Spreading Awareness of a World of Travel through Writing
I've been writing about Travel trends, destinations, travel business skills, travel scams and consumer issues since 1975
Please check out my twice-monthly column, The Travel Coach www.travelindustrytoday.com,
Additionally, many of my blog articles appear on
From Here to Timbuktu: Why we should care about Mali
The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson asked if the rumour of Timbuctoo was as frail as those of ancient time. Shortly after Tennyson wrote the poem, Timbuctoo, the western world started to search for the illusive, hidden and mystical destination. Now we use the name of the city, alternately spelled as Timbuktu, Timbuctoo, Tombouctou, as a euphemism for the last place on earth one could possible travel; hence the expression “from here to Timbuktu”. More...
Time Travel: A Timely Pursuit
The movie, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” appeared on theatre screens in 1969. I know, because I saw it then and based on my own travels in Europe two years earlier, the scenario of a group of disparate travellers travelling on an 18-day, 9-country tour from London to Rome, certainly rang true.
And the joke in the title is, of course, that each country flashes by so quickly as you dash on to the next one, that the only way to keep track of where they are is by comparing the schedule and concluding that “If it’s Tuesday, this must be...” More...
You say you want a Resolution: Random thoughts from a travel coach
Predicting the future has become the mainstay of political pundits and travel soothsayers, alike. Everyone likes to get their thoughts on record, just in case it turns out that there is some similarity between what they said would happen, and what actually happens down the road. We can thank Nostradamus for bringing the predictions game into popularity (or notoriety) despite the fact that he died 446 years ago, but we can also thank CNN and others for keeping the tradition alive, all in the spirit of providing sound bites and creating an aura of intellectual prescience where, in many cases, none really exists. More...
GlobalSpeak: Relationship Building Before and After the Internet
A common concern amongst travellers is that they don’t speak the language at the destination and therefore they fear that they will get caught up in a Tower of Babel as they try to check into the hotel, order food, engage the taxi driver or even negotiate their way into and then out of the country. It is fairly cut and dried. You either speak Igpo (as do roughly 24 million people in Nigeria) or the other 7000 global languages, or you don’t. More...
In Niseko Village All is Well
Outside the Hilton--a veritable winter wonderland.
4.45 am is a unique time of day in a resort hidden away on the mountainous roads in Niseko Village, in the north western area of Hokkaido Province in Japan. We arrived here about twelve hours earlier and were greeted by the hotel management in the cavernous lobby of the Hilton hotel, graced with a huge furnace, seemingly suspended from the roof and backed by a bar that displayed bottles of sochu and sake all the way up to the ceiling. A veritable stairway to heaven for those who imbibe. More...
Tokyo on Hai Alert
The SkyTree is a boon to Hai/High Tourism
You’ve heard of Rocky Mountain High, Bali Hai, High Noon, High as a Kite, and Hi and Lois, but now it’s time to experience Tokyo High. Well, technically, that should be ‘Tokyo Hai’. In Japanese the word ‘Hai’ has multiple meanings and in a typical conversation you’ll have one person speaking, with the other person responding after just about every sentence with “hai hai”. It means ‘yes’, ‘go on’, ‘I agree’, ‘tell me more’, ‘right’, ‘ok’, ‘uh huh’ etc. More...
Promoting the Vagabond Mentality
Brave New World
Boabab Trees in Madagascar
Many of us have heard the song lyric “Everything old is new again” and so it goes in the world of travel and the discovery of ‘new’ destinations. They’ve been there all the time but due to political change, end of conflict, new attractions, reconciling the need to maintain local culture and traditions with the welcoming of foreign visitors, along with the dollar and cents (sense) need to bring in foreign capital, old silent global neighbours are now the new kid on the block when it comes to travel. More...
Down in Mexico
Are you in it for the Long Haul? Part 1
While many passengers automatically reject the idea of spending 12 to 14 hours - or more - getting to a vacation destination, Steve shows agents how to coach clients into experiencing destinations that could change their lives. Here's the first installment.
What do you mean the flight is 13 ½ hours? If Franistan is that far away then forget it!
Ever get this reaction from clients who are looking to extend their travel experiences by exploring new destinations? More...
Are you in it for the Long Haul? Part 2
Planning your own flight schedule
The airline will pretty well tell you when things are about to happen including:
• When the flight will depart the gate
• ‘Take off’ and Landing times
• When the beverage service and first food service will begin
• When the mid-flight snack will be served
• When the final meal will be served More...
A Symphony of Camels
Gee I wish I was back in the Army
Military tourism is actually a broad term used in niche travel marketing to include battlefield tours, military cemeteries, historical re-enactments and military outposts. And then there is the over-the-wall military tourism experience that attracts travellers, most of whom (but not all) never experienced military service, and wish to engage in an adventurous act of verisimilitude (meaning a likeness to reality, from the Latin veri, meaning truth and similis, meaning ‘like’)...More...
Vienna Artistry: Travel Emotionomics Gone Wild
Travel emotionomics dictate so many things we do or end up doing on holiday; some of which we didn’t even know why we were doing. My recent visit to Vienna was a prime example of this pleasant and engaging subliminal manipulation. As an impressionable kid who saw all the new Disney movies with family or friends, I somehow locked the mystique of this place called Vienna into my emerging travel-life-investment list, but it took until 2012 for me to discover the wonderful experience of actually exploring Vienna. More...
Golden Opportunities: Lessons from the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies
Officially, 205 countries are participating in the 2012 Olympics in London. What a golden opportunity for new, aspiring travel agents, as well as tried and true professionals, to get involved with the daily competitions. Your clients will be watching the events on television, reading about them in newspapers, and talking about them at the proverbial water cooler. How involved do you plan to get?
If you Wish to be a Writer, Write!
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, determined that “If you wish to be a writer, write”. This was a reflection of his firm belief that people are responsible for their own actions, and therefore ‘wanting’ or ‘dreaming’ to do something can only happen if you actually do it!
This does not imply that you have to be born into the role of ‘writer’. There are many avenues that lead writers to success and in every circumstance, that old adage that ‘practice makes perfect’, comes into play. More...
Faith, Travel and Comic Books
Mr. Inverso, my Grade 11 history teacher is to blame. He had us read portions of The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer’s classic book on religion, spirituality, totemic beliefs and creation myths, and then present an example of a local custom to the class. I remember talking about one of the Australian Aboriginal creation myths, the reality of this first flirtation with anthropology was quite profound. More...
Don't Dismiss the Bliss
Supreme, or perfect happiness. Utter Joy. Contentment. These are the popular dictionary definitions of ‘bliss”. And there is nothing profound in saying that bliss is in the heart and soul of the beholder.
I have alluded to the fact that I ‘bliss out’ when I find masks during the course of my travels. But that is not all! More...
Another Final Night in Prague
Click to Be There with Me
When we left Prague on Wednesday morning, it was with a bit of regret that we had not planned a longer stay. But our two week trip was based on exploring new destinations, being as active as possible, maximizing our exposure to history, culture and cuisine, and capturing the mood, the spirit and the 'sense' of each place visited. More...
Today, the expression Mazel Tov is taken to mean “good luck” or ‘congratulations” and it is mostly heard on joyous occasions including birthdays. On May 14th, Israel celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut (Yome Ha-Atz-ma-oot), the day it declared its independence 64 years ago, and congratulations are in order. More...
The Music is the Medium is the Message
To start off the Victoria Day weekend, I attended a screening of “Marley” which had been premiered at Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival a few weeks prior. I imagine the film will quickly make its way across the country and travel agencies who market Jamaica to their clients should make plans now to first take their staff to a screening, and then consider holding a client evening in a local theatre. More...
Satebu Dreams of Travel
Creating your Travel Umami
It happened on my second trip to Japan in 2005. Even though we had to provide passport documentation for the issuance of the air tickets from Tokyo to Fukuoka, the travel agent asked for some assistance in pronouncing the name. Somehow, “Steve Gillick” was not working, so it was broken down as Sa-Tee-Bu Gi-ri-kou. Sure enough when we picked up the tickets at Haneda Airport, the ticket clearly identified me as Satebu Girrikou. More...
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Customer Service Success Stories
In the real world, shining examples of customer service seem to be fewer and far between. In the travel world they are rarely mentioned, which is a shame because there are many CRM heroes populating our profession. The reality? When people like something, they will tell their friends and acquaintances. When people don’t like something, they will communicate this to anyone within listening range. More...
The Half-Truth about Adventure Travel
The oft-repeated expression when it comes to Green Travel is "Take nothing but photographs…leave nothing but footprints”. Whether the journey is to Kitimat or Kathmandu, Montreal or Machu Picchu, Truro or
Tibet, there is so much more you can get out of travel. It is a truism that in general, in life, you get ‘out’ what you put ‘in’. The eco-sustainable-nature-tourism mantra about taking nothing and leaving nothing sounds so deliciously motherhoody, and as a primer for litterbugs, exotic souvenir seekers, and people who like to bring their inconsiderate attitude toward nature with them wherever they go, this is good, sound advice. More...
Eighty Five Minutes in Huanchaco
Sometimes travel agent Fam trips are so cruel. You dash around from place to place and oftentimes from hotel to hotel. The idea is to get an overview of the destination—enough information for you to speak intelligently and knowledgably with your clients—but often not really enough time to appreciate, experience, relate, and really embrace a destination. In a sense it’s a teaser. Here is a taste and if you want more, come back and visit us.
And so began our 85 minute odyssey in Huanchaco. More...
Here there be Dragons
On my first trip to Chiang Mai in 1990, we followed the arts and crafts route just outside the city: Our afternoon consisted of visits to the Woodcarvers’ shop, the Silk Factory, the Silversmith and, my favourite, the umbrella workshop. At the end of our tour, the guide announced that if we had any cloth that we wanted to have painted, the artists would do so and accept any fee we thought to be appropriate. I gave one of the artists my new grey daypack and asked to have a dragon painted on it. Fifteen minutes later, my pack was graced with a beautiful red, blue and white dragon, floating in the clouds, with a fierce yet somehow peaceful look on its face, and an awesome stream of fire emanating from its mouth. More...
A Spirited Adventure: Travels in Okinawa
Spirits can be found everywhere in Okinawa, the Island prefecture just west of Kyushu, Japan. Some take the form of protective guardians, while others are 86 Proof and add to the unique flavours of the destination.
In November I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation to attend the 2011 Japan Travel Mart in Yokohama. One of the attractions for me was the opportunity to take a short fam trip to Okinawa and, as I suspected, it was a more than worthwhile experience. More...
Listen to the Music
Some travellers are born to love music, some achieve an appreciation of music over the course of their travels, while others have music thrust upon them - and then just can’t get the tunes out their heads.
The Doobie Brothers had it right when they suggested that we “listen to the music”. But beyond the idea of “a song”, the idea of “the music” is one of those niche markets, both hidden and ‘out there’, as a definite motivation for travel.
At this moment in time I am sitting in the Dora Keogh pub in downtown Toronto, totally infatuated with the Irish music More...
Sri Lanka: Travels on the Cusp
Escorting a September Fam to Sri Lanka was an opportunity to return to a country that had taken me by surprise in 2005 with its friendly people, UNESCO sites, tempting food and rich cultural heritage. My theory about visiting a country entails not only the research and knowledge that is acquired prior to the visit, but also the post-trip follow up that embraces the country into what might be termed a ‘circle of concern’.
This means that travellers feel somewhat of a kindred spirit to the people in the country when they read media reports about both joyous events and adverse challenges facing the country. More...
The Higher Ground
The untimely death of Jack Layton, the eulogies delivered at the State funeral, and the glimpses of his life and philosophy of living that emerged in the national newspapers, certainly gives us pause to reflect. Transcending any political considerations, we read about a man who had ideals and principles and followed them throughout his life. We read about someone who sought to create a more caring and tolerant world and conveyed this to family, friends and associates through actions and deeds. Are there lessons that we can take out of this as travel professionals? More...
The Sounds of Silence: Meditating on Travel
About two hours into the safari we went off the main path in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park. The driver motioned for us to be quiet and then the guide pointed to a group of about 10 buffalo in the tall grass, near the trees. We crowded through the sunroof of the jeep with cameras ready to snap photos. For possibly 60 seconds, there was no talking, no car engines, no sounds of tourists at all, save for a few camera clicks.
The only sound was the crunching, munching of the buffalo and it was like soft, delicate, mesmerizing music. More...
Report on Japan: Cope, Hope, Empathy and Sake
Hope, as exemplified by the posters plastered on walls near the famous Tsukiji seafood market that remind locals and visitors alike that the world is ’one’ with Tokyo in their struggle to return to the status quo after the Fukushima disaster. I am back from another wonderful adventure in Japan and am pleased to confirm that the themes of ‘cope’ and ‘hope’ seem to be present in many of the places I visited.
Cope, in the sense of helping to save electricity and not complaining about the periodic shut down of store, restaurant and subway air conditioning systems, or the slower subway service or the dimming of street lights in some neighbourhoods in Tokyo. More...
Taxis: A Love/Hate Relationship with Travellers
Roberto from Salta: One of the best!
As I am about to embark on another vacation adventure, I think back on some of the most annoying experiences I have had in the past as well as some of the most rewarding experiences, and ironically, both involve taxi drivers. While travel writers love to dwell on travel-negatives, as these tend to attract more interest than situations where everything goes well, it is important to acknowledge that there are some fantastic taxi drivers out there, and that the ‘bad’ ones are the proverbial rotten apples in the basket that we have all encountered from time to time. More...
Bazaar or Bizarre: Probe your client's Mokita
Bazaar Holidays are hot. Notice that I did not say “bizarre” holidays but of course that may apply also. Bizarre in this case would refer to holidays with a twist; something different and unusual or even outlandish.
“Bazaar” on the other hand, refers to shopping and, when travel professionals speak with their clients about the wherefore and why they want to travel, this becomes either blatantly obvious (i.e. a trip to the Hong Kong (or Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur) Shopping Festivals; trips to New York City or other fashion capitals), or it is something that is hardly even mentioned. But with some travellers, the prospect of bringing home that perfect souvenir or something for their collection or finding a valuable antique at a flea market, can really be the hidden motivation behind their reason to travel. More...
You Only Live Once: So Get Going!
Somehow those words still ring in my head every time I choose to travel to a new destination, or to a country where people raise their eyebrows and ask “You’re going where?”
Those four words were first expressed to me as a lecture on why I was planning a trip to Kenya.
It was the late 1980’s and concerns about health in Africa were rampant. A travel colleague told me that Kenya was a very dangerous place and that I was risking my health in going there. He ended by telling me to cancel. “After all, you only live once”. Ignorance has always played a role in causing people to say and do outlandish things, and this was no exception. More...
Exceeding Expectations: Planning on Serendipity?
Serendipity is the term used to describe the act of making fortunate discoveries by accident. It is something that occurs by happenstance or unintentionally, with the result usually being positive and beneficial to the person(s) involved.
A relatively new concept has arisen, that is being called ‘planned’ or ‘forced’ serendipity’. Of course this is an oxymoron (a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms such as “All alone or, in a more humorous vein, ‘military intelligence’). So how can you for plan or force serendipity to occur? More...
Reflections: Thoughts on Sakura
Sakura is the Japanese cherry blossom, and the annual blossom festivals are just about three weeks away. In city parks throughout Japan, the cherry blossoms will resemble forests of pink clouds, and this visual treasure has inspired poets and artists to regard the sakura as an omen of good fortune, an emblem of love and a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life.
In fact, the Japanese expression “mono no a-ware” includes the concept of ‘empathy toward things’ as well as ‘the impermanence of things’, both associated with the Sakura. More...
Restless Human Spirits: Travelling in Interesting Times
There is much debate about the intention of the saying “May you live in interesting times” and whether it was meant as a blessing or a curse. But these are interesting times, one way or the other.
Not much has appeared in the travel press about Egypt or its people, save for some brainstorming ideas on alternate vacation destinations, re-routing cruise itineraries and government travel advisories. Of course in the consumer media, there is much speculation from a bevy of experts on how the situation may be resolved and everyone interviewed provides their version of the correct forecast with confidence. From a travel perspective, how can we read these interesting times? More...
Pop Quiz: What do all these things have in common?
Latin, Tango, Malbec Wine, Mountains, Gauchos, Steak, Waterfalls, outdoor cafes and, did I mention Malbec wine? If you can’t figure it out, all are associated with Argentina, which became number 65 on the list of countries that I have now visited and explored.
A few years ago my name somehow got attached to the Wines of Argentina mailing list for their annual wine tasting in Toronto. I sampled Malbec for the first time and after 6-7 more samples of different Malbec wines, I became a big fan and wanted to learn more. More...
Sacred Tourism: Savouring the Secrets
As a camp counsellor many years ago, we played a memory game with the kids, where the leader said 11 different tongue-twisting sentences and the campers in turn, repeated them back. Number 8 in the exercise described “Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred, secret crypts of Sanakra.”
While I was a part time tour guide during those camp counsellor years, the idea of visiting the sacred crypts of Sanakra fascinated me…until I learned that Sanakra did not exist. But the damage had been done and the idea of the sacred—and secret—when it came to travel, was alluring. More...
Scary or Serious: Dark Tourism Comes to Light
Boo! I have to admit that Halloween and the 24 hour Fear Fests on TV got me thinking about why people watch this stuff --what is the great attraction--and how does this transfer over to the world of travel. I will admit that I can’t handle movies such as Halloween or Friday the 13th, and really, the scariest DVD in my collection is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But when we were kids in the 1960’s, it was a real treat when our Mom took us to Buffalo for the annual shopping spree and then we would return across the border to spend some time in Niagara Falls. High on the agenda was Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum... More...
Kick the Bucket: Read this before you die!
The word Eschatology (Es-Ka-tology) literally means ‘the study of the last’ and is mostly used to describe ‘the study of the last days of history”, in other words, the final battle between good and evil; the Armageddon. Whoa Steve, where are you going with all this? Are you promoting travel to Megido, the biblical site where the ultimate fight is supposed to take place? Have you lost it and are getting your placard ready to walk the streets prophesying that the end is near?
Well not really. I am looking at eschatology in the context of the proliferation of travel books themed on the concept of “Do this before you die”. More...
Reality Bites: The Real Thing
I learned a long time ago that ‘reality’ is a term that is bandied about quite freely. As a history major in university, I learned all about ‘historiography’: the study of why historians’ publish differing versions of history. A historian’s writing could be influenced by family situations, politics, religion, race, age and other considerations. This is why you can have two learned historians writing about the same event and arriving at very different conclusions. Reality—what ‘really’ happened-- is something very difficult, if not impossible, to define. More...
Eat Out: Culinary Travel Profiling
Television cooking shows, once the preserve of homemakers, are now hot items in prime time, and what do they showcase? Food. Canadian cuisine, international cuisine, upscale chefs preparing downscale dishes, happy chefs, angry chefs, singing chefs, diners, drive-ins, dives, makeovers, cakes, competitions, hellish kitchens, grills, woks, steamers, campfires, and they all compete for the attention of your travelling clients. More...
Taking your Life in your Hands: Practicing to be a Dissuasion Specialist
I did not get mugged. I did not get sick from the food or the water. I did not contract malaria. I did not shut myself into my hotel room for 24 hours a day. I had a great time, met some great people, took 2,468 photos, and I can’t wait to return. So, what was all the hubbub about travelling to El Salvador for my summer holiday? Everyone I spoke to, from my travel physician to heads of other tourist boards, to travel educators and, yes, to professional travel counsellors, all had an opinion about El Salvador, yet few had actually visited the country. More...
Should I Stay or Should I go? Safety is Relative
If I go there will be trouble / An’ if I stay it will be double / So come on and let me know / Should I stay or should I go? Some songs, even The Clash’s 1981 hit, have that uncanny ability to key into issues that affect our lives and often cause us to transfer the message of the song to other matters that are top-of-mind. And in this case, it’s ‘travel’. Travellers, who are considering a new destination experience, seem to have a hierarchy of questions that must be satisfied, assuming that the destination conforms to their budget. More...
Like Meeting an Old Friend: Nothing beats Education-on-Location
Excuse me for being a bit pedantic but ...in the Turkish language, the word “turk” means ‘strong’, but the actual origin of the country name is believed to originate from the Chinese phrase “tu-küe”, which, according to language expert Glen Dixon, meant “People of the Earth” and may have been first used to refer to the Mongols who occupied the area of present day Turkey in the 13th Century under the leadership of Genghis Khan. That being said, the Turks I met were hard working, friendly, helpful, had an engaging sense of humour and took great pride in their history and culture. More...
Tourist or Traveller: Looking Beyond the Obvious
I was intrigued to receive an email recently where, under the signature, there was a presumably rhetorical question: “Are you a tourist or a traveller?” It is an interesting question but perhaps not as rhetorical, as it is misguided or on the wrong track. Tourists were in steerage More...
The 7 Sense Solution: Selling the Travel Experience
The keeners in the group would state that it is a figurative expression that translates roughly as “once you start to travel, your eyes and all your senses—become attuned to new experiences that take you beyond your daily routine. Indeed, once you travel, your senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting) are never the same again. But hold on, I mentioned 7 senses in the title—and I will return to that shortly. More...
AVATOURISM: Are you taking advantage of the latest travel trend to grip the world?
In your travel school marketing class, do you remember when your instructor spoke about organizing a travel event for clients? Some of the suggestions included a thematic evening or a restaurant ‘taste of” presentation or a night at the movies and more. Wait a second… Movies? Of course, there are many films that help to spread the good word about travel, from Lawrence of Arabia for your Jordan-bound clients, to Out of Africa your Kenya Safari fans.
But how many of you have tapped into Avatourism? More...
The Travel Coach: Infectious Enthusiasm
There I have said it, and I have been spreading the message to travel counsellors, lo these many years, that this is one ‘tool’ in their kit that is a winner when speaking to travellers about their holiday destinations.
As for me? I don’t sell travel but as president of Talking Travel, I spend a great deal of time coaching travel professionals about various aspects of travel, travel professionalism, and revenue generation. I feel it’s incumbent on me to practice what I preach or, as the common parlance goes, to show ‘leadership by example”. More...
Will Wonders Never Cease?
It’s a funny world we live in.
Or perhaps, more accurately, it is a fast food world we live in. Instant gratification. Consumer opinion polls for just about everything. American - then Canadian Idol - and now World Attraction Idol. Voting for your favourites, as if it were a beauty contest. There are winners and runners up. There are honourable mentions. There are losers.
I can say that I saw 6 of the 7 “new wonders”, before they were wonders. To me each one was an adventure in witnessing history; travelling to exotic places; learning about new cultures; sharing in the spirit of discovery; marvelling at what past generations had conceived; understanding the reasons why a landmark existed and understanding the people who built that wonder. More...