Simon Calder at 25: The most impressive travel innovators | The Independent

Over the past two-and-a-half decades I have met many impressive men and women who have helped to give the UK the best travel industry in the world.

Among them are 25 “travel heroes” whose expertise and energy have improved life for travellers. In the first of a five-part series, here are the most impressive travel innovators.

Each has provided a travel tip and a happiest travel memory.

Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet co-founder

Maureen Wheeler fishing off the Kimberley Coast in Western Australia

(Maureen Wheeler)

Across Asia on the Cheap was the first Lonely Planet guidebook – the ‘how we did it’ account of the journey by the original UK backpackers, Tony and Maureen Wheeler. The yellow guide was published in 1973, and to mark the 21st anniversary Maureen organised a travel summit at the LP headquarters in Melbourne. Top of the agenda: information, inspiration and the internet.

Travel tip: “My favourite travel motto, from Kurt Vonnegut, is, ‘Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God’.”

Happiest travel memory: “Trying to pick one from a lifetime of happy travels is a very difficult task. Having spent quite a bit of time mulling over what particular bit of a trip would qualify for ‘happiest’ memory, I have decided to go with one of my all-time favourite trips. Two weeks spent flying across the top end of Australia with my husband Tony and six great friends. Apart from the spectacular scenery, the ancient cave art and my catching, on my very first fishing attempt, a decent sized fish, the eight of us seemed to laugh non-stop. Not sure what was so funny looking back, but every meal erupted in hilarity.

“Of course there was slapstick – Nick walking into a pool fully clothed, carrying a glass of brandy as he tried to make out constellations in the southern sky, and there was no entendre left undoubled as one wag put it, but the combination of people and place was magic.”

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder

Richard Branson

(Visual Eye)

Virgin Atlantic celebrated its 10th birthday in 1994, having transformed the long-haul aviation experience – but Sir Richard gets the award for services to rail passengers. Virgin Trains has dramatically improved services on the West Coast Main Line from London Euston to the West Midlands, northwest England, north Wales and Scotland.

Travel tip: “Jet lag can be an issue for many travellers but I’ve found a few tricks you can put in place to beat it and allow you to live in the moment at your destination. Exercise is key. I try not to worry about being in a different time zone and like to squeeze in a game of tennis, kitesurfing or pilates whenever possible. While this has little impact on your internal clock, it can increase the length and quality of your sleep as you adjust to the new time zone. The most important thing is to concentrate on having plenty of fun – and the time flies by.”

Happiest travel memory: “Time I’ve spent with the people closest to me. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, spending time with family – recharging, reconnecting and relaxing with the people you love – is one of life’s most important things. I try to do it as often as I can, and I have so many wonderful memories of times spent travelling with family and friends over the years. One of my favourite places to visit with my family is Son Bunyola, our Virgin Limited Edition property in Mallorca. The island has always had a special place in my heart – I first visited it when I was a child. My son Sam even named his daughter, Eva-Deia, in honour of the west Mallorcan town, Deia.”

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, easyJet founder

Sir Stelios Haji-Iannou on his boat in St Barts

(Sir Stelios Haji-Iannou)

“The airline started after my father gave me the go-ahead and five million quid. I decided to call it easyJet.” So says the man who borrowed some cash and used it to reshape European aviation. The “legacy” airlines that poured scorn on the orange upstart have now been obliged to adopt many easyJet practices. The airline now carries far more passengers than British Airways.

Travel tip: “Always have a clear idea where to go and what to do well in advance. That way, not only do you have something to look forward to but you nearly always get a better price. So book early.”

Happiest travel memory: “This photo was taken off the island of St Barts in the Caribbean where I have my winter office. I was out day sailing on my 76ft classic sailing yacht, as I do most weekends during the winter months. I am, unashamedly, a fair-weather sailor and this is the nearest thing I have to a hobby, which explains why, with a few friends, we started a local yacht club in St Barts, which we call the Gustavia Yacht Club. Hence, most of my friends now call me Commodore.”

Sir Tim Smit, archaeologist and cofounder of the Eden Project

Sir Tim Smit in Mexico

(Sir Tim Smit)

What do you do with a China clay pit that is almost exhausted? Turn it into a home for the world’s most important plants. Like the Virgin logo, the first sketch of the “biomes” at this Cornish landmark were made on a napkin over a drink. The dream came true in 2001 when the Eden Project reinvented an industrial scar into the West Country’s biggest tourist attraction.

Travel tip: “If you travel frequently to or through the USA to somewhere else, get an Esta Global Trusted Traveller certificate as it saves you one hour of nightmares in US Immigration, every trip!”

Happiest travel memory: “I was visiting a marvellous training project in South Africa, called Green Futures, based at a beautiful hotel called Grootbos near the township of Gansbaai about 90km east of Cape Town. On one of the days I went out on a shark conservation boat and the captain attracted great white sharks by trailing a tuna head on a rope over the side. Suddenly, a 5m-long shark leapt out of the water and hit the stern of the boat knocking everybody over.

“There had been 20 divers on the boat, but after that only three were prepared to get into the cage, which looked more like a supermarket trolley, and so for a full hour I was able to watch 13 different great whites swimming up to the cage. It felt like the most enormous privilege and it will stay with me always. It also taught me that anyone who describes the ‘dead eyes’ of a shark has never seen one. They are so alive.”

Simon Woodroffe, Yotel founder

Simon Woodroffe

(Simon Woodroffe)

YO! Sushi, created by Simon Woodroffe in 1997 to bring the best of Japanese fast food to the UK, is now found at transport terminals in key cities worldwide. But an even bigger benefit for the traveller is Yotel, which specialises in delivering first-class sleep in compact spaces – from the original at Gatwick, via Times Square in New York to the new Istanbul airport.

Travel tip: “When you are able to find time for an extended trip, don’t travel. Instead, go to one place and stay there and really get to know it and the people. Take excursions, even for a few days, from you temporary home and try to make it a place as nice as your own home or better. Love Home Swap or home exchange-type websites are terrific, and of course Airbnb do great houses too – I have even swapped cars, boats and friends …”

Happiest travel memory: “Earlier this decade, I ran my catamaran on the reef in the Tuamotus Islands and met a French Polynesian girl who spoke no English. When I told her I thought she was a beautiful woman, she looked me straight in the eyes and with a wag of her finger said the immortal words, ‘No boom boom’. I spent five of the happiest years of my life travelling the world with her when she was not in Tahiti and then one day she said, ‘Thanks for a wonderful experience, I am going back to live on my island now’. We are still friends…”

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