Gone Sailing…

At the end of placement three, the six grads all got together for another useful week of Learning and Development; some challenging sessions nonetheless led to some useful discussions (I still think we should have bought an island as our new product in the Product Development workshop) and time for reflection on the previous months. While some of the sessions were emotionally and mentally tough, everyone would agree that the highlight was probably the sailing session at Port Solent which rounded off the week – thanks to the new grads for coming down to join us! Here are a few photos for your general entertainment…

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Guy sticks to Florida

Guy providing a long overdue update

So I finished my last blog post by complaining that you could never get on a TUI flight with a staff deal because capacity has been managed so tightly this year… BUT I was lucky enough to get a thumbs-up phone call from Luton and at the end of June/beginning of July found myself jetting off from Manchester to Florida for a return to Tampa Bay where my first placement with TUI Marine had been.  It was great getting the call at the airport on the tannoy calling me to the desk for my upgrade to Thomson Airways Premium.  I couldn’t quite stomach the pink champagne at 10am after my early start from a friend’s in Birmingham, but I did enjoy the pre take-off orange juice, extra legroom and noise cancelling headsets, which acted as an insurance policy against any wailing babies on the flight.  Still, I shouldn’t complain, I have subjected fellow passengers to my sister’s noisy children in the past!

It was great getting back to the Clearwater office and seeing old friends and colleagues – and this was also a great opportunity to catch-up with Ben on our social media project, which we were preparing for a scheduled presentation during our Learning and Development week.  Obviously Mexican food/margaritas, trips to the beach and Universal Studios all added to a great long weekend.

Back to Birmingham Airport and on to Brighton, and I still had another three weeks of my placement in E-Commerce to go.  We celebrated the launch of iExplore (the next big thing in adventure travel), and tied up other aspects of my placement.

At the end of July we had our Learning and Development week – which was not only a great opportunity to learn new ways of thinking about things like product development and negotiation but also gave us a chance to showcase our social media idea which is now on the cards for integration into iExplore. Watch this space!  The final day of the week was spent in Port Solent and following a mid-programme review of our performance across the placements, we headed out onto a fairly calm sea on the swanky Sunsail F40s.  We were lucky enough to be joined by the 2011 intake of Specialist and Activity Sector grads for this.  I think our boat was the more competitive of the two – and so without a doubt we won the race.

Following the L&D week I had hoped to get more TUI flights to Cuba or Central America, but no luck, so a last minute search meant I headed off with university friends to Thailand for Bangkok, diving and jungle trekking.

Now I am in the Atrium at Specialist Holidays Group, working on a Florida specialist brand and also on improving our ancillary sales across all brands.  I’ll talk about all that in my next post, which I’ll make sure is super-soon.

Also – check out the TUI UK& Ireland grads’ new blog.  You’ll see them all resplendent in their rep uniforms as they head out on their Thomson, First Choice and 2twentys placements. is the address!

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This underground lair must grow

Guy reporting from really quite rainy Brighton

Let me invite you into the basement of the TUI e-commerce team. Search Engine Optimisation, copy writing (a lot of people ignore the importance of quality writing, but how can a product be seen as quality if what’s written on the page is not both accurate and enticing) conversion optimisation, new product development, usability – an awful lot goes on down here. This is why I am very happy to be on a placement here at the moment. I think from my stints at TUI Marine and Adventure Tours Australia I’ve really realised the opportunity – indeed imperative – to reduce our spend on selling through third parties and shift further towards selling direct online. Consumers need our companies’ websites to be the easiest and best way of booking a holiday, and that lowers our costs, the benefits of which are passed back in turn. That’s got to be even more important in an environment where our most important source market, the UK, continues to experience falling real incomes, and it’s for our long term survival that we have to catch up with low-cost airlines and others in delivering our more complex travel product effectively online.

Clearly travel agents are doing something that at a product level we don’t do quite well enough yet; offer a personalised, local and total booking process. Getting not only our soon-to-launch and brand new adventure portal to fulfil some of those characteristics but also helping other TUI Specialist and Activity companies to meet those sort of criteria is our raison d’etre, and why I believe the function here will continue to grow.

On the Brighton front – I’m enjoying living here, especially the opportunity for windsurfing (am doing my RYA levels at the moment, got to love a good certificate), going out and luring friends down from London for a day out at the sea side. I also have bought Groupon yoga classes – bargain – in order to enhance my physical and spiritual alignment, but am yet to get there early enough to get a place in the class… obviously everyone else had the same idea!So quick and easy to the continent

The other day I went with some new Brighton friends for a Eurotunnel day trip to France and Belgium – taking advantage of a proximity to the continent I have never enjoyed before (as this is my first time living in South East England). That said, being back in Europe means that I’m finding myself going away most weekends and during the week too to London. Back to Scotland again last weekend for a wedding in St. Andrews. It’s Essen in Nordrhein-Westfalen this weekend to visit a uni mate from Edinburgh, Compass (left-wing think tank) conference the following weekend, and I’m going to try and get on a TUI flight to Florida over a weekend to visit friends from my first placement. Problem is, they’ve been so conservative with capacity this year for the UK that staff perks are barely useable – there are never any seats anywhere! Anyway – back to link checking, we need to make sure the adventure portal works well from its live birth.

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Brighton rocks as Guy rolls into Placement 3

Adelaide doesn’t have the big city excitement of Sydney or the cultural sophistication of Melbourne, but it does have a dry and pleasantly warm climate, great wine and a lower cost of living than either of its larger cousins.  I’ve been very lucky to meet such a good bunch of people there, and have been sad to leave. 

In terms of the project, it was really good to have a single, very focussed goal on which to work.  I knew that it was important to improve my personal organisation and project planning, and feel that the placement has come at the right point in this regard.  Not only that, but I’ve had the opportunity to work in a smaller activity and specialist business with a more local feel than either TUI Marine or my current placement in the TUI Specialist & Activity E-commerce team.

Now seven months into the graduate scheme, I realise that although there is the thread of TUI running through all of our placements, each one means starting an entirely new job in an entirely new culture every three months.  Difficult to be bored by that.

Well, I should tell you about my placement here in Brighton.  We’re working on a new adventure portal, which will be revealed in a few weeks and will allow users to compare a huge range of products across the sector.  We hope this will inspire more people to take activity holidays who previously thought it too expensive or too difficult – and for those who already take activity holidays independently to use our portal to help organise their adventures more easily.  I’m going to be the ‘concierge’ for this service, which will give me both some sales experience and the understanding of how best to interact with customers who wish to book online – as well as being able to identify trends in customer requirements and any teething problems with the site.

Although it was much more difficult finding somewhere to live here than in either Florida or Adelaide, I have now found somewhere with two great flat mates that’s only 10-15 minutes walk to work.  Cutting out the commute from London definitely bodes well for a work hard/play hard placement here in Brighton, and although I still maintain that I’m a self-hating southerner, and really prefer the north and Scotland, I’m hoping that Brighton will be an exception to this rule (London is also allowed).  Although it’s quite flat, I’m certainly enjoying the opportunity that the sea front affords for fresh, long runs. 

Right – back to content loading – I think our developers have finished their maintenance, so now we can get on with the task of populating the site with lots more information.

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Time flies when you’re having fun…

Hi everyone, Ali here – I’ll be taking over the editing of the blog for April –  it’s looking excellent so far, hopefully you are finding it informative, insightful and interesting. As you will read, all 6 of us are doing very different placements and with that comes a variety of experiences. If any readers are about to enter into the assessment centres or interviews then hopefully our blogs will give you further enthusiasm for the scheme and perhaps answer some of your thoughts/questions! That’s all from a snow filled day in Montreal (I was sure spring had arrived and then it snows again!)

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My favourite wombat

Guy keeps us informed on the move

I write this entry from the squashed seat of my Tiger Airways flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne.  Since Saturday, I have been touring Australia in order to gather data for my Business Continuity Management project.

Starting from Perth, I went on a Pinnacles day tour to try out some more Adventure Tours Australia Group (ATAG) product.  Pinnacles is ATAG’s premium product, and my trip took in the brand’s namesake, The Pinnacles, a lobster factory accounting for 20% of all of Australia’s fishing catch by value, sand dunes and sand boarding, and a wildlife park with all the classic Australian animals.  My favourite was a fat looking (but actually very muscly) wombat called Bubs who sat comfortably on the keeper’s lap.

My first workshop was well attended and helped to identify critical business activities as well as risks, current management of these and any new measures that could further lower risk for both our clients and the business as a whole.  Following Perth, I have been in Darwin and Alice Springs to carry out the same workshops, and will catch the flight from Melbourne to Sydney tomorrow morning to carry out the last one of my tour.  I have been very lucky at the same time to get to know people better from across the whole operation, and have a much greater sense of the whole crew who make up ATAG: guides, mechanics, caterers, operations assistants, operations managers, safety managers, training managers – and the list goes on.  I know that these contacts will stand me in good stead for the completion of my project and now feel I have a much better Australia-wide network of contacts within the business.

As would be expected, I’ve also had a very good time – some hard work but fun as well: I am particularly indebted to the ops managers Simon Harper, Scott Russell and Tija McMullen for this, and the others who’ve also made visiting each location such a positive experience.  I’ll report back from Adelaide for my next blog entry – wish me luck in bringing the mass of information together!

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Hell or high water

Guy brings us up-to-date with news from his new placement

So, I thought I’d tell you a bit more about what I am actually doing here in Adelaide.  The photos you saw on my last post were of Adventure Tour’s largest bus depot in Alice Springs – where I spent a day at the beginning of my placement to discover how the whole operation works, and also of the plane journey back to Adelaide, the distance covered in 2 hours, rather than the 6 days it took to travel north by bus.

My project is to deliver a Business Continuity Management strategy for Adventure Tours.  This essentially means that whatever impacts the business negatively, we should have a clear and agreed plan to carry out, where everyone knows their roles.  In most cases this just formalises local plans already in place, but the exercise should better quantify risk and its potential impact.  The stage at which I am currently at is all about breaking down business activities and looking at risk, current mitigation measures and potential new ones, whatever their cost.  I have been surveying people across the business and will head out on a tour, delivering workshops and carrying out physical risk checks in Perth, Darwin, Alice Springs and Sydney, as well as Adelaide, of course.  All the information I gather will then be used in Adelaide to come up with the final plan, which will consider all suggestions from the workshop and come up with a deliverable and cost-effective solution.

Despite missing out on the Bank Holiday here in South Australia this will also mean that I get to see friends from university who have moved to other cities I am visiting around the country.  Commodity prices are high, and so Australia needs foreign labour to help mine its most important economic sector and to provide services to those made rich by mineral wealth.

I am slightly awed by what will need to be done between now and April 21st, the end of my placement, but it will get done, come hell or high water.  The most exciting element is going to be where we get to simulate a disaster situation in order to test our plans. Right, time to chase people up for surveys and think about putting the final touches to my workshops…

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From the Sunshine State to the Red Centre

Guy continues to escape winter with a move from Florida to Adelaide

My blog entries have been very sparse recently, and this is a trend that I intend to reverse starting NOW! Since I last wrote, I have said goodbye to TUI Marine in Florida, flown back to the UK for our Learning and Development week and have for almost four weeks been based at Adventure Tours Australia, based in Adelaide, Australia.

With a day to sort myself out in Adelaide, I moved into my flat south of the CBD, and set out on the quest of finding a bike and a mobile phone, while also trying to adjust to the new time zone. The day after, I got up at 0430 to start a 6 day tour into the Outback. As soon as the bus pulled up at the office, I was delighted to find that a good bulk of my fellow passengers were German, obviously presenting a great opportunity for practice! The ultra-strong Australian dollar has sent British tourists elsewhere (and those that remain have stayed on the East Coast), but many young Germans still come here to work, earning good wages, particularly in agriculture – partly explaining the super-high prices for food here. There certainly seem to be less Brits about than when I visited on my gap year, six years ago. The tour gave a really good taste of the best that Adventure Tours’ has to offer – visiting weird outback opal mining towns with underground houses, the famous Flinders mountain range, Uluru, King’s Canyon and ending up in the second largest town in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs (pop. 26,000). We had an absolutely excellent tour guide, Anna Brown, who was really passionate about everywhere we went and saw – I certainly feel much more enthused to find out a lot more about Aboriginal politics, history and origins as a result – and of course the vast expanses of emptiness that make up most of Australia. Anna and I are becoming study buddies – although I’ll have to do a LOT of reading to catch up.

 I haven’t told you anything about my project yet, but will next week – as well as the Adelaide Fringe and Film Festival which launched last week. It’s certainly making this city a great place to be at the moment. Now, off for Friday night office drinks – I’m not sure I can deal with any more people trying to drag me away from my desk…

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All change – and onto placement two!

My apologies as Editor for the slight pause in posts – everyone worked hard to achieve all their deadlines for the end of placement one on Jan 21st, and then we all went to Crawley for a fabulous week of learning and development.  The six of us spent five packed days building on our skills and also had the opportunity to discuss our placements, and present our experiences to the Sector Board. Thanks to Jen, Ed and Steph and all our session leaders for a great week!  On Jan 31st we all joined our new offices: Ali goes to Jumpstreet in Montreal (Education Division), Ben to work in Finance/M & A for the Sector, Janet to Quark Expeditions in  Toronto (North American Specialist), Jon to Marketing for the Sector, Pete to TUI Sport in Manchester and Guy has flown back across the world in the other direction, to Adventure Tours Australia in Adelaide.  More information to follow!

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Lets play dress up.

Well the blog has been on a break over the holidays and what better way to recap then to see how the guys spend their holiday.  Here’s what Guy was up to before the break and yes, you guessed it, it involves costumes.

The last office day of 2010 and Florida is returning to form, a last blast of sun before Christmas-time snow in northern Europe. We’ve all been a bit more silent on the blog recently, I guess because work has picked up and Christmas provides a useful mental goalpost for project achievement.  So, what’s been going on? Well, I’ve been writing business plans for new product launches, and making sure the right people are consulted and aboard the ship, I’m keen to put something together that has buy-in.  I’ve also been working with other members of the marketing team at strengthening our partnerships with yacht clubs – yacht club members are our most loyal customer base so we need to make sure that they are getting the most benefit possible from being associated with TUI Marine. I’ve also been trying to persuade farmers markets that Le Boat (our European canal boating product) and they are great partners, particularly given the clear gastronomic appeal of many of our destinations. We’ll see how many I can convince!

Outside of work, I’ve been attending Christmas parties from my various activities and hoping to get a bit of canoeing and a cycle pub-crawl in my home town of Dunedin tomorrow before my flight back to snowy Britain. I have to say, I am looking forward to some wintry activities particularly ski-touring in Scotland and Sweden over the New Year. I’ll leave you with some pictures of the TUI Marine Marketing Department in all our Christmas finery! Happy Holidays!

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