Like parents everywhere, one of the (hopeful) pleasures of the end of the summer term is getting to read our children’s school reports. And, thankfully(!), our two girls came home with fantastic reports to send us off into the summer break with. As we’re roughly halfway through the year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on how Holiday Architects’ report card would read. So, let’s look back on what we’ve achieved so far in 2023, and what we hope to accomplish over the rest of the year and into 2024.
The report headline? This six-month period has been amongst the most fun and rewarding periods I’ve had since launching the business back in 2010.
Subject one: Client feedback
Let’s start with the most important grade of all – feedback from you, our clients. Our prime purpose has always been (and will always be), sending you away on holidays and bringing you back full of happy, meaningful memories. And, it’s all positive news there, with the first half of 2023 being our most successful ever. This is this reflected in our wonderful Trustpilot feedback (do head over and have a look) as well as the strong and growing number of repeat clients who choose to come back to us time and again, trusting us with their holidays.
What’s more, (shameless plug), we’ve been nominated for both the Wanderlust Readers Travel Awards and the British Travel Awards this year – basically like the Grammys of the travel industry. The winners are decided by you, so, if you’ve had a great experience with us, we’d hugely appreciate your vote. We’ve been shortlisted for a Wanderlust Award every year since 2015, and, having won gold on a couple of occasions, I’d be so proud if we could extend that streak because it’s the very least the team deserves for their amazing hard work. A huge thank you in advance for your support.
(Both only take moments, and there are some brilliant prizes up for grabs, too.)
Subject two: Popular destinations
The first half of this year saw some interesting trends emerge in where you love to travel. The Middle East and northern Africa have proved very popular so far, with Jordan, Oman, and Morocco all making it into our top six most popular destinations. Elsewhere around the world, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Malaysia and Borneo are all riding high in the charts.
As this is a report card, we should acknowledge areas where there’s room for improvement. Sri Lanka has had a lean spell (compared with its own usual high standards), but we’re hopeful that the tides are turning in the right direction for the country, with a real rise in popularity over the last few weeks. And this is deservedly so: our Rebecca was there just last month (for her second visit of the year!), and those of you who have seen the amazing pictures and videos from her trips on social media, will know that she had the most amazing time.
Similarly, South Africa has seen a slide in popularity but is also showing signs of a recovery in recent weeks. I took my whole family on holiday there in February and the trip was such a success that we booked to return in October before we’d even flown home! I have a huge soft spot for South Africa and know from personal experience that you should take the negative press with a pinch of salt. It’s a stunningly varied country, and, with a current exchange rate of R24 to £1, it’s also insanely good value. I can’t think of many places in the world where I can take the whole family out for a meal for £25, or where an Uber from one side of the city to the other only sets you back a fiver. I’d advocate adding South Africa to your bucket list!
Subject three: Team travels
My holiday tales neatly segue into our other team’s travels. We’ve spent the first half of the year eagerly visiting our various destinations to brush up our knowledge and unearth those quirky experiences that really add interest and meaning to a holiday. As mentioned, Rebecca returned to her beloved Sri Lanka, plus, elsewhere on the team: Lisa JS has been east exploring Vietnam and Cambodia, Cat has trekked with the gorillas in Uganda, Lou has set sail around the Galapagos Islands, Jane and Lisa (both South African) returned to SA to really polish and fine-tune their knowledge, and Fenton is in Japan as I write this, checking out the lesser-known region of Tohoku (an excellent alternative to the very heavily trodden tourist circuit).
Subject four: Travel for good
Any travel company not aware of its impact on the world would get a fail on their report card. Here at HA, this is an area we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about, as well as putting concrete actions in place. We all believe, and if you’re reading this article, you probably do too, that travel is hugely enriching. Of course, there’s a very personal element to it: we want to relax, we want to explore, and we really value the chance to step out of our daily lives and into something completely different for a couple of weeks. But, I believe it’s about much more than that. Most of our destinations are in the developing world, where tourism plays a huge role in lifting people out of poverty. And wherever you go, travel broadens not only our horizons but also the horizons of those we meet in our host communities. I believe that a world where we all understand a bit more about each other, work to form genuine connections and take the time to learn from one another, will ultimately be a more peaceful and prosperous one. That is the power of travel.
However, we also know we must acknowledge the negative impacts of travel and do what we can to mitigate these as much as possible. This year, we’ve partnered with carbon offsetting specialists, Path Net Zero, to work towards doing just that. Carbon offsetting is often, quite rightly in many instances, criticised, so this partnership was not a decision we took lightly. PNZ trade their carbon through The Gold Standard – a highly credible exchange firm – allowing us to select specific projects to support, all of which have an immediate impact on CO2 emissions (unlike tree planting, where each tree takes an average of 10-20 years to reach peak carbon storage stage). We’re currently supporting a Ugandan initiative, replacing wood-burning stoves with solar-powered ones. Wood harvest for domestic cooking and boiling water is one of the major causes of deforestation in Uganda, and this burning of wood not only damages the environment, but human health, too. So, this project ensures fewer trees are cut down, meaning less CO2 is released and more CO2 retained, plus, there is a second-order effect where the women and children, who previously would have walked miles to fell and fetch the wood, now have that time to devote to more beneficial purposes. The project is working to benefit the environment and the lives of the local people, hand in hand.
This collaboration was driven by Emma, our Sustainability Lead, who has also been working with other companies (including our sister company, Experience Travel Group) to identify smaller hotels in Vietnam with strong sustainability credentials and focus. As these are hotels that don’t necessarily have the marketing budget or reach to make a lot of noise, we want to do our bit to shout about them. In doing so, we hope to promote best practice and encourage the whole supply chain (including our competitors!) to seek out and work with these forward-thinking businesses.
Subject five: Local presence
The final part of our report card looks at our local impact. For the last few years, we’ve been a remote-first company, with the team choosing where they want to work day-to-day, whilst all getting together once a month in Cheltenham. However, we are still a Cheltenham business: this is where we have our headquarters, it’s where many of us live, and it’s where our company roots are firmly embedded. So, we were delighted to have been shortlisted for some local business awards. Circle2Success is a South-West regional networking organisation with lots of great members (many of whom are now good friends!), and we were shortlisted for their Employer of the Year award. We lost out on the night to a very strong contender, but to have made it into the top five from more than 200 entries was kudos enough for me! We’ve also been shortlisted by a fantastic local media company, SoGlos, for their Best Place to Work and Small Business of the Year awards, which will be announced on Thursday 19th October – keep your fingers crossed for us!