This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).
Johann BEUKES is from South Africa and worked as an architect for 40 years before deciding to do a lateral move into the travel business. He is a keen learner through TRAVEL experiences and is the CEO of TRAVELinform & TRAVELwithus. I caught up with him by email earlier this week before he was heading to Germany.
Vagobond: You spent forty years as an architect – while some might say you’ve left that profession behind – it seems to me that you are still designing and building with TRAVELinform –
Johann Beukes: A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of an enriched heart. An architect-at-heart has to have a soul, a spirit and a passion for people. Exactly the same principles apply to a traveller-at heart.
TRAVELinform is a unique platform where one can share one’s passion for travel: many wonderful human true to life travel stories as well as travel photography to create the specific mood. And a growing family of equally enthusiastic members, sharing their experiences with one another on the social networking forum.
Vagobond: What made you decide to change gears? Can you tell us a bit of the journey that took you from architecture and into travel?
Various joint-replacement operations of most of my major joints forced me to bid my first love, practicing architecture, farewell. Fortunately I initiated a travel agency some 15 years ago; first as a hobby while travelling as an architect to some 80 Countries, which has now turned into a fulltime profession: the privilege of sharing ones travel joys with other people with a similar passion for exploring the unknown.
Vagobond:I’ve heard it said that travel is a series of near misses – can you share a harrowing tale from your travels?
Johann Beukes: As student, I joined a friend from Namibia on a Namib Desert excursion: our vehicle got stuck in the wilderness between kilometres of dunes. Luckily a helicopter search team discovered us after three days without water and food. No wonder it is also known as the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.
A few years ago I went with only the pilot on a ski-plane scenic flight of Mount Denali in Alaska; as keen photographer I convinced the pilot to land at a high altitude on a solitary glacier. With me in my photographic spell, we slightly overstayed our time. The severe cold quickly fixed the skis to the ice. Normally the passenger would move the ski-base while the pilot is accelerating the propeller. This time however, we had to swop roles, due to my disability to assist with the physical manoeuvre. We managed to escape the ice-trap and I almost deserved my wings!
Vagobond: How is TRAVELinform different from the many other travel sites and networks out there? What is your vision for it in the future?
Johann Beukes: I think there is no replacement to first-hand experience; anybody browsing through the multitude of country galleries of stories and photos will soon share my passion.
We have two TRAVEL sites i.e. TRAVELinform as a free Travel Information and Social Networking site, and TRAVELwithus, the unique, dedicated consultant-connected Travel, which will be launched during April this year.
On TRAVELinform we do not sell anything; we believe that through this we will eventually build a platform where people will trust our impartiality with no strings attached. Should they be interested in packages and travel-related products, TRAVELwithus will ensure a trust-worthy reputation.
TRAVELinform has the social networking forum, the unique travel stories and photo galleries, Travel-related links, sanction of many a country’s Tourism Boards. It has been visited by viewers, representing some 100 Countries and the average time spent on the site is 5 minutes at a time; indicating the popular interest.
Johann Beukes: I believe that TRAVEL will become the most important industry world-wide; interaction between customer and professional consultant will move away from traditional consultancy selling air-tickets first, followed by other ancillary sales.
All basic commodities like air, car and bed will be done online by more and more, IT generation customers. If your destination knowledge, input and value as Travel Consultant are not omissible, you will soon become extinct.
The sooner the high street agency understands the many challenges online travel agencies are offering, the more secure their future will be.
Vagobond: Travel has changed in some massive ways over our lifetimes- what are some of the positives and negatives you can see in these changes?
Johann Beukes: Customers have become absolute knowledgeable on their Travel expectations and needs. Guessing and selling products without first-hand knowledge and expertise cannot succeed. For this reason consultants should act pro-actively and professionally: providing a service that will address all aspects of personalised travel.
The positive side is that a far wider choice of options of destinations exist; however, on the negative side is the fact that the exclusiveness of destinations will disappear: destinations off the beaten track will unfortunately become less and less available.
Vagobond: Has travel become too easy?
Johann Beukes: My honest opinion is that travel has become a hugely complex and high-risk service industry.
Only the real Travel PROFESSIONALS will survive. Through globalisation everybody becomes a traveller in some or other way. It has become very easy to travel today.
Vagobond: What makes great travel writing?
Johann Beukes: Experience the heart of a country through the eyes of ordinary people;
original, warm and descriptive words will enhance, almost like a picture taken at a scene; though it should always be factual correct; add passion to the most simple theme and people will experience travel through your eyes.
Vagobond: What makes a great travel writer?
Johann Beukes: A passionate honest story teller; look for stories off the beaten track, among ordinary people.
Vagobond: In terms of press trips with Tourism Boards – do you think there is a magic formula for landing them?
Johann Beukes: Personally, I do not have a problem with press trips organised by Tourism Boards to promote their country. As long as the travel writers act as true travellers and not tourists: a Traveller will always shows appreciation and respect the diversity of the travelled world and the different cultures of its people, whereas a tourist demands attention to their personal needs only.
Vagobond: How do you prepare for a trip?
Johann Beukes: My time is always limited and good planning of time spent is therefore crucial. Through my LinkedIn network, make first-hand contact with connections within the country, communicate my ideas and proposed itinerary; clearly define my objectives of experiencing the country as a traveller-at-heart and not as an insensitive tourist. Many of my travel stories are rooted in the origins of ordinary people.
Vagobond: Can you share three travel tips that Vagobond readers may not have heard?
Johann Beukes: Communicate with the taxi-driver, if local, or the receptionist at the hotel and get first hand local tips of quieter times at tourist traps, eating spots supported by locals etc.
Do a proper research on all to do and see well in advance, in order that you can orientate yourself easily once at the destination; time is always limited.
Rather try and stay in the original old town area and enjoy the real atmosphere once all the tourists have left.
Vagobond: As someone who travels a lot, I realize how hard it is to answer questions about best, favourite etc. Still, having seen more than 75 countries – which 3 would you most like to go back and visit?
Johann Beukes: Three totally different destinations:
Romania; especially Transylvania, due to the interesting culture and history;
Alaska, because of the unequalled scenic beauty of its landscape, from south to north;
Peru, truly a country with wonderful people; although poverty prevails, they assist each other and where the role of the family is very important.
Vagobond: Do you also have a bucket list of places still to visit?
Johann Beukes: High on my list is an exclusive adventure cruise on board the VIC of the Spitsbergen Arctic zone; for its incredible photographic opportunities.
Then I would still want to travel to Tibet, especially the Shigatse and Nyingtri mountainous areas to stay some time and really meditate within the rural regions; maybe do some new travel writing.