Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato (the award-winning makers of personalised luxury trips), talks about how his company, and the wider world of travel, stayed strong through 2020. He also shares a glimpse of how and where we’ll be travelling in the year ahead.
(Main image courtesy of Aman Resorts – Amangiri)
Coronavirus changed the way we travel in 2020. Will we go back to ‘normal’ after the vaccine, or have we — as travellers — been changed for good?
Some things, for sure, will go back to ‘normal’. Our appetite for travel, I believe that is undiminished, and has perhaps even accelerated. Especially after so many months of lockdown. But other things have changed, or are going to change. The search for remoteness, of places that are socially distanced by design. We’ll see people making up for lost trips and lost time, and making sure that every trip really counts. It’s almost as if we’ve pressed ‘reset’ on what it means to travel, remembering its necessity, its value. We have a beginners’ mind again, and in the best possible way.
“The search for remoteness, of places that are socially distanced by design.”
It’s natural that people’s confidence has been knocked. How are you helping travellers to get it back?
The rules and restrictions were constantly changing throughout 2020, they were in flux. People wanted to get away, but often that risked booking and losing your money when borders that were open suddenly closed. We actually spent a lot of time thinking about these pressure points and what we could do. We created a thing called State of Flex. It meant that travellers wouldn’t lose their money should they cancel or postpone their trips, for whatever reason. It gave people that flexibility, that confidence, back. We also created a whole raft of new trips that were focused on bubbles and travel corridors, on remoteness and the great outdoors. Private villa rentals, private islands, distance, all of that. So, we made people feel confident and comfortable to hit the road.
Lockdown meant that we had to look closer to home – to shorter trips and our own shores. Have travellers discovered a new-found appreciation for the world at their feet
Definitely. As soon as the borders closed, every traveller among us – from people at Black Tomato to friends and clients – started pulling out maps of their local areas, their country. And all of us discovered places we’d always meant to visit but had never found the time. Suddenly we were talking excitedly about Dartmoor, the Grand Canyon, the Kent Weald, the coastlines of New England. We actually created trips specifically serving this. With The Great American View we took clients on immersive journeys through iconic American landscapes. And I think people have found something that resonates here, in their own back gardens. I think all of us can better describe now the square mile around us than we’ve ever been able to before.
“We’ve been talking a lot about going ‘low and slow’, travelling for the journey as well as the destination.”
In your view, what’s going to be the biggest travel trend next year
Honestly, I think we’re going to take our time to take things in. We’ve been talking a lot about going ‘low and slow’, travelling for the journey as well as the destination. Snaking through the mountains by train, taking a bike, hiking between destinations. Flying is still going to get us where we want to go, but I believe we’ll see fewer connecting flights when we embark on longer trips. We’ll be looking at the world from the ground, and really spooling out the days, absorbing it.
And what’s going to be the most subtle or unexpected trend – the wild card.
It’s not so much a wild card as a change in emphasis, but I really think that travellers are coming back to relying on travel advisors. When people began to use the internet to plan travel, the booking site seemed to reign supreme. But a booking site is just that, and it doesn’t ultimately help you to navigate the world. It’s not there at your elbow. It’s not an expert. This year past, people have really valued the insight, humanity, and expertise that a real travel expert brings. And this is here to stay. A travel expert can help you travel in difficult times, but they’re also there to help you craft something unique and personal in the ‘good’ times.
Which destinations are going to resonate the most next year, and why?
Well, there are going to be places we want to see and can’t get to. There’ll still be restrictions. So, travellers are going to really get excited about places that are actually ‘open’, and about places that have remoteness and wide-open spaces. We’ve been really excited by Argentina and Peru. These are vast, dramatic countries with plenty of landscape to spare. There’s Morocco, not least the Atlas Mountains and the Agafay Desert. Iceland, of course, and – a bit more secretly – Norway’s Lofoten Islands.
And can you share your secret tip for next year – somewhere entirely new, unconsidered, or different?
We’ve been talking a lot about Uruguay. Typically, Argentina has always overshadowed its neighbour, but it is really coming into its own. We’ve even created a brand new ‘itinerary’ focused on it, though – as ever – it’s entirely adaptable. The highlights include the bohemian fishing villages of Jose Ignacio, the ranches and estancias of the grasslands, the incredibly beautiful, tumbling coast. Fire-pits and polo, terraces and wine tours. There’s a lot of culture and a lot of untapped wilderness. It’s becoming a new fast favourite.
Places are important, but so are experiences. What kinds of things will travellers be seeking out now that a vaccine is in sight?
Quite rightly, people are going to want to make up for all the things they missed. So it’ll be about big moments, unusual encounters. We’ve had a lot of travellers asking about the north of Iceland, and an experience we’ve created where you can swim with humpback whales beneath the midnight sun. Others are curious about the mountain gorillas of Rwanda (it’s a truly epic trek). Meeting the reindeer herders of Mongolia and sailing down the Nile in a historic Dahabiya – a boat that’s been in use by aristocrats for centuries. This is the kind of ‘big ticket’ stuff that people really want to invest in.
Finally, if you could choose any Globe-Trotter case for your first 2021 escape, which one would you choose – and where are you headed?
I’ve admired Globe-Trotter ever since I started out in travel. No question. For me, the cases encapsulate the history and glamour of what it means to go away, to see the world. So, I’d have to choose something classic, like the Centenary Carry-On in green or navy. But it’s a difficult choice! As for where I’m going, that’s also difficult. But I’ve always held a flame for Puglia. It’s Italy at its most authentic and its most easy-going. I’d stay at the iconic Borgo Egnazia, as I always have. That’s where I’ll be taking my Globe-Trotter first.
Photo credits: Black Tomato