Author Archives: lauralhampton

About lauralhampton

Digital Marketing Manager specialising in SEO and social media marketing. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.

You Can’t Change the World in 3 Months. But You Can Try.

As the 2011 graduate scheme comes to an end, Laura looks back over her 18 months on the programme.

18 months ago, I embarked on a journey. I didn’t know where it would take me, what I’d do or where I’d end up.

18 months on, I’ve spent 9 months living in North America, travelled nearly 32,000 miles and been to 13 Olympic events. As it all comes to an end, here are my top lessons learned on the TUI Travel Specialist & Activity Graduate Scheme…

1) Dress code matters.

I walked into my first day of my first placement dressed in a pencil skirt, blouse and heels. Everyone else in my office was wearing jeans and hoodies. Quite the faux pas. As much as I liked to dress smartly for work, dressing so differently to everyone else only served to exacerbate an already alien situation, where I’d ‘come in from TUI’ and some people believed I was there to ‘spy’ on them.

Needless to say, my wardrobe changed for the rest of that placement!

2) Business need comes before personal need.

Coming onto the scheme, I wanted to learn as much as possible and to prove myself in every placement. So when, in placement 3, I was tasked with boosting the number of passengers travelling to Kenya, I did everything I could to make that happen. But while my efforts focused on the struggling country, my colleagues were struggling to keep their destinations profitable too. Had I focused more on the overall business need, I might have made better use of my time.

3) Personal need comes before business need.

As much as the opposite is true, personal need also comes before business need in some circumstances. The grad scheme before one of them. My placement 2 was a perfect example of this. Working with the Finance Director at Quark Expeditions, I had projects that needed to be completed but I also had a strong desire to learn about finance. I communicated this to my manager from the start and as such received lots of on the job and more classroom style learning which really helped me.

4) Networks are valuable (and really nice to have!).

We talk a lot about networking in business. People carry business cards around, they scan every room they walk into for the most notable person to speak to, they maintain their LinkedIn accounts with pride. We meet so many people in our day to day work and yes, it is important to try to keep in touch. But more than that, I believe our working life is what we make it and when we spent 8 hours a day with people, networking is about far more than business cards. Be friendly, make friends, show real interest in people and the rest will fall into place.

5) You can’t change the world in 3 months. But you can try.

We’ve always known that 3 months is a really short amount of time when you’re trying to prove yourself and achieve what the business needs – and more. You can’t expect to be able to do everything you could possibly want to in that time. But I’m also a firm believer that time shouldn’t hold you back either. By striving to achieve as much as possible in 3 months, we make intelligent decisions to manage our workload and the expectations of those around you. Take my placement 5 in Seattle; it took 8 weeks to take a website from conceptualisation to launch and I still had time to create a full marketing plan and offline campaign, plus a range of other tasks around the business. Not bad for 3 months…

What next?

For me, the 31st May marks the end of my TUI journey. I look back with fondness and gratitude over the last 18 months and wish everyone I’ve met along the way the very best for the future.

Here’s a selection of my photos from my time at TUI:

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Six Months in Seattle

Laura Hampton in America

Enjoying the American tradition of ‘football’…

Laura reflects on a double placement in TUI’s North American Division…

Moving around every 3 months is tough. Finding a new home, meeting new people, getting used to a new office… it all takes time and, just when you think you’ve cracked it, you move again.

So I guess I was ‘lucky’ when my manager asked me if I’d like to stay for a second placement here in Seattle, but it wasn’t an easy decision to do so. In this post, I’ll give an overview of what I did during my first three months, what I did during my second and the ups and downs along the way…

I arrived in Seattle last September where I was placed to take over from Debs on a project she’d started earlier in the year. Based on her business plan and research, I was tasked with setting up a new department for two of the North American brands; my brief was to have it launched and running before I left.

Luckily for me, Debs had left some great foundations and that meant getting my head around the project was the easy part (thanks Debs!). But, as is often the case in these placements, understanding the project is not the big job. The bigger piece of work lies in understanding the business, the requirements and the politics which can all impact on how the project moves forward and the best direction to take it in.

I was able to move through the complications by identifying the requirements and the problems, and carving out my own role where I could help steer the project forward and utilise my own skills to add some real value. During that three month period, I successfully wireframed and wrote the content for a new website, employed a designer and managed the development team from project brief to launch to create a site that everyone was happy with and that could grow with the project (and I wrote a full content management guide to help this along). I wrote a full marketing plan, including tone of voice and SEO guidelines, which was accepted by all key stakeholders and even made it into the hands of the head of TUI Group! And I came up with a marketing idea which, when launched, brought in 9 booking requests within its first week.

I had lots I was proud of – plus I’d been really working on my own personal development to be less ‘fiery red’ and more ‘sunshine yellow’ (Insights) and felt I’d done a good job of softening my approach on the whole. But all of this made my decision to extend my placement a difficult one – could I keep up the ‘good work’ and continue to impress or was I just good at 3 month placements? Would I have enough work to do? And with another grad on her way out to Seattle, was it even fair for me to stay?

I thought about it long and hard (after all, I’d been away from home for 3 months and missed my friends and family a lot) but the opportunity I had here to extend my learning and work on some new and exciting projects was too much to pass up. So I stayed for another placement, during which I handed over my project to Jen who took over from me, and worked on various Divisional level projects including a review of how we work with travel agents and how that can be improved, the identification and subsequent employment of a ‘preferred supplier’ list of web design agencies for the Division, and various competitor analyses and training programmes for one of our brands.

It’s certainly been a busy 6 months and I’ve really enjoyed being here. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been able to get some travel in too – I’ve seen Vancouver, Idaho, Portland and Las Vegas during my time here, as well as plenty of skiing up in the nearby mountains! But it’s been a challenge – on a personal level more than anything – and only time will tell if spending so long in the US has affected my networks back home.

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The Value of Brand Affiliations

 

Understanding brand partnerships

The ‘gangs’ we choose to be part of can say a lot about us as a brand.

Laura gives her opinion on partnerships for brands…

As part of my current placement with the North American Division, I’ve been thinking a lot about the potential value of partnerships. With the success of their recent Four Seasons sponsored trip still a hot topic for TCS & Starquest, they’ve certainly gone a long way to proving the potential benefits of a joint sales venture. But I believe the affiliations we create, much like the friends we choose to hang out with, can have a huge impact on how our brands are understood by the audience.

Not wanting to stereotype too much, but imagine for a moment that you meet me sitting on a park bench, surrounded by young people who are all wearing skateboard clothing and carrying skateboards. Now, it’s probably fair to say that you’d assume I too was a skateboarder because I’m hanging out with that ‘crowd’, and you’d probably make assumptions about me because of that. No doubt you’d think I share the same values as the people I’m sat with – I, like them, am probably pretty active and sporty, probably young and probably something of a miscreant at times.

Now imagine you meet me in a coffee shop and I’m surrounded by people in business suits. Again, you’d probably assume that I too am a business person and all of the values you’d associate with business people, you’ll likely associate with me too.

I believe it’s exactly the same for brands. Had TCS & Starquest created a trip sponsored by Red Bull, for example, you’d probably expect that trip to be full of adrenaline sports, extreme activities (and plenty of energy drink!). In their association with Four Seasons, the brand will no doubt inherit some of those associations too; people will view TCS as a luxurious, high quality brand with a focus on customer experience and a willingness to please and to personalise.

Of course, as any person in any group of friends does, every brand brings its own values to the table and, like friendships, the relationships they have must provide space for each brand’s own ‘personality’ too. In the case of TCS & Starquest, they were able to enhance the brand of Four Seasons by reaffirming its luxury status but adding elements of adventure and education from which both brands can now benefit.

And I’d argue that it’s not just in these direct partnerships that we need to consider the impact on our brand. In marketing ourselves, we should always seek to place ourselves in the places that mirror our brand values and never detract from them, but the same applies to where our advert appears and which magazine we’re therefore aligning ourselves with, or even where on the shelf of brochures our own sits and which shops we choose to be sold in. Everything we do is an exercise in branding and by understanding our own ‘friendship group’, we can ensure our brand continues to build.

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A De-volution in Travel?

Face to face sales at A&K store

We mustn’t neglect face-to-face as a tool for customer engagement

Laura gives her take on changes in travel…

We’ve spent years moving toward an online driven travel model. From the growth of Expedia to Google Flights and the popularity of Trip Advisor, we as an industry have been faced with the fact that the purchase of travel is becoming a much more online driven experience.

But is that necessarily the right way to go?

The financial benefits of online business are an obvious ‘pro’ – the cost of setting up and maintaining a website can potentially provide a far better return on investment than a shop can due to lower overheads and increased potential reach. There’s also the ease it provides the consumer too; I know I’ve used online booking systems for my own personal holidays (it’s ok – I was booking a Thomson holiday!) and I appreciated the speed with which I could do it and the fact that everything I needed to know was right there in writing before me. Plus, I’m a huge supporter of an online approach to travel.

And yet, when I look at businesses like our own over here in TUI North America, and at the likes of Abercrombie & Kent (who’s new flagship store in London inspired this post), I have to wonder if online really is the best translation of our business values.

Where the primary driver of the business is to provide a truly personalised and customised experience for every customer, it seems obvious that no amount of fancy coding will give that truly individual feel to any website. As much as we can post out telephone numbers and use social media to convey our brand voice and engage the customer, are we ever really going to capture that personalised feel without including face-to-face interactions?

I’m certainly not going to go as far as to argue we can’t; I think there are some great websites out there and some brilliant campaigns which really work well for the brand (take Expedia’s current ‘Find Yours’ campaign – it encapsulates their brand values perfectly) but for A&K and others like them, I believe they’re making a great move by investing in physical stores.

The challenge they will face lies in the years we have spent encouraging consumers to move online. We live in a society where making purchases through a website is by no means uncommon, and it is seen to an extent to be somewhat archaic when we venture into a real life travel agent shop, so how do we refocus that consumer once again without seeming like a group of fools of blindly jumped aboard the web 2.0 bandwagon without foreseeing that we’d only be jumping off again a few years down the line?

For me, it comes down to differentiation. We do not need to ‘jump off the bandwagon’ – in fact, I think there is an argument for us to take the reins and drive the wagon!  Instead, we must be able to showcase the more ‘old-fashioned’ approach of a physical shop as a continuation and a development of the path we’ve been heading down anyway, where online must enhance offline and any approach we take must always be customer focused. We must, in essence, reinvent the wheel by showcasing travel shops as an innovation.

We can already see this approach in action with the likes of Virgin and their concept store, where customers use iPads and augmented reality to browse destinations and put together quotes with the assistance of the in store advisors. There’s not a lot of information available on the new A&K store as yet, but it already seems from their PR that they are attempting to differentiate their store from the travel agents we know to something more experientially led, again making use of iPads and the store layout to give that innovative feel.

The point I’d like to make here is that we really do need to view every innovation we see as a new tool – to enhance and not replace what we already had. Online may be an incredibly powerful tool, but so is face-to-face and we really mustn’t forget that. In deciding how we communicate our business values, we have an entire toolbox at our disposal. I look forward to seeing what A&K do with their new addition.

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My Olympic Experience

Olympic Stadium Flag

Me at the Olympic Stadium

Laura describes her time at the London 2012 Olympic Games...

Did you know that, due to transport being difficult in the early Olympic games, many of the competitors were not atheletes at all but simply well-doing tourists who happened to be there at the time? Don’t worry, TUI didn’t have us competing at the Games this year (I don’t think we’d have done so well if they had!) – the above is just one of many facts I learned as part of my role as Lead Coach Host at London 2012.

For the duration of the Games, myself, Ben, Benjamin, Kelly, Deborah and Jennifer were working at the Games for TUI Sports brand “Sportsworld” in arguably our most customer facing role yet.

For me, working at the Olympics was an absolute honour and being given the opportunity to watch so many of the sports was something I never could have expected but will always be grateful for. But more than anything, this was an opportunity to prove myself in a truly customer facing, fast paced, high pressure job.

After 4 weeks of working without a day off and on irregular shifts of anything from 6 hours to 16, I feel like I’ve gone some way to achieving my goal of proving myself in that environment but at the same time learned a lot of lessons along the way.

One of the most important of those lessons was that there will be times where we work in an environment in which we’re not entirely comfortable but that everything we’re doing below the surface should be hidden from the customer’s view, maintaining an air of calm and professionalism throughout (the other grads will appreciate that duck-in-water analogy!).

I also learned a lot about corporate hospitality, an area in which I had no experience and where the complexities behind the scenes really must not be seen by the end client. As an employee of an agency working on behalf of a sponsor, there’s a long line of stakeholders all looking to the end result as a measure of the success of over 5 years of work. One of my proudest moments was receiving a text from one of our guests telling me how much she enjoyed her evening and how she thought I’d done a really good job; for me, that was going to reflect well on the sponsor and therefore I’d done my job well.

And who could fail to learn from the athletes taking part in the Games? I guess that, technically speaking, I’m not part of the generation they aimed to inspire, but I genuinely did take a lot from seeing people so dedicated to what they do and seeing the fruition of all of their hard work. That, combined with the incredible atmosphere around London throughout the Games, was enough to spur me on. I now look forward to taking the lessons of the Olympic Games in my next role.

Seattle here I come…

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The Acquisition/Retention Spectrum

TUI Graduates at Shard Opening, London

At the Shard opening in London

Laura talks about getting customers and keeping them…

Acquiring customers is completely different to retaining them. I saw this in action last week when me and some of the other grads (our scheme, Mainstream and International) gathered together for dinner following by the opening of London’s newest building “The Shard”.

The river bank was packed full of enthusiastic spectators, awaiting the spectacle of lights tipped by promoters as a ‘spectacle of lasar beams’.

Imagine our disappointment then when the ‘show’ started and turned out to be nothing more than a few green lasar beams and some slight changes in colour on the building. Think less ‘spectacle of lights’ and more ‘dodgy Blackpool nightclub’. Very disappointing.

Such is the story of acquisition and retention. During all of my placements, I’ve seen different ways of ‘promoting the light show’; we market our products using brochures, websites, social media, trade shows and more, describing them as exciting, life-changing, eye-opening. But it is only by delivering what we promise that we can stand any chance of retaining our customers and securing repeat business.

Acquisition and Retention Model

Acquisition and Retention Model

As per the image above, I believe there is a large proportion of the customer experience which is vital to retention, but perhaps not focused on by us quite as much as it could be.

Of course, the pre-booking information we give people and the ease with which they are able to book with us is incredibly important, but do we spend too long looking at which offers to put out to market, which destinations are selling and how we can increase volume year on year, and not enough considering how we can improve the holiday experience itself and how our aftersales and ongoing communications can aid our numbers in coming years?

It is my belief that we do, and that as a Division with such a wealth of product, we should be able to retain customers year after year, appealing to their changing wants and needs as we go. Reporting on that will be a key part of this.

For example, this week, one of the areas I am in charge of monitoring is down on volume. I’ve looked at why and it appears civil unrest in the country could be a contributing factor (something we cannot control). I report this back in my weekly update to the management, but what isn’t reported is whether the volume decline we see in this area is picked up by another. In other words, does out ‘pot’ of customers shrink or grow year on year?

By taking into account all destinations within our brand, we can report and measure the retention of custom to the brand. By taking into account all the brands in our Division, we can monitor retention of the custom to the Division. And by monitoring the ‘pot of customers’ within our Sector and our Group, we can monitor retention of the custom to Specialist & Activity and TUI overall.

For the past few years, technology, changing economy, changing needs have changed the way our customers behave and we’ve seen an emergence of customers who seek a more dynamic approach to their holiday. But my fear is that we’ve taken this to mean we can no longer expect brand loyalty – when the truth is, we can.

By reporting on year-on-year volume and margin changes, we can maintain ourselves this year. But by reporting on retained custom (has our ‘pot’ of customer shrunk or grown year on year), I believe we have far more potential for sustaining ourselves this year, next year and for many years to come.

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What I learned about finance at Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions Placement TUI Travel Graduate SchemeLaura gives an overview on her key learnings during placement 2 at Quark Expeditions, Toronto…

Terrified of heights, I never climbed trees as a kid, would avoid any jobs requiring me to ascend a ladder and never stood too near the edge on balconies or rooftops. My fear frustrated me, and so, in November of 2007, I started skydiving – after all, what better way to get over a fear than to face it head on! Now, I spend as much time as I can jumping out of planes and recently celebrated my 500th jump.

And it was this same attitude that took me to Toronto, Canada, for a placement solely focused on Finance.

I knew nothing about the discipline other than the fact it scared the bejeepers out of me! Spreadsheets meant nothing to me and numbers made my head spin, whilst the amount of jargon and abbreviations seemingly used when discussing finance was enough to send me running in the opposite direction whenever it came up in conversation!

Three months later, I’ve scaled the metaphorical heights of Finance and jumped right in! I’ve learned so much, from how to forecast sales for a season to running a comprehensive competitor analysis, hedging, fuel bunkering, 5 year plans and even that people from Loughborough call them ‘pikelets’ instead of ‘crumpets’! It’s been an intense 3 months but one which has produced some really valuable work for the business (according to my boss) and cleared up the maze of Finance from a personal point of view.

The main thing I learned about Finance though is how integral a part it can, and should, play in a business. Through high quality reporting, Finance can provide the tools to make predictions and understand how to improve and business and continue to grow moving forward. Far from the reactive process I believed it to be before working with Quark, I’ve found their finance team to be extremely proactive, engaging all areas of the business in the key decisions needed to provide the guidelines for success. I fully believe in the importance of maintaining communication with a finance team and in working with them closely.

Outside of Finance, I learned a lot too; I’ve blogged already about the small benefits the team receives at Quark which keeps them motivated and involved, and about the team meetings which ensure everyone is up to date and feels a part of the business, the Division and of the Sector as a whole.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Toronto and am so grateful to everyone who made me feel so welcome. I now look forward to using the skills I have obtained out there and continuing to build on them through my next placements.

My next placement will see me join the Commercial team at SHG, based in Crawley (*insert Canada to Crawley joke here*) – keep watching for more updates…

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Laura Features on Canada’s Motivational TV

Laura talks about fighting her fears on this episode of Canada’s Motivational TV:

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All the Small Things

Employee Treats

A birthday treat for Quark Expeditions employees

Laura thinks about how the small things we do can have a big impact…

Whilst walking to work this morning, I was met by a group of library workers who are on strike due to conflicts over pay. I feel sorry for them; to feel so undervalued that you choose to display your discontent in such a public manner must make your working day really difficult.

But this isn’t a post about politics, nor is it about pay. It’s about the small things we do that make employees and customers alike feel valued and appreciated.

Here at Quark, there are a few traditions which really add to the family atmosphere of the office. One example is the weekly Friday afternoon drinks and nibbles, where we finish what we’re doing around 4-4.30pm and stroll into Hans (the MD)’s office for a bit of relaxation and a chance to chat and unwind together. It’s a really nice opportunity to get to know people on a social level and has certainly been a benefit to me in particular as a newbie in the office.

Then there’s the coffee machine. A small addition, it’s really not much and can’t have been too much of an investment for the office either, but everyone loves taking advantage of the array of different coffees, teas and hot chocolates it makes – and it’s so much quicker than waiting around for the kettle to boil!

We also have a good supply of fruit and a regular supply of treats that everyone in the office gets to share. There’s really nothing nicer on a nice sunny day than getting the office wide email telling us strawberries and fruit bread are waiting for us in the kitchen and it gives a real boost to the day. And with my body struggling to cope with the changing temperatures here in Toronto, I’m loving the fact that there are Kleenex issues supplied for every employee!

All of these things are only very small and don’t require a big investment from the business. Though Quark is a business doing well, it seems to me that there is no reason that even businesses struggling in the current climate can’t set aside a small pot each week to provide these little things for their employees that can really make a big difference. If we can provide small treats that make people feel special and encourage relaxation and chatting at an appropriate time, I believe we can create a nicer working atmosphere and a culture of communication and collaboration which can only help the business in the long run. Add this to the regular team meetings held at Quark and, in my opinion, you’ve got a recipe for a really satisfied workforce.

And it’s not just employees who benefit from small additions. I know from speaking to fellow grad Ben Cook that TCS Starquest offer small add ons for their customers on luxury trips, including pre-paid postcards at every destination and ‘spending money’ in the local currency. By adding these little treats and bringing an element of personalisation to the experience, I believe we can really add a lot of value for the customer without a great deal of investment on our part.

The experiences we have are not all about the money. They’re about the little things that make us feel extra special. I really hope I can carry that philosophy throughout my career and hopefully encourage the use of some of Quark’s little treats in the other placements I undertake.

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Climbing the CN Tower for Charity

CN Tower Climb TUI Graduate

The CN Tower - formally the world's tallest building

Laura explains her latest extra-curricular challenge…

Moving to a new country, making new friends, learning a new discipline, getting a new mentor, living in a new house, learning a new sport… it’s been a placement full of challenges so far and now I’m adding climbing the CN Tower to that list!

On April 21st, I will scale the dizzy heights of the CN Tower, formally the world’s tallest building, to raise money for WWF. I will have to climb 144 floors – that’s 1776 steps – quite a challenge!

But that’s what this graduate scheme is all about: challenges. It’s about pushing ourselves beyond our limits and getting the most out of every experience.

If you’d like to support me in my climb, please visit my sponsorship page; I only have to raise $75 so I’d love to smash that total.

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