People & Stories

An Interview with Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman

Gavin Tollman, our CEO, is a man on a mission to redefine travel. Not just the concept of travel, but the experience of travel. He has built a business and a team around him who share his passion, from the Travel Directors on the ground to the Product Managers in the office. The richness of the guest experience is all-important. Here Gavin shares his thoughts on Trafalgar and what’s next in global travel.

How do you define the perfect vacation?

“The perfect vacation is one that truly takes you inside the destination you’re visiting, bringing the individuality of the culture and its people to life. I love to discover the fabric of each destination – what makes it unique. I often find that the personal interaction with local people, breaking bread with interesting characters and listening to their stories is what I look for when I travel, whether on vacation or for work. It’s this idea that we bring to every Trafalgar trip, creating richer, local experiences that give guests simply the best vacation.”

Gavin Tollman

What values do you think that customers are looking for when they book with Trafalgar?

“I get asked this question frequently, and it always comes down to the moments and memories that they have when they travel with us. As a brand we are passionate about travel and the places we visit. The Trafalgar team always place our guests in the centre of all we are, and all we do. It is what literally motivates us. Guests who travel with us discover our nearly 70 years of expertise and passion for delivering truly exceptional vacations. Every vacation we operate is hand crafted, utilising the following three guiding variables – what are the must see sights, how do we take our guests below the surface of the destination, and how do we ensure that we make the entire experience completely effortless. Like me, our guests want to know that when they travel, they are going to have a truly unbeatable experience, rich in memories and completely hassle-free, and that’s what we go out of our way to ensure we deliver on every trip.”

How does Trafalgar immerse and enrich their travellers’ experience?

“Our nearly seven decades of experience and local knowledge means we have the contacts and understanding to create truly authentic, genuine moments that welcome our guests into local culture. Carefully crafted by our team, these Insider Experiences include dining with local families in their homes, staying in historic accommodation, discovering secret stories with passionate specialists and exploring the hidden history behind must-see sights. It’s these moments that ensure our guests are truly immersed in the local culture they came to discover. We want to deliver moments that an independent traveller or one travelling with a competitor wouldn’t have.”

Gavin Tollman

You have travelled extensively on your company’s own tours – what has impressed you the most?

“The thing that constantly impresses me is the passion and dedication of our team. Without exception, they are truly dedicated to ensuring our guests enjoy an outstanding vacation. I see this passion every day in the office, from our Operations and Product teams to Reservations, but it’s when I get out on the road and see our Travel Directors and Drivers delivering what we promise every single day, and the reactions of our guests to the experiences they’re enjoying, that I am truly blown away.”

And which experience really sticks in your mind?

“On a recent trip to Myanmar with Trafalgar, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and poignancy of some of the moments I experienced. Of all of them, it is the spiritual visit and candle lighting at the magical Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk that will stay with me the most. The gentle murmur of the monks as they led the procession, the golden glow of the lamps like fireflies in the dusk air, and sharing the moment with the friendly locals who were so welcoming – it was an experience I will never forget.”

Shwedagon Pagoda

Trafalgar has been one of the innovators in changing the perception of tours from group travel to guided holidays, how has this come about?

“Our guests really are at the heart of what we do, and they are very good at letting us know what they’ve loved on our trips, and what they feel we could improve on. We’ve listened to them and used our expertise to adapt our offering over the years based on their feedback, to ensure we’re always improving, always striving to deliver unique holidays that are the very best that they can be, for every guest. At Trafalgar, we know that to refuse to change is to stand still, and eventually to stagnate. It’s this dedication to evolving and responding to our guests’ feedback that has kept us at the forefront of the industry and enabled this innovation. This vision is clearly seen in the types of vacations we develop – from At Leisure to our Family Experiences and Hidden Journeys – each meticulously designed to showcase the best of each destination.”

You’re hitting the Zeitgeist with Trafalgar’s very own diffusion line – CostSaver – is this opening up Trafalgar to a whole new demographic?

“We’ve developed CostSaver significantly over the past five years, and this year we decided it was time it stepped out of the shadows as its own line. Starting at just $91 per day, every trip is planned with the same passion and attention to detail, however it targets a budget-conscious demographic who want unbeatable value, while still enjoying the quality of the must-see inclusions they’d expect from Trafalgar but with more free time. We have lots of developments in store for CostSaver and we’re really looking forward to hearing feedback from our CostSaver guests.”

Gavin Tollman

What are the trends that you are beginning to see emerging in the travel sector?

“For me, the biggest trend is the importance of guest feedback. It’s a fact that today, 89% of consumers say that third-party reviews actively influence their decision, and more and more companies are looking to these reviews to discover how they can improve their offering – or at least, they should be! At Trafalgar, we’re so convinced of the importance of this feedback that we asked independent online reviews website, Feefo, to source reviews from our past guests. We now have over 13,000 available for future guests to see on We’ve found them invaluable, not only as a way of reassuring our guests of the experience they will enjoy with us, but as a way of improving our trips and ensuring every guest has the best vacation. In this digital age, it’s a trend I can only see increasing in importance over the coming years.”

What are you most proud of at Trafalgar?

 “I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, of how we’ve managed to develop our experience to ensure that we constantly deliver new and improved experiences to our guests. When I meet a guest in person or read their feedback, it makes me realise that we really are delivering on what we promise and are giving them simply the best holidays, moments and memories. As CEO, there is no better feeling than that.”

Iceland scenery

Which are the next regions that Trafalgar are looking to open up?

“This year we’ve got some unique trips to new destinations, we’ve introduced Ultimate Iceland, which is one I can’t wait to experience. I haven’t been, but I hear it is one of the most extraordinarily beautiful places in the world. We also created a trip, Celtic Filmscapes. Perfect for film fans, it reveals some of Ireland and Scotland’s most secret spots, used for filming hit films and shows including ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘James Bond’ Next year? Well you will just have to wait and see, but I assure you that we are always searching for new and exciting itineraries to whet the appetite of our Trafalgar travellers.”

Finally, where are you off to next?

“As a culture lover and an adrenalin junkie, Iceland is truly a dream destination for me. The product team has done an incredible job putting together the perfect itinerary to reveal the country in all its diverse beauty, from the otherworldly lava fields and glacier of Snæfellsnes to the magnificence of the Goðafoss waterfall. It’s a trip I’m unbelievably excited about, and I’m planning to visit as soon as time allows in 2016.”

Image credits: Portrait photograph of Gavin Tollman © Chalie Davies Photography. Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar © iStock / Xavier Arnau. The landscape of Iceland © iStock / Nikolay Pandev.

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