Greetings from Malta!
I'm into my final hours in Europe before returning to the Motherland, well over a year since my last time back. Though the blast of cold air is going to be a bit of a shock to the system, I'm very much looking forward to seeing family and friends again.
I finally had some time this morning to dig into some of the recent responses to our New Member Questionnaire, as we've had a number of new members join us in recent weeks, and I've fallen a bit behind reading them with all the recent madness.
I called the questions 'hard-hitting' but perhaps serious is more appropriate - they are serious questions from serious travellers! And as we like to keep our communications transparent and straightforward here, I feel there are a number of good ones to address upfront. I've written out my answers here, but if you prefer to watch the video, I've addressed them in that as well:
First up is a question from Aimee in Montreal, who asks "I've seen a lot of news reports about spiking cases in Europe - how does this affect your planned trips there?"
I think this is on everyone's mind, and there's a few key parts to this. As you can imagine, we are following the situation as closely - if not moreso - than anyone regarding the pandemic, and there's no question that cases spiking anywhere is less than ideal. However, in this case, 'Europe' is a big word; every country has different protocols and precautions in place, and I think anyone keen on travelling is better served looking at their particular destinations versus the continent they exist in.
Portugal and Cyprus are not currently seeing spikes of the kind Germany and other countries are, and following my recent visits to both countries, I can say they both have quite robust protocols in place, so at this moment we need make no adjustments to our plans.
You can 100% rest assured we're watching carefully, and we'll make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate times.
Darren from Calgary wrote in to say "I’ve joined your community fairly recently and have been following your liveaways updates. There’s been a lot of changes including the price and I was wondering why?"
This too I think is fair game as a question, particularly if you've just joined our community and haven't travelled with us before. While last minute changes to our programs are never ideal, they sometimes happen, and in this case it was really about something that gets to the core of what Wheel & Anchor is all about.
In the same way that Anthony Bourdain was all about where food and travel meet, I'm all about where hospitality and travel meet, and to that end delivering a great hospitality experience is the most important factor in the trips we put together. It's having fun, it's enjoying the food, history, culture and so on, and it's doing so comfortably and at a certain standard of sophistication that I think befits our community.
We came up with the concept for our LiveAways right smack in the middle of the worst health crisis to hit the world in a century, and at a time where I was unable to go and do my usual due diligence with hotels and so on in our chosen LiveAways destinations. I was only able to do that in the past few weeks, and as mentioned in previous newsletters, some changes had to be made on the hotel and comfort side of things.
So, my apologies for all the changes and updates; it isn't the norm here and I certainly don't anticipate it to become that way, though very little is 'normal' in the wider context of travel these days. So while some changes may indeed happen, they will be only to ensure the kind of quality of experience I want to give our members when they travel with us.
Brad in Port Elgin also had a question on our prices, asking "Are your prices competitive with similar outings?"
This too I think is a good question, the short answer is yes - I have a firm commitment that we deliver value on our programs to our community. A slightly longer answer is that it's tough to compare apples to apples in the travel industry - you can walk into any travel industry or look online for trips to the same destination, but it's pretty difficult to compare the experiences directly.
On this front, our trips are designed for smaller groups than nearly every other group travel operator out there as I feel very strongly that large groups nearly always offer an inferior, less intimate experience. Smaller groups are less 'efficient' in a pricing context for transportation, hotel rates, and so on, but I absolutely think it's worth it to not be part of a flag-toting tour group travelling on a packed coach (particularly these days).
We also handpick hotels and restaurants, avoiding 'group-tour designated' ones for the same reasons - I just don't think they deliver the kind of hospitality standard we're committed to.
Related to this is a question from Rosalind in Almonte, who asks "How long have you been creating and guiding tours?"
I've been in the travel business for over 30 years, beginning almost right after graduating from school for hospitality in Austria, when I began organizing ski trips for Canadians to Europe. In the following decades I put together trips for some of Canada's largest group travel companies, brought groups of travellers to nearly every continent, and have been to nearly 90 countries myself. So while Wheel & Anchor is a few months shy of its 5th birthday, there's a few years of experience behind her 🙂
I was going to end this here, but as I wrap this up I've received several emails about this new variant discovered in South Africa, so I'll briefly comment on that.
Without question, it's not the news we want to get. However, it's extremely new and the experts know very little about it, let alone any of us. To that end it simply exists as incomplete information, and thus we'll wait before responding in any big way.
I have long advocated against giving into fear, whether from our own minds or from the media, and I will once again state the case here. Your intentions and attention are both powerful and valuable - ask Google, Facebook, and the like - so stay informed as you need to, but don't get sucked into the spirals that exploit fear for profit.
I think to the degree that our thoughts impact and create our reality, we can choose to let ours be informed by either our dreams or our devices - and I will forever choose the former. I can't say now how it will turn out, but for sure we'll be keeping an eye on it.
Stay safe, stay positive, and stay in touch - I'm grateful to have on you with us on this crazy ride.