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