Africa Travel Week
Timo Saressalo

A Finn in Africa

Timo Saressalo is the Managing Director at Starlight Tours which specializes in interesting and high-quality trips, exotic and little-known destinations, authentic experiences and countries not yet covered by the tentacles of mass tourism. They offer customers individually tailored trips in more than 170 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, South and North America, and Oceania.

Where did your love for travel start? 

As a little kid – due to my dad’s work I got to travel, and live, in various countries around the world. It was love at first flight.  

Why do you enjoy working in the industry? 

Travel is one of the most versatile industries out there – the opportunities are endless – so you get the chance to use all your skills and creativity and of course, see amazing places around the world, what a bargain.  

What is your favourite destination/place to visit and why? 

I love the Middle East, especially the Levant where I’ve lived on several occasions over the years- it’s an amazing combination of ancient cultures, history, varied landscapes, different religions and peoples. I’m also working on a PhD in the region’s politics so I get to combine work and play.  

Tell us about one of your most memorable travel experiences and why it stands out. 

In these times of travel restrictions, all travel is memorable. Instead of some life-changing experience on a paradise island, the travel that comes to mind is an event in Singapore I flew to in November 2020 in the middle of the worldwide lockdown.  

The required paperwork – with a special permit to skip the 2-week quarantine on arrival – ran to 17 pages and took a month to compile. I took a total of 11 PCR tests in 5 days, the flight to SIN (an SQ A350) had a capacity of 7 passengers on board, and once there, we appeared to be the only people at the empty Changi airport – except for the guy in a spacesuit who gave me another PCR test. Truly memorable.  

Give us a travel tip you don’t think anyone else gives.. or that isn’t given enough.. 

I personally hate the general travel advice people give in interviews – either it’s blatantly obvious (”evenings may be chilly, pack a sweater”) or an attempt to sound philosophical (”let your spirit free, seize the day”). I say: Just go. Do what’s good for you. and remember that sweater.  

Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling what do you… 

Like to see: a desert sunset 

Like to taste: freshly caught tuna 

Like to feel: soft sand underfoot 

Like to hear: ocean waves beneath my board 

Like to smell: a spice souq 

Do you have any suggestions on resources for other travel and tourism stakeholders? Any websites, publications, podcasts, thought leaders you can recommend or newsletters we should sign up to?  

There’s just so much out there. As a news buff, I like to follow the local media of the destination I’m focusing on but I’d say the most useful insights we get by far are from the wonderful DMCs we work with – a focused regular update or a newsletter from a partner who knows us and our clients’ interests is priceless.  

Tell us something about yourself that no one else knows  

I am the most preferred target for mosquitoes, worldwide.  

Lastly, what do you love about Africa Travel Week (WTM Africa) and what are your sentiments on the evolution of trade shows being part virtual? 

Africa Travel Week offers by far the best opportunity to meet suppliers from all over Africa, including smaller businesses, lodges and operators who don’t exhibit in the European/American travel shows. The show is extremely well organized and Cape Town is the perfect location.  

As far as virtual shows go, I believe we’re all a bit exhausted right now and just yearning to meet in real life and socialize with colleagues from around the world. I personally don’t believe a virtual show will ever fully replace face-to-face meetings and the social interaction at live shows but it could be used to add value by allowing easier post-show follow-up between buyers and exhibitors via the show platform, for example. 

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.