You won’t catch Eric Barber lying on a beach somewhere, or lounging by a pool, or even musing in a museum. The Toronto-based Realstar Hospitality exec travels to some fascinating places (like India) for work, to drum up business for his Days Inn, Motel 6 and Studio 6 hotel brands; but it’s where the affable 44-year-old goes on holiday that really raises an eyebrow – places like Albania, Haiti and the Ukraine.

Married and a father of two (Matthias, 14 and Felix, 12), Barber sometimes uses work trips as a springboard to the unique places he visits, occasionally meeting up with his wife or friends, but not yet taking the boys, though that will soon come, he says.
And that’s just as well, since the fearless traveller has occasionally found himself in situations that would scare the bejesus out of most us. But mostly it’s all good, resulting in great memories and amazing stories to share.

I sat down with Barber to get the lowdown on why he’s tickled by Transnistria, gaga over Georgia and enamoured by North Korea.
 
MB: What possesses you to choose some of the destinations you do for a holiday?
 
EB: It started when I was young and living in India. In the ‘80s Bombay was an interesting place, but during my down time I used to peruse an atlas my mother bought me and I would just look at countries and imagine what it might be like to visit them some time. And I have been doing so ever since!
 
Have you ever actually gone to a beach or sat poolside?
 
A few times (but) I get bored quickly and need to do something after a morning by the pool or beach. I typically leave my wife there and then go out and explore the local area.
 
What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited? Why did you go there?
 
Transnistria, which is nominally an independent country inside the Republic of Moldova, has to be near the top. There was an ethnic war there in 1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed, and Russian peacekeepers still maintain the borders on the Moldovan and Ukrainian borders. It is like travelling through time, as the country still resembles the Soviet Union today, as if time stopped.
 
Some other notables?
 
Russia. I am a huge cold war buff, and I found Moscow an unbelievably fascinating city, with very friendly, curious people. Republic of Georgia is another diamond in the rough: exceptional historic relics, incredible food and it is actually the birthplace of wine.
 
Where is the last place you visited on holiday?
 
Odessa, Ukraine.
 
Have you ever found yourself in danger?
 
Yes, several times. I was robbed at gunpoint by police in Nairobi when I was a teenager. We were attacked in a Romany village in Albania and had to make a screeching getaway with the back passenger door open to get out of there. And most recently I had a large knife pulled on me in Haiti.
 
You’ve also had some amazing experiences; can you relate a couple? 
 
Every destination holds a special place in my heart. To name a few, in no particular order: Watching the May 9 Victory Parade in Moscow and watching nuclear missiles and tanks roll by; having a champagne picnic during the Wildebeest migration in Maasai Mara; exploring Mumbai late at night and seeing Chowpatty Beach and Grant Road and taking in all the colour of street life there; and closer to home, heli-hiking in the Bugaboo Mountains in British Columbia – our own nature in Canada is simply breathtaking.
 
You often go to sports matches in these places…
 
My mother is from Holland so I was raised on football (soccer). I went to the second leg of the Carioca Cup Final at the Maracana (stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) in 2004 between Flamengo and Vasco Da Gama. There were 120,000 people there; the atmosphere is indescribable for those who have been raised on North American sports, and my tour guide was throwing bottles across the barbed wire barrier at the Vasco fans! There is such an atmosphere in football where class, geography, past wars or even religion still affect the passion of the experience between teams. In Macedonia, I was one of maybe 15 fans sitting in a stadium built for 50 000 people to watch a team called Rabotnicki. I brought in a bag of beers and watched some technically excellent football, and soaked up the sun. It was very weird when they scored and I was one of a dozen people around this huge stadium cheering!
 
Any plans on ever taking your kids to these kind of places?
 
They have been to Central America, the Caribbean and a few times to Europe. When Matthias turns 18 I will bring him on my annual Men's Weekend with my friends, which is scheduled to be Tbilisi, Georgia.
 
What does your wife think; would she ever go?
 
Suzanne, bless her, has been extremely patient and understanding with me since we first met 10 years ago and started travelling with me. I have dragged her all over the world, and, for the most part, has enjoyed it – some (places) more than others, but she has a sense of adventure and knows I won’t do anything to put her in danger.
 
What’s left on the bucket list? 
 
Well, this will make some gasp, but (one day) I plan to make a foray into North Korea. My wife doesn't trust me there alone so she will come along as well. Other places on the list are the Faroe Islands, Bhutan, Argentina, Easter Island and Laos.
 

TRADE TICKER

 
• Air Canada will offer more Ireland next summer with additional seasonal flights from Toronto to Shannon and Montreal to Dublin starting in June. Vancouver flights also increase to five times weekly from three.
 
• To celebrate the arrival of its 100th A380 aircraft this month, Emirates is offering special fares from Toronto when booked by Sept. 18 for travel Oct. 13 through Dec. 6, and Jan. 19 through June 04, 2018 for Economy Class and Sept. 22 through July 25, 2018 for Business Class. A sample are to Dubai is $1,059 economy ($5,969 business) to Dubai, UAE.
 
• Agents joining the Hong Kong Specialist (HKS) Club by Sept. 27 are eligible to win a trip (Oct. 23-29) to the Chinese city including air from YYZ or YYZ with Cathay Pacific, five nights’ accommodation and an all-inclusive incentive program in company with other Hong Kong specialists from around the world. After completing the course, specialists will also receive trade deals on Hong Kong’s latest products and offerings as well as a complimentary welcome pack with free attraction and tour passes. For details: http://partnernet.hktb.com/canada/en/home/index.html .


THIS & THAT

 
• Canada’s government issues daily travel updates for destinations from around the world (travel.gc.ca). Thanks to Hurricane Irma, the service issued this unprecedented “update” earlier this week: “Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Barthelemy, Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Martin/Sint Martin, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States, British Virgin Islands, Virgin Islands (U.S.) – Avoid all travel!”
 
• To and fro: Evelyn Lafone is moving on from her post as Canada manager for Switzerland Tourism for similar duties in southern Germany with the tourist board. The affable Aussie has been based in Toronto for the past three years. Taking the role is Pascal Prinz, who moves from the U.S. east coast territory.
 
• With the support of the travel industry, TravelBrands raised $252,000 for the SickKids Foundation at its fourth annual golf tournament in Toronto on Sept. 7. To date the company has raised more than $700,000 for children’s hospital.


WORDS OF THE WEEK

 
“It is important to note that Antigua and Barbuda is a two-island nation, with Antigua hosting 98 per cent of Canadian tourists. The effects of Hurricane Irma on the island of Antigua were minimal. The airport and the hotels are open for business as usual. The smaller sister island of Barbuda, which hosts only two per cent of Canadian tourists, has been greatly affected and the government is currently implementing its disaster recovery plan in full force. Barbuda's current situation should not deter tourists from travelling to Antigua. As tourism is an important revenue generator for the nation, travel to Antigua will aid in the rebuilding of Barbuda.”
 
- Colin Skerritt, Tourism Director for Canada for the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
 
 

 

eric barber in transnistria

Eric Barber is on top of the world, well, a tank anyways, in Transnistria.

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