Dear Advisor Partners,
Life works in very strange ways. I had two thoughts this past week. First, I cannot believe we are in the second half of 2021 already. This time last year, the months seem to drag on. 30 days felt like 300. This year, those same 30 days feels like 3 days. While there is still uncertainty in the world, the progress from 12 months ago cannot be denied. And with just over 5 months left in the year, I began thinking about plans for festive travel. I thought about where everyone seemed to want to be this holiday season. The usual suspects were back, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, etc. the one that jumped off the page to me was Egypt and Jordan, currently one of the top requests for festive travel in 2021.
This led to my second thought and explains why our exciting video this week is about Egypt and Jordan. I remembered driving down Interstate 95 towards the hotel where the USTOA conference was being held, in south Florida, me in the driver seat (obeying all speed limits for those that wonder), and in the passenger seat, our Egypt country manager Gamal. This was 2 years after the famous protests in Tahrir Square, with tourism in Egypt taking a harsh body blow as a result. Gamal looked tired, yet never broken, cautiously optimistic for better days ahead with all signs confirming those days were coming. There was a new Minister of Tourism and he had all these new ideas to break the mold of marketing Egypt. There was a renewed focus on archaeological discovery with excavations resuming and nationalistic pride of Egypt that rivaled pride in the country’s sports celebrities. This must all sound similar today. That conversation with Gamal was one I will never forget, the contents of which still teach me today. You see, we were talking about the need to revive tourism in Egypt and the new minister of tourism and how his focus was worth believing in, that he understood why it was so necessary. Beyond the 1 in 6 jobs that are tourism derived in Egypt, there was something more powerful to remember – tourism was and remains the largest employer of women in Egypt. Gamal and I talked about how this new at the time minister understood that. Then Gamal said something which I still think is pretty profound. As we talked about the level of understanding the world has about Egypt’s path, he said, “Ashish nobody will ever fully understand what Egypt is going through. They didn’t have their hand in the fire as we did.” He’s right.
So imagine my delight when I see festive 2021, and Egypt and Jordan are among the top destinations Big Five guests are looking for. Whether it’s due to the now famous ‘Mummy Parade’ back in April as the procession moved them to their new museum home, or the anticipation of the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, this surge in travel to Egypt was definitely a long time coming, and a welcome change. As our video says, we know what guests in this region will be doing on New Year’s Day. What will you be doing?
Check out our Egypt Days of History to get an idea of the trip you could be experiencing this festive season.
Dear Advisor Partners,
As many of you know I was born in East Africa. I’ve had the privilege of going on safaris since the age of four. 40 years later, I still get emotional going back to visit my childhood friends, being back in the bush, and every single visit, I always see something new. I love seeing areas I grew up around that were simple residential areas, now coming to life with new hotels, new restaurants, or new experiences. As I watched the video accompanying this blog, which I think is one of our best ever (our team is getting really good at these), I began thinking about all the changes over the last 40 years in my personal connections to Kenya.
For starters, my closest friend Sunil, who I have known since we were 3, went on to become a finalist on the Great Kenyan Bakeoff. How he went from riding bikes in the woods with me in Nairobi, to being a local celebrity will always amaze me. Having him still in my life really makes this four decade old friendship very special. Even more jaw dropping is seeing areas we explored as kids that were not developed, now becoming either residential areas or in one case, having a US embassy built where roads barely existed in the past. On a visit in 2019, we ended up at Mint Shack, a local restaurant that is now a favorite for me, for our entire team, and for those who were in Kenya with me on that trip and subsequent trips. The fact that it was built so close to where I was born brings back fond memories. In fact, one of our valued partners, Sandy Staples of Artistico Travel, just came back from Kenya with us where she was celebrating her husband’s birthday. Sunil, recognizing Sandy’s posts where she had tagged me, made it a point to go say hi and share a photograph. Special thanks by the way to Sandy for sharing some of her pictures for the video.
Now an African safari must include the great wildebeest migration of course, following the herds across the Mara into the Serengeti in Tanzania, understanding how something as simple as rain can have such a profound impact on the entire circle of life. From the simple dung beetle to the zebra, gazelle and wildebeest, to the mighty cats. What I love about East Africa, is that there is so much that you want to see even beyond this phenomenon. Where you stay depends directly on what time of year you visit. My favorite part is the safari by e-bikes, we sure didn’t have those 40 years ago! What we did have was the Sacred Singing Wells of the north, a must for anyone looking for pure cultural immersion.
The two areas I am most excited about are the hidden gem in the Mbulia Conservancy, deep in the heart of Tsavo where I was earlier this year, and the Kenyan Coast. They say Cardamom is one of the most common ingredients in cooking, it has an unmistakable flavor that you know exactly when to use. Cardamom House, newly opened on the Kenyan coast is just that. Growing up, this area was only known to local residents and fishermen. Seeing this historic property opening here will mean so much to the local community, representing a beacon of sustainability in a part of Kenya that sorely needed it. Just like all flavors lead back to Cardamom, all the conservancies in our new President’s Pick East Africa program lead back to Cardamom House.
Dear Advisor Partners,
Well, I’m back from Colombia, I think this is visit #1,546,485 for me, or it feels like it at this point. I fell in love with this country back in 2006 during my first visit and keep going back every year, sometimes multiple times. You know what drew me in? The fact that this country was willing to work harder, tell their story better and improve faster in order to show you that their past, while still a part of their identity, doesn’t define their future. The fact that this country is where it is today, is a modern miracle, one I am grateful to have a special bond with.
What made this visit extra special, was that I got to share it with an amazing travel advisor, Landa Mauriello Vernon of Largay Travel, and her son Andrew. They were exploring Bogota and Medellin on a custom Big Five journey she called Mommy and me. You see her son Andrew, who is one of the smartest 18 year-olds I have met, is about to head off to college, so this trip was a last hurrah before he begins this next chapter in his life. Their adventure started with graffiti and history in Bogota with our masterful guide, and modern day Indiana Jones, Leon. It elevated to paragliding and ATV explorations in Medellin, with our expert story teller guide, Juan. The story became really special in Communa 13 as this dynamic duo of mother and son met our guide Kabala, local celebrity in his own right, and someone I have the honor of calling a friend. Now, I met up with Landa and Andrew on their last few days while in Cartagena, where they were exploring the old city with Vicky, our resident guide, and real life energizer bunny! We met up for a farewell rum tasting and dinner with one of my closest friends, Abraham Dau of El Arsenal. (You will see Abe mentioned in a lot of our blogs, as he and Angie opened their hearts to help those in need around Cartagena, with their cause becoming an adopted Spirit of Big Five Foundation project). Picture this moment, Landa, Andrew, Abe, me, my wife, and my 2 young kids – all at a rum tasting, all having way too much fun together! We shared stories of Landa’s adventure in Bogota, which included a story involving her passport you will just have to ask her about. We laughed proudly at the courage she found to go paragliding in Medellin in order to impress Andrew. I was really proud that my children got to hear from someone else what their father really does for a living and about how real our commitment to sustainability is.
I have been in this business officially since 2002, and unofficially my whole life. In that time, this is the first time my family got to interact with travelers enjoying a Big Five journey while in country. It made me so happy to show my family, what I couldn’t property explain for 20 years when asked what the best part of my work was. It was made extra special by Landa sharing her experience out on the ocean helping us replant red mangroves as part of an on sustainability initiative we started in 2019, because my family got to do the same thing the next day. I remember seeing the posts on Landa’s Facebook page when she shared she was going to Colombia. The comments ranged from is it safe, to are you nuts and everything in between. Then I read her comments on her final post before flying home. and it ranged from “this trip looked amazing” to “wow what an incredible experience.” That is the transformation we see whenever anyone says they are going to Colombia because that is the power this country has in transforming one’s emotions. It is the same transformation that occurred to me in 2006, and the same that we now see on a regular basis.
I give special thanks to Landa and Andrew for letting me share their story in brief. If anyone wants to learn about her journey, you can find her contact information here.