Air­port shop­ping test the best guide to tourism, says Trafal­gar boss

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

THE South African-born, Euro­pean-based chief ex­ec­u­tive of Trafal­gar, Gavin Toll­man, has a unique the­ory — he reck­ons you can take the eco­nomic tem­per­a­ture of a coun­try and its tourism in­dus­try by the state of its shops, par­tic­u­larly those at air­ports.

‘‘When re­cently trav­el­ling through [the Qan­tas ter­mi­nal] at Sydney’s do­mes­tic air­port, I noted the ev­i­dent clo­sures of re­tail out­lets,’’ Toll­man says.

‘‘It points to one thing: you just don’t have enough tourists go­ing through these air­ports. That’s al­ways the bell­wether of how the econ­omy is show­ing stress. You can get a sense of how a coun­try is do­ing by shut­tered stores.’’ Of course, some lo­cal travel in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives would ques­tion what time of day Toll­man passed through the air­port — one claim­ing, rather drolly, that the Geneva-based ex­ec­u­tive must have been pass­ing through at about 6am.

But there’s no dis­put­ing that Toll­man knows travel. The Toll­man fam­ily con­trols the Travel Cor­po­ra­tion, one of the world’s largest pri­vately owned tourism groups, with dozens of brands, such as Con­tiki, Cre­ative Hol­i­days and Uniworld, and in­clud­ing 14 fully owned river­boats cruis­ing the wa­ter­ways of Egypt, Asia and Europe. The Toll­mans also own AAT Kings, plus a chain of 15 lux­ury Red Car­na­tion Ho­tels stretch­ing from Lon­don to Florida to Cape Town.

They also want to ramp up their op­er­a­tions in Aus­tralia. Travel Cor­po­ra­tion ex­ec­u­tives are scour­ing Sydney and Perth for the right site to de­velop a five-star Red Car­na­tion prop­erty.

Toll­man, in Aus­tralia and New Zealand re­cently to launch Trafal­gar’s 2013 Bri­tain and Europe First Class Pro­gram, also has big ideas on me­ga­lin­ers — cruise ships with ca­pac­ity for more than 3500 pas­sen­gers. He reck­ons they don’t help lo­cal economies ( as cruise lines claim) be­cause they don’t pur­chase food at their ports of call, pre­fer­ring to bring frozen and pow­dered goods from their home bases to pre­vent out­breaks of dis­ease on board.

But a lo­cal cruise in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive dis­putes this no­tion, say­ing ‘‘the lion’s share’’ of his line’s ship­board food is sourced from provi­dores in the cities where the ships are berthed. ‘‘It does make more sense to buy fresh eggs and meat from lo­cal sup­pli­ers,’’ he says, but con­cedes that pow­dered eggs for, say, break­fast omelettes are brought over on board from the US.

In any event, no one dis­agrees with Toll­man when he de­clares: ‘‘Tourism touches ev­ery work­ing per­son, it helps [boost] em­ploy­ment in stores and restau­rants and far be­yond.

‘‘It’s a true driv­ing force.’’

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