Running a family business is very much like holding a booklet of matches, which has individual matches joined together. So says The Travel Corporation (TTC) chief executive officer Brett Tollman.
“If you take one matchstick, it’s very easy to break. But, if you take all the matchsticks together, you can’t break them. Likewise, in family and also in business, it is always important to be united and to stand together,” he said in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
TTC is a multinational travel and leisure company with 25 brands across every continent. The company, which has been around for four generations, owns well-known brands like Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Contiki Holidays and Busabout.
The conglomerate also owns the luxury Red Carnation Collection of boutique hotels.
Tollman believes in making each of the brands distinct but working in synergy with one another.
“My father’s (the company chairman) philosophy is to keep the brands separate with their own identity, serving their own niche markets, rather than trying to merge them all and ending up with one brand without a distinct identity,” he said.
Tollman believes in the kaizen approach of doing business.
“We always look at new opportunities and acquisitions, but with so many brands, we already have plenty to focus on as we are. We believe in the Japanese kaizen way of continuous improvement – never rest on your laurels and never think that you’ve arrived,” he explained.
But, Tollman is not only all about business. He is the founder and director of The TreadRight Foundation. This non-profit organisation funds and supports projects on sustainable travel and tourism worldwide. It currently offers 50-plus projects in three areas: people, wildlife and planet.
TreadRight is a core sponsor of the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow annual awards, aimed at recognising best practices in sustainable tourism within the industry globally.
There is a great deal a traveller can do to contribute to tourism’s sustainability.
“(We need to be) more aware of our surroundings, planet, climate change and respecting others, and that is whether we’re in our own community or when we visit other communities,” he said.
Tollman added that travel is “an incredible gift” that opens our eyes to the unique cultures and natural beauty of the world.
“But with this gift comes a responsibility – to protect the world as we know it. The foundation’s tagline is to ‘make travel matter’. Our mission is to have a positive impact on the people and communities we visit, to protect wildlife and marine life, and to care for the planet,” he shared.
He added that it is important to be open-minded in wanting to understand and embrace new cultures and communities, and to be respectful.
Tollman travels about 250 days a year but home, in Los Angeles, California, is where his heart is. It is also where his wife and four children live.
Does he expect his children to follow his footsteps in running the business?
“My father asked my daughter (who is 18 now) about it six years ago and she said she’d think about it. I think that’s a very good response. I wouldn’t pressure them to join the business but I’m hopeful that at least one of them will want to,” he said.
Despite all that travelling around the world, Tollman revealed that he still has a bucket list of destinations to go to. Next on his list is Scandinavia.
“I haven’t been to the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Denmark). I would also like to visit Patagonia and Colombia in South America and Sri Lanka.
“There are also parts of Canada and the United States, especially in the midwest and south, that I’d like to see,” he shared.