This journey has not been in vain

This journey has not been in vain

05/12/2023 - 09:28

In 2016 she was given the opportunity to take over Tiara Tours. ‘I don’t know anybody who talks about the Trans-Siberian Express with so much enthusiasm as you do, was what people said, and I thought, you’re right, I must do this!’
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Silvie Sweegers graduated from NHTV (now: BUas) in 2003, travelled the world and worked, among other things, at Tiara Tours as Product Manager. She left and came back as director/owner.

When I interviewed her, she had just delivered a guest lecture in the Chapel of the former convent on the BUas campus in Breda. ‘I enjoyed doing it so very much,’ starts Silvie enthusiastically, ‘I was entirely back in time for a while. I was asked a question about allotments, but that is exactly the way in which we don’t work. Our journeys are tailor made and we only work with local companies at destinations, so locally-owned ones.’

‘A good question I thought was whether anything goes wrong every now and then, and how I solve things in that case. Enough strange things are happening, for instance a customer of ours called us to say that a dog had chewed his passport. Seriously, there was a little hole precisely in the visa part. During the entire trip nobody had made a fuss about it, but he wasn’t allowed to enter China. And due to a mistake in a visa application, somebody was standing at the border between Russia and Mongolia who couldn’t go ahead, but he couldn’t travel back either. At this kind of moments I’m very glad to have our local pioneers. They know the country and take care, on the spot, of things being arranged properly. And you know, the most loyal customers emanate from the biggest problems we solved.’

Crises as a common thread
‘And yet, these are relatively small struggles,’ Silvie continues, ‘it was getting much harder when I’d run my company for a few years longer. I’ve never learned so much than in the past three years. And that was the common thread in the story that I’ve told the students this morning.’

Tiara Tours has been specialising in train journeys with the Trans-Siberian Express and round trips through Central-Asia. And then the corona pandemic hit us. “Well, and still that crisis helped us and the problems at Schiphol eventually did so, too,’ says Silvie. ‘We already were the train specialist and owing to the restrictive measures – and at a later stage the long queues as a result of too few staff members at airports – people started to consider spending their holidays closer to home and travelling more sustainably. And as far as we are concerned, sustainable travels are not only about green travels so much, but also about local impact, having an eye for where you are and who you meet. Why not eat out in a local restaurant where grandma’s the chef.’

‘Not a single trip departed in two years’ time in the corona period,’ says Silvie. ‘We had to scale down, which hurt me a lot. We still work in our office in Breda with only three colleagues, and then I count myself in. I remember quite well the party mood in the office when the colour code was changed to green in many countries and travel restrictions were lifted. That euphoria lasted about a week, and then Russia invaded Ukraine.’

What would you do if your no. 1 destination was cancelled (CXL)? ‘We already had some ideas about other adventurous destinations. But honestly, we hadn’t expected that it would really happen, the invasion of Ukraine,’ says Silvie regretfully. ‘ In that new reality we switched our focus to the west side of Central-Asia. And with the demonstrations in Iran and earthquakes in Turkey and Syria we had to reinvent ourselves again. With this sort of misery in the world it’s not always easy to keep believing in your product.’

What do you want to experience?
‘That product has mainly to do with making people feel what it’s like to be a traveller, so not a tourist, and you can surely be one close to home. There are enough adventurous destinations who are bucket list worthy, just think of Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland. Travelling from home all the way overland to the Northern Lights. Or an epic journey with the Scotsman Express. Sounds good, right?’ laughs Silvie. ‘We always start with the question “What do you want to experience, what do you want to do or learn?” We are always honest about what you can expect on your way. Of course it's seeking a balance, how much information do you give before departure? It evidently has to remain an adventure!’

Tiara Way of Travelling
‘It remains an adventure for us, too. We’ve discovered that trains in Scandinavia and even in Germany are delayed far more often than, for example in Russia or China. Booking a train journey’s not always easy for private individuals; there’s some value added for our customers. Apart from the “Tiara Way of Travelling” of course, which we want to make accessible to an as wide as possible public and offer in more and more countries. Without the crises, there would never have been a plan B. This journey hasn’t been in vain; eventually, it’s given us the stability we need.’