To celebrate Tucan Travel’s 27th Birthday, Jess Millett sat down with Matt Gannan, CEO of Tucan Travel.
What made you get in to travel? My parents were great travellers. They travelled around the world on their honeymoon. When I was working on a fishing boat in 1986, I asked my parents to book me a holiday and they booked me a trip from Kathmandu to London and that’s how I got started in travel.
Why Kathmandu to London? Because it was an adventurous trip that they had done themselves and one of the girls working in the travel agent, a girl named Rosie, was an ex tour leader and had done that tour and said I would find it fantastic.
It was during that trip, in Istanbul, that I quit my job back in Australia working on the fishing boats and then I got a job working for the tour operator of the tour I was on.
How long was the trip? It was seven weeks. It was just a short trip through Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, back to Greece and Italy, and then across Western Europe to London
Do you have any stories from that trip? It was twenty seven years ago. It’s all a bit vague. I actually went with one of my friends from the fishing boats and before the trip we went cruising around Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal on motorbike. We trekked the Annapurna Trek, a nine day trek which we did in seven days. It was a great trip. There were 20 of us on the tour and we broke down everywhere. We had to push the bus a couple of times and as I was a mechanic I had to help fix the truck. We saw great sights. We went to Kashmir. In those days you could fly up and we spent a great couple of days on the houseboats there. You can’t do that now. It was great to be able to go to some of those places when it was still safe to do so.
Which is the favourite country you have travelled to and why? I have always loved Colombia because when you travel up through the Andes it is very interesting. There is lots of mountains and fascinating local cultures but it’s all quite dry and arid down in Peru, Argentina and Chile. When you get to Colombia it is just green and lush. You have jungles, mountains and ancient ruins. The people are very friendly and then you have the beaches around Cartagena like Tayrona National Park and the great trek to Ciudad Perdida.
When did you go? I went in 1990 initially, backpacking and then I led tours through there after that
What destinations are still on your bucket list? I think I have only done around 55 countries. I guess the main ones I haven’t covered which I want to see someday are Central Asia, through all the ‘Stans. I have done Pakistan but the countries along the Silk Road would be interesting and West Africa. I would love to go across some of those countries. I didn’t get to do that during my Africa Overlanding days. Of course there are lots of other countries in between which I haven’t been to.
Has your style of travel changed over time? It has changed. When I was backpacking in my twenties, I was staying in cheap hotels but even today I am still happy to do that. I’m quite happy sleeping in a tent, a hostel or a luxury five star hotel. I can do either style from one trip to the next. It’s good to have some variety. For example next month, I am going to India to do some trekking. We will be sleeping in tents for a week, trekking during the day. At the end of the trip we will be staying in a nice 4* beach resort. You get to meet lots of different types of people that way too.
Would you encourage your kids to do the same trips that you did? Absolutely.
When is the best age to start travelling? I think it is important to start travelling young and see how other people live and realise that the little bubble which we live in is not life in general. I didn’t leave Australia until I was 16 and that was a holiday to Fiji that we went on. We had seen a lot of Australia as kids by driving around but I think there is a big advantage, especially in the UK where you can start travelling short haul quite easily.
Where is one of the first places you will take your sons when they reach an age where they can experience the kind of travel we do? I would love to take them on safari in Africa to see all the wildlife. My youngest son, Tom wants do a tour on our overland truck named after him.
Tell us about the beginnings of Tucan Travel. When Pip and Liliana founded it, Pip was a Tour Leader for a Canadian company on a bus that used to break down a lot until one day it finally had the break-down of all break downs and they had to abandon the bus and finish the tour on public transport. All the passengers had such a great time on the local transport that Pip decided to set up his own company which was going to run local transport trips in South America. In 1987, once they had set that up, the first trip left Santa Fe de Bogotá in Colombia as the first La Gran Aventura which finished in Rio.
Pip then met Liliana in Colombia, married her in Panama and she travelled on the tours too.
How did you get involved with them? I was running my own business doing Overland Tours in South America and I had met Pip once in London. We met up again in Bristol at a Travel Show. We got talking and went out for a drink. We were big rivals but we got on really well. We were surprised at that. A couple of weeks later we decided to join our companies together and keep the name Tucan Travel. That was in 1997 when I joined up and business grew from there.
Where would you like to see Tucan Travel be in 10 years’ time? I hope it will become even more successful. I would like to see it as a bigger company retaining the foundations which it was built on. I still want it to be a small friendly company which is as passionate about travel. The main aim should still be proving a fantastic trip worldwide. I don’t want us to become too big and impersonal.
Where would you like us to branch out in to? I would love to expand in to the Silk Road and in to Russia and China and maybe even West Africa though tours there are quite difficult countries to run as well as a lot less popular.
Each of our trucks is named after someone who helped build Tucan Travel in to what the company is today. Do you have a favourite truck? It would have to be the two trucks named after my sons. Jack was the first Mercedes Benz truck. It was the first built of five in South America. It is quite special to me. When we built trucks in Africa, Tom was the first truck named and built. They being the first trucks, it was quite experimental.
Do you have any names in mind for future trucks? New trucks will probably be named after family members and famous crew that have left. We have some trucks that were named after members of the team like Sue, Peeky, Moose and most of the others are named after family members of Pip, Liliana and myself.
About the Author: Jess is Communications Coordinator for Tucan Travel. She has travelled independently and on group tours through Central America, Africa, North America, Israel and Europe. You can find her on Google+ or read her other contributions here.