Jennie Carr of Silver Travel Advisor talks to Noel Josephides of Sunvil Holidays about some small islands and sustainable tourism.
Noel Josephides is a bit of a legend, not only has he been the figurehead of Sunvil Holidays since 1973, he has been Chairman of AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) and still sits on their board and that of ABTA, he has a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Guild of Travel Writers and is currently Chairman of The Travel Foundation, a charity which works to help the UK overseas tourism industry become more sustainable, so greener, better for the environment and supportive of the local communities visited.
We talked about his beginnings in Cyprus selling property, where Noel quickly realised it was far more lucrative to fill the properties with tourists and thus self-catering holidays in Cyprus began. Sadly it all ground to halt during the war in 1974, so new destinations were sought and found in Greece, Italy and Portugal. In 1991 Namibia entered the portfolio, and was later joined by Botswana and Zambia. However, I wanted to find out more about Sunvil Discovery, which features unexpected countries, The Azores, Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands, to name a few.
What do I know about the Azores? Precious little, they’re Portuguese, volcanic and militarily important for NATO. All true, Noel assured me. They are also about 1500 km directly west of Lisbon bang in the middle of the Atlantic and you can fly non-stop from the UK. There is no glitzy accommodation, no 5-star hotels, no timeshares, and it’s not like Maderia. I’m waiting … people visit for walking and the scenery, dramatic, rugged and beautiful. The plants and flowers are amazing, with a gentle 1950s, Enid Blyton way of life. Noel believes it would have been the best place ever to film The Hobbit, much nearer than New Zealand. The food is good as agriculture is vital to the economy, especially cheese and wine. There are plenty of restaurants and 4* hotels, things are looking up here. In fact, it’s beginning to sound pretty perfect as an unspoilt, interesting destination, and if you like geography, geology and a hike, (I do actually) what could be better? Noel, can you fix it for me?
Scandinavia is seen as the last real wilderness in Europe, with open spaces, clean air and nature in abundance, Vikings too probably, if you look closely! The Faroe Islands, which Sunvil Discovery features, are actually part of Denmark, totally stunning and culturally unique, situated between Iceland and the Shetlands. There are 18 islands, linked by 3 bridges and many tunnels. I have visions of 6th century Irish monks scurrying, head down, habits buffeted in the wind, diving down holes feet first, hoping not to get stuck like Pooh Bear. Noel recommends bird watching, spectacular boat excursions for whale watching and vertiginous cliff walks. It’s a great place for rhubarb and potatoes, lots of sheep and a language that’s close to Old Norse. The best time to visit is June to September, with direct flights from the UK.
Noel talked about the future of travel. He believes that rising fuel costs are likely to keep travellers closer to home, with long-haul destinations becoming once again a serious luxury. Recently the pound has strengthened against the euro, so trips to Europe are increasing and becoming better priced. Noel’s big beef is the way all-inclusive hotels and resorts do little to sustain local communities, and can in fact harm them. He would encourage all tourists to venture out and experience the real country around them, as well as supporting local restaurants and businesses. Conversely, he also points out that tourists will be demanding exceptional service as there is likely to be growing competition as the number of people travelling falls.
The Azores and the Faroe Islands don’t have all-inclusive resorts, you go precisely to fully experience the country and use the local services. So Noel Josephides and Sunvil Discovery are offering exactly the style of tourism they believe in, sustainable, special and just a little bit secret.