Travel with a Purpose
“Instead of Fly and Flop, my travel mantra is Stop and Sop,” says Ottawa-based Sheila Gallant-Halloran. “Sop up the culture and experience, immersing yourself wherever you are.”
Gallant-Halloran, a travel advisor for 12 years, has long championed sustainable tourism, and feels strongly that we can have a trip of a lifetime while also making a positive impact on the local communities and places. She often speaks about sustainable tourism practices – most recently, to 70 students at the University of Ottawa with a “Geography of Tourism” course and at an Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City event on “Sense of Place”– and also hosts Twitter chats on the subject. Gallant-Halloran invited Big Five Tours’ Ashish Sanghrajka to her daughter’s school to talk about sustainable tourism, and arranged for them both to be interviewed on TV in Ottawa about why it matters.
The United Nations declared 2017 as the Year of Sustainability, in large part due to the increase in the amount of travelers exploring the world: In 1950, there were 25 million tourists around the world. In 2016, there were 1.2 billion tourists, or someone traveling abroad. That presents a huge opportunity, but also a threat if not managed well – education is key.
We talked to Gallant-Halloran about sustainable travel trends, where to go in 2018, and how her clients respond to sustainable tourism.
Do your clients know about and ask for sustainable resorts and tour operators?
It’s changing. I certainly have some clients who ask for The Brando in French Polynesia or Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn because they know what these properties have done in terms of sustainability. When you speak to a client, you learn what’s important to them. Say they’re considering a safari. It’s not necessarily for the sustainable tourism reasons, but when you talk about why they want to go on safari, it’s kind of the same thing and that often brings us to a sustainable tourism discussion. Our partners who help us create dream trips, like Big Five, say the vast majority of their clients want to see an element of sustainability. Lindblad Expeditions is another company that cares deeply about protecting the planet.
I used to be an actuary, so I focused on return on investment, but now I focus on “Return on Life” – I first heard that phrase from Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch, and it has really resonated with me. I dealt a lot with conventional return on investment (ROI) before, and I deal hourly with Return on Life (ROL) now. It’s as if I went from being a true actuary to a happiness actuary! It helps focus my discussions with clients too, as I leverage my business skills, training, and attention to detail to ensure they invest their vacation time and dollars wisely. Your most precious asset is your time with your family, and I help safeguard that.
What are some travel trends you’re seeing?
A sense of place permeates everything in travel. People are paying more attention to things and want to truly experience where they are. If I’m going to a hotel or tented camp in Africa, I don’t want to wake up and think I’m still in Ottawa. I want to be totally immersed in a destination, whether it’s Vienna, Cartagena, or the Great Barrier Reef. Authentic, experiential, and adventure travel go hand in hand.
I’m finding there’s more interest in responsible vacations now; clients have a commitment to the environment. My family went to Hawaii and stayed at The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua last spring, where they have a partnership to help guests explore Maui’s natural treasures and culture with Jean-Michel Cousteau. I was in Australia in April, where Lizard Island resort reminds guests to take only photos and leave only footprints as part of their educational program about the Great Barrier Reef. More hotels are embracing this environmental responsibility and it is rewarded by guests booking more rooms. And Virtuoso advisors curate these remarkable, rewarding experiences for their clients.
But you can’t just take the words “sustainable tourism” and plunk it on your website – green-washing is a real thing. We work to ask partners for proof. Are they investing in these practices? Can they provide concrete examples?
What are some tour operators that get it right?
Lindblad Expeditions, Big Five Tours & Expeditions, and Natural Habitat Adventures all do things right. I love working with these leaders in sustainable tourism, and they’ve all won Virtuoso awards for this work. Ashish Sanghrajka, the president of Big Five, and I work together on many of my clients’ experiences. We sent one family to Costa Rica. The mom woke up the first morning in the jungle completely out of her comfort zone – her kids helped her relax, and the family went on to have a bucket list adventure that included white water rafting to their hotel.
Do you travel with your family?
The actuary in me always focuses on numbers, and return. If you have a finite number of family vacations that are possible, I encourage my family and my clients’ families to consider what are you going to do and how can you experience the world together? You only have a certain number of weeks or days with your children over the course of 18 years – that’s 252 days, if you have 2 weeks a year. How will you spend that precious time? How will you safeguard your most fragile asset – your vacation time? What’s going to help you raise your children so they can go on and change the world? I took my eldest daughter through Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena in Colombia when she was 14. I’m taking my younger daughter to the Amazon next spring when she’s 12 so she can see the “lungs of the planet.” These experiences help form them.
Tell us three “dream trip” destinations.
Galápagos Islands: It’s absolutely incredible to walk where Darwin walked, and to experience how nature, wildlife, and vegetation has adapted to the environment. To see wildlife that has no fear of humans, because it has no predators, and to stand amidst sea lions, iguanas, and red- and blue-footed boobies is the experience of a lifetime.
The Great Barrier Reef for its snorkeling and amazing natural beauty: Flying over the reef to Lizard Island Resort is a spectacular hour-long plane ride – I had no idea of the scope and beauty of the living reef until I experienced it from the sky. Walking, sailing, and snorkeling on it and learning the secrets of its depths from local experts was amazing.
A cruise around Newfoundland: I’m a former Newfoundlander, so I know the beauty of the island intimately. But circumnavigating it on a cruise with Lindblad Expeditions gave me a greater appreciation of island’s nature and scientific background. It was so cool to hear a talk by a naturalist and historian about the Vikings one night, and then have those on-board experts walk with me through L’Anse aux Meadows the next day to interpret what I was seeing. I’m also very proud of Fogo Island Inn in my home province, and think they do a magnificent job on combining the history, geography, and beauty of Newfoundland in their five-star resort.
Top photo: Darwin Bay in the Galápagos. All photos courtesy of Sheila Gallant-Halloran.