Janet Galbraith…Master of Trivial Pursuit

Janet reflects on the weird and wonderful learnings of the past 15 months…

So – the newbies have nearly finished their first placement!  And us ‘veterans’ have nearly finished our fifth… the time is approaching when we will finally join The Real World again, with a permanent job and a sixth-month accommodation lease and everything.  I might even buy a sofa.

It’s easy to forget how much you can learn over 18 months.  And it’s also hard to make a comparison between your experiences and those of family, friends or even of other grads.  On a bad day it’s easy to feel like you have no impact on the business you are in, that noone cares that you are there or, at best, resent the fact that you get to leave in a couple of months, snug in the promise of a sparkly new job at the end of the programme.  However, on a good day (for me these bizarrely tend to happen when I am completely snowed under with a particularly unachievable deadline – like today), it’s nice to reflect on the useful learnings of the past five placements.  I can’t honestly say if or when I will ever need any of these pieces of knowledge again, but then you never know…

–          A good working knowledge of the major road networks of the UK (the M6, M23 and A3 are now personal friends)

–          Excellent understanding of the various restrictions surrounding certain Russian ports, and their associated charges

–          How to pay or contest a parking fine in Edinburgh (twice)

–          The process for setting up a limited business in Hong Kong

–          How to create a decision tree for the MCS contracting system

–          Where to source a bona-fide Elf costume

–          The best people to contact in the Brazilian market research industry

–          What to do if you see a polar bear in the wild

–          The various benefits of traditional EPOS systems versus new technology

–          Ability to distinguish between the major species of penguin

And on to the next challenge! J

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

Janet looks forward to the holiday ahead…

At this point in time several years ago I was preparing for Christmas in China, and remarked to a colleague that Christmas in China is rubbish.  The decorations are there (to a ridiculously lavish extent), special offers are everywhere for the purchase of presents, and there is even the same CD playing on a loop in every shop you visit, but it just wasn’t right.  My Christmas break was ok, but nothing special, and I put this feeling of disappointment down to the fact that it was my boyfriend’s first Christmas away from home – for him, it just isn’t Christmas if it doesn’t involve his mum’s Christmas dinner.

A couple of months later, I experienced my first Chinese New Year.  Amazing.  For weeks in advance, people were scurrying around hoarding food and gifts, and my colleagues became increasingly more excited while discussing their travel plans for the holidays.  Literally no work was done for the month before the holiday.  Aside from experiencing the most amazing firework displays I have ever seen, the lesson I really learnt that February was that ‘feeling Christmassy’ isn’t down to what you do, but what you feel; it’s about anticipation.  For the fortnight before Chinese New Year, Shanghai felt like the UK feels in December.  The excitement was tangible.

As I prepare for Christmas 2011 (tree is already in place), it has occurred to me that the only other time I feel a similar sense of anticipation is before I go to a new place on holiday (or, to be honest, even with work).  And again, I am reminded why I love my job.  It’s a cliché, but it’s nice to work for a company that makes a product that people actually want, and that they look forward to, sometimes all year (just like Christmas)!  Customers work hard, save hard, spend too much and anticipate the event that gives them a break from their everyday lives.

And so, with a number of Christmas meals lined up this week, and (almost all) my Christmas shopping done, I am looking forward to the holiday ahead – it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Christmas Spirit

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One Night in Brighton…

TUI Grads in Brighton

TUI Grads in Brighton

Laura talks about her first trip to Brighton…

Yesterday, I left the Real Gap office and made the hour long journey down to Brighton to visit the TUI PPC team and also meet up with the other grads to discuss our project.

Throughout my placement so far, I’ve really tried to take as many opportunities as possible to learn more about the business as a whole, so visiting Brighton was a key goal of mine. With the TUI SEO and PPC teams based down there, and with those teams running the online campaigns for Real Gap and i to i, I really wanted to understand how this process worked and how the teams aligned themselves and communicated to work in the most efficient way.

I had a really useful meeting with Jo Bradbury who told me about the PPC strategy and also introduced me to AdInsight, which I’ll blog about more in the future (it’s incredible!), and will be keeping in touch with her to further my knowledge. PPC is such an important part of many budgets so understanding how it works, along with how the team works, is key.

I particularly like that Jo and her team are understood as an agency who are also a part of TUI – what a fantastic opportunity for brands to have expert guidance and the high level of service whilst being confident that the team working for them understands their brand completely.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with Kelly, Jen and Ben (with Ben and Deborah dialled in from the States) listening to a presentation from Janet on their graduate project, which was incredibly useful and, in fact, essential to the success of our graduate project, which we’ll be completing over the next 18 months.

Finally, we went out for dinner at Comos, Brighton, where we enjoyed a lovely meal and enjoyed the ever-developing entertainment form that is Ben’s ‘mo’. We even developed an idea to keep the mo for future months… keep watching for more details!

It was a really useful day and, aside from anything else, really interesting to see the office Kelly works in and meet more of the team from around the Sector.

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Born to run?

Janet talks about a different kind of challenge.

I’ll admit it, I’ve always been a bit rubbish at sport.  I was in the Netball C team in Year 7, and I represented the school at discus once following a freakishly long throw during Sports Day, but in general I’m much better at the sorts of sports that require hanging around outdoors and looking at nature (skiing and scuba diving being personal favourites, and things that I am actually quite good at), rather than the sports that require Team Spirit or Positive Mental Attitude.  I much prefer a nice vin chaud to a high-protein snack following any form of exertion.

So I am not entirely sure how it has come to the point that, in nine days’ time, I shall be running my first half marathon.  I do know that I started running because I was annoyed that I couldn’t do it, and it seemed a good way to meet people whilst living overseas.  Since that point I’ve (slowly) run a couple of official 10k races, and so in a moment of madness in August a colleague persuaded me that it would be possible to run 13.1 miles with just seven weeks of training.  It’s certainly been an exercise in self-discipline – thanks to the short timescale involved, I have no choice but to run every other day, and build the distance.  Living on the North Downs has helped increase my tolerance for hills, and I haven’t had a glass of wine in weeks.

If I were going to be intellectual about it, I could compare my progress in running to my progress along the scheme we’re on – constantly throwing up more challenges, sometimes a bit shaky (or even lost) but always improving a little and growing in confidence.  However, I think it’s more interesting to just be glad that, thanks to my career over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to run in some really interesting places.

As for the Eden Project Half Marathon: it’s going to be a close-run thing (excuse the pun) but, fingers crossed, I should at least finish.  And everyone has to start somewhere!

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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…

Categories: Ali, Ben Ireland, Guy, Janet, Jonathon, Pete | 1 Comment

Janet has fallen for something very good

 As someone who would still count my university city as home and a dear friend, obviously I’m biased.  But Janet has developed a very healthy love for Scotland’s capital, and the home of EAC, Edinburgh.

I’m in love.  Rugged, outdoorsy, dynamic and cultured – just my type.  And I know it’s a case of true infatuation because friends and colleagues keep pointing out the bad points – moodiness, changeability, prolonged depressed spells (particularly in winter) and, most frustratingly of all, an obsession with parking tickets – yet I just don’t care.  Maybe it’s only a (not so) secret desire for men with Scottish accents, or a penchant for deep fried and battered things, but for now, for me, Edinburgh is perfect.

I can’t say I was over-thrilled at the prospect of leaving the Great White North of Canada to come and live in, well, the Great White North of the UK (especially having spent the last five summers in much warmer climes) but living in Edinburgh is great.  For the first time since university I don’t have to commute.  True, it rains daily, but in an enchanting, sporadic kind of way allowing you to dodge the downpour.  And I learn at least one new word every day (yesterday’s word was ‘scran’).

I am lucky enough to also be working with a great team on a fantastic project.  I am spending a fair part of my time working on the longterm strategy for the non-UK development of our English training schools businesses; having previously worked for the market leader in the industry, it’s great to feel that my experience can really be of material benefit to TUI businesses, and help to drive the business.  At the end of my placement I have been asked to present my work to members the Education Board and the research will act as a basis for a number of decisions going forward – nice to know that I can really be helpful in working in an industry about which I am truly passionate.

In parallel to this I am also working on a more logistics-based,operational project which is due to go live within months… being the lead (or should I say only) project manager is proving both challenging and entertaining.  More about this next time!

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Ta-ra to Toronto

The last few weeks have been slightly hectic – following the strategy presentation to the divisional board I thought I would be starting to wrap up my work and enjoy the newly spring-like weather in Toronto (although sadly I never saw much in the way of Spring – it snowed right up until my last weekend in Canada!).  However, I was tasked with helping the VP of Product and Distribution in developing some of the product strategy, in order to launch new activities for the Arctic 2012 summer season – all under wraps for now, but it was really great to get my teeth into some product development – one of my big passions!  This also gave me the chance to spend time with a slightly different group of colleagues and really consolidate all the industry information gained since I arrived. 

I doubt I will really use some of the information again in the near future (such as the home ports of Russian exploration ships!) but my time in Quark really has been a fantastic view into the workings of a small business – and how quickly a struggling business can start to turn around with the right team in place.  In addition I was able to visit two of the businesses in Los Angeles and two in Seattle – fun to meet new colleagues and see new sights, and also a bit of an insight into just how far removed some sector businesses must feel from the corporate hub of TUI, and hence how hard it can be to develop synergies between them all.  Thank you to all the teams across the North American Specialist division for making me feel so welcome, and for humouring my Britishness!

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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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What makes a polar traveller?

As I draw towards the end of week 9, let me briefly explain my role at Quark – the business has been struggling in recent years and the new senior management team were tasked with creating a new strategic business plan, which was due to be presented at the end of March.  I am lucky enough to report into the MD (an exuberant and enthusiastic Dutchman who is a great MD, in my opinion, despite his obsession with Coke Zero and chocolate…), and my job has basically been to complete all the research and groundwork that he has needed to be done, in order for the management team to truly understand the industry and be able to make decisions based on trends, competitors and potential gaps in the market.

As part of this process, the management team have been trying to look deeper into the profile of our customers – both existing travellers and our potential target customer base.  Quark hired the services of a brand management/customer insight agency and so I attended a number of workshops where the team discussed Quark’s ‘brand essence’, where the company wants to be and just who our customers think we are; one session involved the production of ‘hunches’ – a suggestion of what the customer feels or wants but cannot articulate – based on quotes from customer interviews; fascinating stuff!

One of the outcomes of these sessions was that Quark was able to define different types of customers who are attracted to the polar product, and hence who have a potential to be attracted to our brand.  The team created four customer personas:

California Tom (The Adventure Seeker): wants to push self harder and further; a high achiever in both personal and professional life.  Enjoys the outdoors, extreme sports lover – has probably run a marathon or two.


Reginald T. Cromwell III (The Checklist Guy): has a list of things that he wants to do in his life, and likes to tick things off his list.  He likes to have bragging rights (‘been there, done that’) although he may not be that physically fit.  Plays golf.  His wife probably wears a bum bag.


Belinda (‘Crouching Tiger’) Laker (The Emotional Connector): is more concerned about how she feels about the travelling experience than where she goes; she is searching for a deeper connection with herself.  People and emotions are very important to her.  Does yoga.


Anastasia Beaverhousen (The Exotic Experience Seeker): Well travelled, with a fast-paced career that may well encompass travel to large cosmopolitan cities.  Is looking for new and varied experiences, and visits a place to experience a new culture and destination.  Very connected to modern technology and considers self as ‘cultured’; not afraid to get a bit dirty but does spend a lot of money on shoes.


Of course, not every customer is a pure example of one of these stereotypes; most people will sit on a sliding scale of personality traits and embrace all sorts of different activities to some level.  That said, there is now a recognition that not all guests are the same and, importantly, that a polar environment represents different things to different people. This allows Quark to market its product more effectively to a variety of target audiences, rather than relying on a ‘one size fits all’…

Only three weeks to go… it’s still raining in Toronto, I hope spring arrives before I leave!

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How many kayaks can you fit in a cabin?

Janet ploughs through work at Quark – just like a nuclear ice-breaker

I feel like over the last few weeks I’ve been juggling lots of pieces of work, and that, each time I complete work for presentation in time for a deadline, this work completion generates multiple questions and potential leads – and so lots more work!  Winter is slowly receding in Toronto (giving way to, well, rain – I’m not sure which is worse) and in a similar way my projects feel like they are moving forward with some sort of self-propelled determination…

Things are going well.  I am currently sitting in my cubicle (just like I imagined a North American office to have!) and my walls are covered in teeny tiny annotated pictures of ships that operate in polar waters.  I’ve learnt to understand the ratings of a ship’s ice class and the various ways in which you can strengthen a ship’s hull against icebergs (pretty complicated, but basically no ice class = bad)… over the last few weeks I have presented two 40-slide presentations of market analysis (my longest presentations ever) and this week I am trying to figure out how many kayaks you can fit in a cabin, tetris-style, (and the economic benefits of filling with kayaks rather than people).  Also the cost-benefit ratio of a kayak instructor versus a climbing instructor… and where you can store a hot-air balloon in Antarctica.  (Actually someone else is doing that, but once he has it’s my task to work out how much it will cost!)

Quark is nearing the deadline for the presentation of its five year strategic plan.  The great thing about being in a business in the midst of change, I’ve found, is that pretty much any idea for generating profit is fair game.  Some things go straight on the pile of rubbish ideas (sadly the MD vetoed a suggestion for the filming of a reality show on a ship’s expedition) but the staff here have so much knowledge of the destination, and passion for the product, that it seems that there really is potential to drive the business forward into its third decade as the world’s best operator for polar travel.  Please vote for Quark in the Travel and Leisure Awards to make it official!


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