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‘People appreciate travel is even more precious’: Original Travel's Tom Barber

Co-founder and director of Original Travel Tom Barber talks about a boom in sabbaticals, why he thinks people will ‘travel less, but better’ and how operators will have to think of ever more ways to improve “the surround sound of their clients’ trips” 


It may seem a counterintuitive thing for a director of a travel business to say, but Tom Barber is telling his clients to go away less.


“I was watching something with Michael Palin on TV during lockdown and he was asked what he thought would be some of the ways things would be different – he said "people will travel better", and that got me thinking about the concept too,” said Barber, during the latest session of In Conversation With... TTG Luxury.


“I’d like to think that people will travel less, and travel better, and we have had some interesting times coming up with really geeky train hacks for example, so you could travel all across Europe by train and stay at great places along the way,” he explained.


He also says the industry should expect more people to be searching for sabbaticals, now they’ve had this period of reflection.


“They’re going to be huge now – one thing that sometimes stopped families from doing them, was the worry over education, but now we’ve seen how children can be schooled online, and there’s an incredible education to be had generally from travel anyway,” he predicted.


The tour operator, which was founded by Barber with two friends 17 years ago, has hunkered down like any business during the pandemic and in the interview, he said: “Everything has changed. I’d be surprised if anyone went back to having all their staff back in an office 9-5. We’re free of the curse of the pointless meeting! But – for now, it’s a case of gritting our teeth, hibernating and seeing this through.”


He welcomed some of the chancellor’s measures announced last week in support of some businesses, such as an extension in lower rates of VAT, but said more should be done broadly to support tourism.


“Having had almost zero coming in as a sector, we absolutely deserve and need more attention. But it’s not just us in the UK, it’s the millions – the 1 in 10 globally – who work in tourism who need support; this is a serious concern for everyone.”


• In Conversation With... TTG Luxury is an ongoing series of interviews, covering a range of sectors within luxury and with speakers from around the world. To watch the first edition with chair of Metropolitan Touring Roque Sevilla, click here.


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