustainable tourism projects worldwide.
With Brett as the Foundation’s tireless champion, TreadRight grows in strength and impact each and every day, sensitive to the challenges faced by communities and ecosystems across the globe, finding ways to make a difference through TTC’s brands and guests turning their love of travel into appreciation-in-action.
An astute businessman whose life’s work and love is travel, for Brett the creation and enduring commitment to TreadRight as a force for protection, preservation and promotion of people, wildlife and planet is not about strategy. It’s about responsibility and gratitude. It’s as simple as that. Because travel matters.
Why this blog piece dedicated to TreadRight’s 10th Anniversary? To Brett?
Because example matters.
The below video is all one needs to see, hear, feel to understand. And to ‘get’ the need to step up, honouring the blessing at the heart of our travels across the world.
In today’s interconnected world, magnifying the messages and voices of leaders quietly leading by example, is simply the right thing to do. And it is an honour to do so.
Happy 10th Anniversary, TreadRight Foundation. And thank you, millions of times over. x
For billions across the globe, the beginning of a new year is a time for renewal – renewal of health, renewal of hope, renewal of heart.
It is a time of refocusing on what can and should take priority.
Promises are made to oneself, to others. Purpose finds a way to eclipse understandable frustration, fatigue and often fear that creeps in as a year comes to ts conclusion. Turning the calendar to a new year seems to give permission to forgive, forget, and forge forward with greater energy, commitment and compassion…with a quiet prayer in heart that this fresh sense of spirit will endure in the months ahead, keeping personal aspirations, ambitions and affirmations buoyant, bold and befitting the gift of being able to begin again.
For tens of thousands of people across the UN world, be their involvement direct or indirect, this same spirit of ‘new year’ occurs not on January, bu in September, as the UN General Assembly takes over New York City. For over a week, global leaders of countries, corporations, institutions and ideologies come together to set the agenda for the global community. It is an invaluable time re-aligning operations, re-inspiring allies, re-positioning shared purpose, and where needed, reminding of what is shared. The UN GA programme is intense, in both areas of focus and individuals, messages and messengers capable of causing shock waves reaching far and wide. Not to mention logistical gridlock across one of the world’s most active international cities of commerce and politics.
And yet, for all of its pains of process, the UN GA remains an essential event on the calendar of not only global leaders of independent nations and corporations, but that of global idealists.
Why? Why does it matter?
Simply this: because idealists need to know they are not alone. In so many ways the UN GA acts not only as a call to action for the future, but a poignant confession of where we are today. As stated by HE Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations in his Opening address of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly:
“Our world is suffering from a bad case of ‘Trust Deficit Disorder.’ People are feeling troubled and insecure. Trust is at a breaking point. Trust in national institutions. Trust among states. Trust in the rules-based global order. Within countries, people are losing faith in political establishments, polarization is on the rise and populism is on the march. Among countries, cooperation is less certain and more difficult. Divisions in our Security Council are stark. Trust in global governance is also fragile, as 21st-century challenges outpace 20th-century institutions and mindsets. We have never had a true system of global governance, much less a fully democratic one.”
Someone had to say it.
But stopping there is not an option. The future narrative must be one that allows us to rise about, to reach out to our better angels, reminding ourselves of the greater ‘why’, not getting caught up int eh ‘who’, or ‘how much’.
Which is why Guterres continues, and concludes, with,:
“Still, across many decades, we established solid foundations for international cooperation. We came together as united nations to build institutions, norms and rules to advance our shared interests. As our Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, once reminded us: “We share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations. Our future rests on solidarity. We must repair broken trust. We must reinvigorate our multilateral project. And we must uphold dignity for one and for all.”
Sometimes, increasingly in these times, optimism and idealism can feel a quest beyond strength, beyond validity. Beyond individual credibility. Which is exactly why, 9 months into a year, the UN GA is such an important reboot of hope, bringing together people who seek to turn to our better angels, hushing the noise, even if for just a short while, to have idealism re-fed.
Because the reality is this – in our times of social (and unsocial) media connections and emojis of appreciation (or not), never have people felt more alone. The power of the UN GA is that it reaffirms a social network of a global community truly committed to, and hopeful for, a world where we actively, tirelessly, impatiently and unapologetically work for something greater than oneself. Where meeting a stranger in a hotel elevator allows for recognition that, whoever they are, they are here for the same shared purpose.
And whoever one is, their idealistic heart is not alone.
Two dates that have been burnt into the history books of our shared world.
Two lives, just one year apart in age, born worlds away from one another, working in worlds far from one another, taking their last breaths 7 days apart from one another, always, each day of their working lives, connected by one shared principle and one idealistic view on living an honourable life: service above self.
Like a flash of lightning during a dark storm, illuminating deep, daunting shades of grey through flashes of sharp, fresh silver, these two lives have broken open a worldwide build-up of emotion, of frustration, of quiet knowing yet deafening silence. As lightning does, its strike cuts through other noise, other distractions, widening the lens of ‘I’ to see vividly a wider ‘we’….in all of its stormy state.
First it was Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006, at a time when global challenges were to be taken very, very personally. For his time, for his leadership, he and the UN were honoured as co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.
Still, with an unshakable, undeniable honesty and profound sense of responsibility to shine the light on and act for those suffering, for all of his impact, he will be recognised for, inter alia, hos admission of failure of the UN system in two of the global community’s most damning conflicts. As stated by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN’s memorial for the former, now late, SG,:
“Kofi Annan faced up to the grave errors made by the United Nations in the 1990s – in its response to the Rwanda Genocide and the Srebrenica killings – by shining a light inside the UN. The reports he commissioned aimed to make sure such terrible mistakes are never repeated, and set the international community on a new course in its response to mass atrocities.”
It is this show of weakness, not only strength, that will be a powerful, critical part of SG Annan’s legacy, the lessons he left behind, the immediate turn-up of the volume button that he not just inspired, but impatiently provoked, in others across the UN system, if not world.
And then, one week later, with the Gods of global guardianship unsure of how sustainably the world had learnt its lesson, word comes of the passing of US Senator John McCain. And again, the tears flowed. For many, they were for the departing of a man defined as a ‘hero’, a ‘maverick’, a ‘true patriot’, a ‘true American’. For millions others, across the US and world, tears fell for the departing of a symbol of genuine, determined, unselfish, often inexplicable desire, often defiant desire, to simply do the right thing. Ironically, as people processed how determination to do the right thing, despite the violence he faced personally, professionally and politically, it put a floodlight on the ease and unacceptable emphasis today to do the wrong thing – to fight for self and agenda rather than serve for all.
From the first moments of news breaking of John McCain’s having left us, for him the bells tolled. And towards him the words of praise flowed.
Interestingly at times, at almost all times, it felt as though people writing of him – politicians, personalities, everyday people – were channeling their inner Aaron Sorkin, their personal feelings of sadness and loss of idealism and realism, for whatever reason, unlocking the intense hope that existed for a return to same. An idealism and united patriotism now so deeply buried, yet in this moment they felt safety in their hearts and in their voices to express.David Axelrod, one of the US’s most refreshing and righting sources of wisdom said it perfectly when, in advance of John McCain’s funeral just yesterday, stated,:
“What strikes me about this is Senator McCain didn’t orchestrate a tribute to himself. He orchestrated a civic communion where we took it to revisit principles of who we are as a country, what politics should be about. The fact President Obama is speaking and President Bush is speaking, two vanquished opponents, but respectful opponents is enormously important, at this time in our country, when politics is so angry and polarized, to see former opponents, people of different parties stand-up and pay tribute to each other, I think is not about John McCain, it’s about what he believed about our country and so I’m looking forward to both presidents.”
And as stated by President Obama at his funeral,:
” After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience. And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground.”
To continue to quote others in their salutes to John McCain would be an exhaustive, and unfair, exercise. These are not moments of competition, or comparison. They are moments of honouring, and honour.
As with the passing of Kofi Annan, trying to find words to say goodbye, and thank you, inspired people to dig deep, calling upon their better angels with a plea to be able to honour the moment, the man. And in doing so, for both, words evolved to become a global cry asking, demanding, we do more as citizens, as human beings, as people who have the ability to work for something bigger than ourselves.
With the passing of Kofi Annan and John McCain, the echo, the hope, is the same: that they leave in our hearts, minds, and actions a clear understanding that each day, each and every day, we are called and able to serve, we remember: it’s not about us.
In an increasingly ‘I‘-centric world, how heart-squeezing it is to see the global community living near and far step forward, swiftly and courageously, to protect the lives of others. Of strangers. Of youngsters. Because it is simply the right thing to do, and it must be done right now.
The moment: June 23rd, 2018.
The unnerving sight: a row of young boys’ bicycles lined up alongside the entrance to Chiang Rai’s now globally famous Tham Luang cave, fringed by the football shoes – small sized shoes – of boys aged between 11 and 17. Twelve pair, plus one, that of their assistant coach, he 25.
The fear: they are lost.
It was meant to be a brief, cooling, post-practice cave excursion in honour of one of the little lads’ birthday. Little did they know that monsoon rains would push them further and further back into the dark, cold, daunting cave network. Little did they know the world would be counting the minutes….hours…..days that would pass as they stood on a musty outcrop for a time they were unable to count.
10 days to be exact. Then and only then, over 4km of cave passage exploration later (with some stretches reaching deadly depths of 5m), the boys first sensed through warm scent in deep, cave darkness, and then through the glow of a diver’s search light. Joy, relief, prayers of thanks, were short lived. They were found, but they were not out.
How were these 13 boys, all unqualified divers, many unable to swim, going to be able to travel the 4+km of cave route through rising monsoon waters the colour of cold coffee? How would they survive the contours, the crevices, the cold, the enduring risk of claustrophobia-provoked panic? How could Mother Nature be so cruel?
The risks were real. The search alone put fears of failing into the flowing waters. There was no guarantee of even the most qualified of divers being able to make it through even just the search for the boys. And even if they were found, there was no guarantee they were still alive. Life and death were two extremes of a spectrum demanding second-by-second respect from all involved – trapped boys and search party specialist alike. The cocktail of faith and courage made for initial brave, bold attempts.
With prayers flowing and shrines rising outside the cave, across the Kingdom of Thailand, and across the world, the nation and world’s best and brightest began to gather, tanks and tools at the ready, at the entrance of the cave – a gateway to a complex network of passages now filling with the annual monsoon’s most threatening shows of force. Even the best of calculations were merely a hypothesis as the heavens poured down.
As windows of dry briefly opened, rescue teams set out. The fragility of the situation came back to all as fast and furiously as the monsoon flood rains as one of the rescue operations team – Former Thai navy Seal diver Saman Kunan – died on July 06th as exiting Tham Luang cave. Nothing, and no one, can and would be taken for granted.
On July 02nd when the boys were miraculously discovered alive on an elevated ledge deep within the cave, long waves of exhale of relief and gratitude spread through the cave pathway, stretching out to meet with Thai sunshine and tired families, and continue across the world. They were alive! But they were still trapped, with the rain water pouring into their severely limited space with its severely threatened oxygen supply. The journey out for just one of the boys would be a miracle. For thirteen? How? When? In what order?
The drama of the rescue is now a part of the modern history of the Kingdom, along with the life stories of a team of heroic divers, an international team of 18 including 13 from across the world and 5 from at home in Thailand. 13 boys, one by one by one, over the period of July 08th to 10th, returning home to their families to resume their lives with renewed hope.
At a time when our world has become increasingly closed to those needing homes, those needing hope, the rescue of these young boys proved that, when the call comes, from wherever, doing the right thing means doing it right now, right where needed. It is so easy in today’s day and age of quick reads, quick commentary and quick clicks onto the next story. To forget why caring matters. To forget why stepping up and honouring what matters most keeps us connected in ways that social media and other platforms of quick-sharing can never do.
And as demonstrated with such quiet class and beauty, to forget that the story is not over until those precious final two words are conveyed.
You can only choose one thing. You have 30 seconds.
Now you have another two minutes. What’s the next thing you will choose? What’s the one thing you will choose? And then the next if you’re going to have to run, if you’re going to have to leave where you are and leave everything else behind.
Now pick another. You can choose three in total.
What about one more, but then that’s it.
Now you have to go.
You have no idea where you’re going. You have no idea where, how long you’ll be gone and you have no idea if you’re coming back, pick only four and now go.
That’s what it means to be a refugee. Only a fraction of it, but this is what it means to be a refugee. Soon this is all you will have. Four things. The first, the second, the third, and the fourth most important things that came to your mind.
You might never come back. You might never see the rest of your things again.
Ultimately, you need to choose and ultimately you have no idea where these choices will take you.
It may not be four. It may be more….it may be none. You never know.
What you do know is that you will be judged, you will be judged by what you are wearing. You will be judged by how you look. You will be judged by what you are carrying. You will judge be judged for the rest of your life, your qualifications, no longer matter. Your money no longer matters. Your status no longer matters. Your home no longer matters.
All you have is you and four things. What will you choose?
The things are one thing. What about the people?
Who will you leave with? Family? Friends? Stranger?
Who will you meet? Who will protect you while someone is trying to hurt you?
As the fates of time and place would have it, this #WorldRefugeeDay was spent in a refugee camp in Kenya – Kakuma – home to over 185,000 refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, the DRC and other neighbouring nations. A field trip meant to be just a day turned into an unexpected overnight stay, with nothing but day-packs in hand. No toothbrushes, no soap, no water, no mosquito repellent despite the known severe outbreak of malaria, no mobile phone chargers, no change of clothes. Nothing. Just our IDs, our faith, and our evolving plan to travel in, stay, see, sleep, and somehow manage to drive out at dawn to a distant airport for return to Nairobi. We knew we were safe. We knew we were set to leave once in. Somehow we would figure out the essentials in between.
What are the essentials? What emerges as must-haves. What quickly and acutely comes to mind when there is no time to really comprehend the what next? And what if it all goes horribly wrong?
The experience was a tiny, tiny glimpse into how one’s mind has to work when working out how to move forward with so little of what is normally needed for smooth, safe, predictable and peaceful daily life. Blessed to be in a position of knowing when we would be back to our clean, secure creature comforts, adjusting to the baseline of needs for the brief time ahead was hardly traumatic. The day after tomorrow would be a day back to the familiarity of the real world – familiar faces, familiar places, a familiar fate.
But for tens of millions, tomorrow is an extension of the sudden uncertainty of today.
How does this happen? How is it that reality can change in a moment? From safety to tragedy. From comfort to fear. From comforted to completely alone.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we did to influence the life into which we are born. And yet, for billions of people, lives seemingly a dream look down on the millions, literally millions, condemned to a life that is nothing short of a nightmare.
Whether caused by acts of God, acts of Mother Nature, or acts of angry men, today and every day millions run, having to choose, quickly, what they will take.
What can we give them? What do they need? it is not simply about money – throwing a few coins into a donation box while quickly passing by. The first gift of giving is compassion – looking a child, an adult, another, in the eyes with a genuine feeling of “I see you.”
And then reaching out a hand with a heart whispering the words “….and I will help you.”
World Refugee Day should never be just one day. Each and every day, everywhere, our hearts must remain open to those needing care, compassion, comfort. Because every day they are living lives of heroic courage and determination, despite the shunning looks and judgemental glares.
And because easily, so so easily, it could have been us.