Get to know your WYSTC closing speaker: Travelstart.com CEO Stephan Ekbergh
What are some of your most memorable travel experiences as a young person and why do you think they stuck as memorable?
What I loved about travel when I was young and what I still enjoy now is the feeling of freedom. I love the carefree life of being on the road and I don’t like to stay too long anywhere but love the actual travelling. I was restless then, and I’m restless now.
My first serious trip was Eurailing around Europe for 30 days. I visited new places every day and took the train at night, criss-crossing the continent and saving hotel money by sleeping on the train but always eating in good restaurants.
I’m still quite restless when I travel, but nowadays I’m of course a hotel nerd always looking for the best places to stay.
Did you ever stay in youth hostels?
Only when I was in my late 30’s and was building a new company and couldn’t afford to stay in hotels in Stockholm.
Did you ever experience difficulties in obtaining a travel visa or with language differences?
No. I’m from Sweden, we have the best passports in the world.
Is there any technology that you wish had existed when you were younger and travelling?
No, not really. I had a great childhood. We had a black and white TV and only got a colour one when I was 13 and video when I was 22. I wouldn’t want to change anything.
Do you work with a lot of young people of the millennial generation at Travelstart? What strikes you as unique about this generation at work?
Almost all of them have all the right answers on almost everything. I’m in awe of their awareness on all kinds of stuff from self-improvement, healthy living, current affairs, etc., but when it comes to application I find them as clueless as ever.
There’s a real downside to having so much info at your fingertips and I believe that at some point a certain level of pride creeps in.
On another note, when looking at Facebook posts I often find people from my generation being a lot more stupid than younger people.
My generation seems to buy into all kinds of nonsense that virally spreads via social media, while millennials and those even younger question everything, well not always…
How do you think travel has changed for young people in the last 20 years?
It has changed a lot. When I was young travel was a big thing, you went to Paris to see the city. Today you go to Paris to eat in a special restaurant or attend an EDM festival and then go back home.
Where would you like to go (that you’ve not yet been to)?
Chile, Greenland, the Sahara Desert, the Holy Land and I’d love to experience the Trans-Siberian Railway.
South Africa recently implemented new visa regulations, affecting travelling children under the age of 18. What is your take on the new regulations and the debate taking place around these regulations?
It must be the brainchild of a cretin.
Where did you grow up and did your family travel when you were young?
I grew up in the country side of Sweden in a small village of 500 people. My dad was a Hungarian immigrant so we went there a few times during the dark communist days. It was super depressing for a young kid to go there.
Where do you live now and is it an interesting destination for young people?
I live in Cape Town and I think it’s one of the best cities in the world.
It’s a great city for young people to visit with great vibes, surf, beach, wine lands and the people are awesome.
There seem to be two polar opposites developing in terms of travel and digital connectivity, on the one hand: constant, hyper-connectivity, need for free wifi and sharing via social media while travelling and on the other hand: ‘unplugged travel’ and specifically taking time off from our smartphones. What are your thoughts on this? Are we in a love-hate relationship with our smartphones? Why do we want to travel to discover and at the same time constantly connect back to what we already know (home)?
The connectivity is now a standard way to live and we can’t really live without it, but all this tech is still young and will evolve.
I think there are many pitfalls because developers wants to build more and more addictive apps and solutions. Soon you will see rehab centres all over the world specialising in cyber addictions (it already exists in China). While I was growing up everyone was smoking, but people seldom talked about the dangers and I think it’ll be the same with technology.
On the other hand, everything digital will also become more useful and easier to use and there will be a balance as people get more accustomed.
Personally, if I go on vacation I like to switch off, but having said that I also love to explore new apps when I come to a city.
Snapchat…what’s your take on it?
My youngest daughter loves it.
For those visiting South Africa for the first time, what are your top 3 travel tips for them?
Hike Table Mountain
Visit Kwa-Zulu Natal
Visit the Karoo
For foodies, what are your top three recommendations for authentic food experiences in South Africa?
I love a dinner experience in a Boma, in a game reserve.
In Cape Town/Stellenbosch we have some of the best restaurants I have been to in the world – don’t miss the fresh Tuna, it’s just incredible!
WYSE is currently doing a survey with young travellers to learn about their experiences and opinions on food and travel. Is food an important element of your travels? Do you think cultural cuisines have more interest thanks to travellers sharing photos via social media? Do you have a favourite food destination outside of South Africa?
I’m not a foodie, but all countries have their own flavour. I remember the first time I had rijsttafel, I was in my 20’s and I thought it was the most incredible meal I had ever had in my life.
I appreciate good food, but it can be overrated. Nowadays I like simple home cooked meals and believe that the company is what makes the dinner.