Insight Vacations’ director of sales shares his path from work experience at Heathrow to the heart of touring
When I left school I was keen to travel. I took a business and finance course at Brooklands College in Weybridge. In the second year there was a travel and tourism elective. That ticked all the boxes for me because I wanted to see the world.
I did work experience at Heathrow. Four weeks as a passenger services agent with British Airways. I loved the buzz of the airport and I met some real characters who fuelled my passion for travel. I wanted to be a pilot but my eyesight wasn’t good enough. I did think about cabin crew – but didn’t get that far. In my last year of college, companies came to talk to us about their businesses. I thought the Kuoni graduate scheme was worth pursuing.
Kuoni was an amazing start to my career. But I’ll never forget my first two weeks – in the documentation department, stuffing customer wallets. On my second day I asked my manager “what are we doing here?”. “Teaching you discipline” was the reply. As a young guy I wanted to be running the company but I learnt the importance of attention to detail. And I’ll never forget the smell of those wallets!
Are there any golf courses in the Maldives? That was a gem from my time in customer service, talking to agents and customers about after-sales enquiries. It was a superb graduate scheme, and it taught me the processes to help me see the bigger picture.
My first experience of sales was with Kuoni subsidiary The Travel Collection. It was aggressive selling out of weekend newspapers. It taught me the need to work as a team, and how to be good at sales. Tell the truth, supply the right information, and listen. I really enjoyed that environment.
The golden ticket was agency sales. The department was run by a lovely lady, Liz Warner, a really good mentor to me. I managed the Going Places account day-to-day. I went on a lot of fam trips to amazing places, such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Dubai and the Caribbean, often with all-female groups. Yes, there was a pep talk before my first fam about that!
You have to take risks in your career. In 1999 I was introduced to John Boulding, the global chief executive for Insight Vacations, part of the Travel Corporation. I felt an immediate connection, and I was drawn to know more about the company.
I knew the trade but touring was a whole different proposition. I was thrown in at the deep end. Kuoni had a brand stamp, but you are never as big as a brand, and Insight was not nearly so well known. I was used to collecting awards with Kuoni, and when one of Insight’s competitors picked up an award at the first awards event I went to, the challenge kicked in – I’ve got work to do.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took time to understand the business, and my patience is not the best. But John kept me grounded and gave me direction. There was a view that touring wasn’t sexy, but I found the perception was a million miles from reality.
Opportunities opened up to collaborate with other Travel Corporation brands. We combined forces with Trafalgar, Contiki and later Uniworld, and I became head of The One Stop Touring Shop. We were the voice of touring, and it was one of my proudest moments when we picked up that first TTG Travel Award. We collaborated at the right time because now touring has snowballed, and Insight takes all my time again.
I feel part of a family at the Travel Corporation and that’s one of the things that keeps me there. The Tollman family put their heart and soul in all their businesses. They listen and follow change so my role is constantly evolving – I’m not doing the same job I did in 1999. I really look up to Brett Tollman, the global chief executive of the Travel Corporation. He runs 30 brands but he still spends time with Insight’s sales and marketing teams and is involved in campaigns. Special people like him keep us energised.
I like to lead by example. I get up early at 5.30am. I live in Kent, and I like commuting when it’s quiet. If one of my team beats me to the office, I have to buy that person a coffee.
Being around dogs helps me unwind. My partner is a dog behavourist so we have a lot of four-legged house guests. Whether you’ve had a good day or a bad day, they give you the same greeting. I love that.