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.

Categories: Laura | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When in Wimbledon

Kelly takes the opportunity to enjoy a spot of tennis after work

In this third placement, I am working for the TUI Marine Division. Whilst I may not be based in sunny Florida, I am very much enjoying life in “SW19”, working with the Sector Marketing Director. Our office here is home to some of the sports brands, and has the added benefit of being a short distance away from the All England Lawn Tennis Club…

On Monday, strawberries were brought in by the truck-load and grass courts were mowed to carpet-like perfection, as Wimbledon opened its gates for the 2012 Championships. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to witness some of the action, Ali and I decided to make our way over on day 1, straight from work. The notorious “Queue” (oh, so British!) was surprisingly short, so by about 6 o’clock we were in the grounds.

I played a lot of tennis during my school days and have always enjoyed following Wimbledon on the TV, so it was really exciting for me to get a first-hand experience of the tournament and see some matches up close. As it was the first day, there was play on every court and we managed to see some good ladies’ singles matches, watching players such as Kirilenko and Hantuchova.

All in all, a great experience… I am now even more excited about working with Sportsworld (a TUI brand) at the next big UK sports event – the London 2012 Olympics!

If only we were as good at tennis as Federer and Sharapova!

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Jen’s been having a Ball!

Jennifer gives us the low-down on schmoozing with pop stars and living it up in Florida

The Wanted

The Wanted perform at the iExplore Ball

It has been a while since I lasted blogged and a lot has happened over the last few months. To catch everyone up, my last placement was based in London working on a charity event, The iExplore Ball. This was a charity ball, hosted by iExplore, in support of the charity Street Child World Cup. This is an international charity which works to raise awareness and promote the plight of street children around the world through the medium of football.

The Ball included fantastic performances from The Wanted, Escala and Go West. I was involved in all aspects of organizing and promoting the Ball, implementing a ticketing system, organizing staff for the event and working closely with suppliers, designers and the production team to ensure that everything went perfectly on the night. It turned out to be a fantastic event, raising £70,000 on the night and everyone had a brilliant time. I even got to meet The Wanted.

Luxury Yacht

I spend most of my time these days riding around in Luxury Yachts.

After all of that excitement I am now on my next placement working with TUI Marine which is based in Clearwater, Florida. Here I am working on the customer user experience for the new Le Boat website. As I have never worked in an ecommerce role before it is something really different and exciting, though trying to communicate across three different time zones can create some difficulties. I am currently working on creating audit templates, analyzing data to create a new search function and supporting the UX design for the new website. In addition to this I am also developing a business plan for a new luxury yacht charter business for TUI Marine and have even had the opportunity to go onboard one of these $5m yachts!!!

This really is a fantastic opportunity to learn how the Marine industry operates and I have been making the most of my time here through attending meetings across different functions of the business and getting involved everything that I can.

Of course living in sunny Florida has some advantages and I am making the most of my time here sunbathing, swimming, hang gliding, tubing, going to cookouts for Memorial Day, it’s tough trying to fit everything in!

As I write this I realize what fantastic opportunities I have had on this program so far. At times it has been challenging, and moving every three months does present some difficulties, however I can say without doubt that it has definitely been worth it!

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FanTravel: The Review

Ben finally reviews his experiences in America, where he worked as the Marketing Director for FanTravel

Ok, so this is a bit late; I returned from Seattle a month ago now. In my defence, I’d like to point out how much fun I had during my last 6 weeks in Seattle and how much effort it takes to relocate back to the UK, move to Brighton, start a new job at TUI Travel House and have a fantastic holiday in Greece!

However, I’m now back in the office and feeling settled enough to start getting on with my grad “chores”… i.e. this blog and the numerous HR forms/reviews that I keep forgetting to complete (sorry Jen!). As most of the HR forms are now up to date, I thought I’d better update this blog before I finish another placement.

FanTravel, the TUI North American Division and Seattle together made a great placement. I was warmly welcomed from the start, nicknamed “Trey”, as I was the 3rd British Ben on the grad scheme to work in Seattle in a row! (Tre = 3 in Italian), and even ended up taking my boss’ 6 and 9 yr old boys skiing! The Americans truly are a friendly bunch and I was amazed at their hospitality. So if any of you are reading this, thank you.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, at FanTravel I was responsible for the Marketing. Although most of the TUI North American employees thought I was an intern, I’d like to confirm that I’m a full time TUI employee and actually had a huge amount of responsibility at FanTravel. In 3 short months, this is what I did:

  • Created a Marketing Strategy for FanTravel (including: Brand guide, Style guide, Marketing plan/schedule and Budget).
  • Designed and produced marketing materials (FanTravel T-shirts, and team specific Bottle Openers and Flyers)
  • Sourced licence free imagery for the website
  • Created a social media campaign (Facebook page, Facebook competition and Facebook ad campaign)
  • Coordinated the Spring Game Road Trip and launched FanTravel across America

The highlight of the placement was the Spring Game Road Trip, during which Brian (Co-founder) and I visited 8 different universities (“colleges” in American) across the Western States, namely: Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC (see http://blog.fantravel.com for the full story!). The aim of the trip was to build relationships with key contacts and launch the brand at 8 of our 12 target universities in a month. It was a monumental task, during which we worked almost 7am – 10pm every day, moved to a new town every 3 days and spent almost every minute together.

Brian and I would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together, share a hotel room, attend meetings together, travel together and socialise together every day for a month! Fortunately Brian is an easy going guy and we got on well the whole time. In fact, by the end of the trip I began referring to him as my “life partner”… We had a fantastic time, working hard and playing hard at every opportunity. This helped to develop our own team dynamic, led to the generation of more ideas for the business and enabled us to gain valuable insights into each destination.

The overall experience taught me huge amounts about the importance of building personal relationships in order to forge business partnerships, developed my ability to align my sales pitch to whoever I was talking to and also how to succeed in a completely different cultural environment.

Initially the FanTravel project was very tough. I was tasked with creating and implementing a marketing strategy for a company that I didn’t know, about a sport I didn’t know, marketing to a culture that I didn’t know. It was like an American coming to the UK and being tasked with marketing a new university rugby travel company to the Brits… after only 1 day in the country, before ever seeing a rugby match! Furthermore, I had no idea what a marketing plan/strategy looked like. It was a challenge to say the least.

However, after 3 months there I was very proud of what I had achieved. I have left a solid marketing plan in place, successfully launched the brand and have high hopes for the future of FanTravel. The road trip provided a great opportunity for me to really get to know the American college football culture and I left wishing I could stay longer as I now have a clear vision of how FanTravel will work (and who they’ll be selling to!).

Alas, I was unable to extend the placement any longer (unlike this blog post – don’t worry it’s almost over) and returned to the UK with very mixed feelings. I was extremely sad to have left the great friends that I made in Seattle and to have to drop the FanTravel project when we were on such a roll. However, it was also a great feeling to return home. Life in America was a lot of fun, but it was also stressful. The 8 hour time difference made communicating with anyone in the UK difficult, the culture is completely different, the supermarkets are weird and the job was a challenge. So it was nice to finally relax when I got back to the UK, even though I long to go back.

Below is a photographic record of some of the highlights of the placement.

Categories: Ben Gill | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Seattle becomes a Staple Destination for SAS Grads

Following in the footsteps of ‘The Bens’ (and Jon) I now find myself 4,500 miles and 8 time zones away from home. Despite the distance, Seattle is remarkably similar to Scotland; when it rains you want to get as far away as you possibly can but when it’s sunny, there’s nowhere else you’d rather be! And I’ve been particularly lucky to have come to Seattle at “the best time of year”.

In a city that is surrounded by mountains and water and that is notorious for its changeable weather, I am regularly amazed that every single Seattle citizen can accurately tell you the weather forecast for the next full week, right down to the hour – “What a beautiful morning”, “Yes but it’s going to rain at 2pm” or “If you go running on Saturday you should wait till the afternoon, the temperature will drop 15 degrees and it’ll be way more pleasant”… How do they know?! In Scotland we can barely predict what the weather will be like 30 minutes from now!

My office here in Seattle is amazing. Having just moved into this office in December, this is everyone’s first summer here and so we are all making the most of our large seafront terrace and grill! Indoors however there is still an atmosphere of three businesses (TUI, TCS & Starquest and Zegrahm Expeditions) sharing an office, which can at times be difficult as I am tasked with a project that concerns both TCS & Starquest and Zegrahm. I’m working on a product-based project looking to expand the part of our business that offers tailor-made luxury trips to destinations around the world. At the moment there is a lot of research involved as I put together a business case. In a few weeks’ time I will present my business case and hopefully begin to implement some of the ideas before the end of the placement.

Out of work I have been hitting up the usual tourist spots and getting involved in as many outdoor activities as my currently unfit body can handle – boot camp starts next week! I also took part in a local 5 mile charity run – ‘Beat the bridge’ – so called because the University Bridge is raised during the race and the aim is to ‘beat’ the raising of the bridge.

Last weekend my roommate and I took a road trip up north to her hometown of Bellingham for the annual Memorial Weekend Ski-to-Sea race – a 93.5 mile, 7 sport relay Race from Mount Baker down to Bellingham Bay. Thankfully we did not take part in this race, rather the street party at the finish line where we watched the final leg of the race over a nice cold drink!

Well that’s all for now guys…it’s almost lunchtime here and there are bbq left overs to be had!

Categories: Deborah | 1 Comment

SPORTsportSPORTsportSPORTsportSPORT

My placement with the Official UEFA EURO 2012 Accommodation Agency finished just over a month ago to positive reviews after doing a lot of work with spreadsheets and internet booking portals. I’ve been given the privilege of being given three sports placements in a row, and this second sport placement is with Danish company Travel Sense A/S.

Having just come from a placement solely concerned with the EURO 2012 tournament, I’ve stepped into a placement where all talk is of the next big event… the EURO 2012 tournament, no change there then. But I did get given my official Dansk Boldspil Union shirt today, just in case I’m needed in Kharkiv or Lviv to represent my adopted home, or, y’know, help with Travel Sense guests. No one expects Denmark to win the tournament (their odds are comparable with the Republic of Ireland) but no one expected them to win the tournament in 1992. The Danes might have known. Anyway, I’ll be watching their form closely when I attend the Denmark v Australia match in my new Danish shirt this Saturday.

Football is the most popular sport in Denmark and there are a number of big clubs in Copenhagen, some which you may have heard of, none of which you can pronounce correctly (unless you have knowledge of how the Danes use letters). Travel Sense sponsor a number of clubs in Denmark and I was lucky enough to attend one of the penultimate matches of the season where Brøndby hosted FC Nordsjælland. The title was unfortunately out of reach for Brøndby this season, but FC Nordsjælland were just 2 points behind FC København, the big fish in Danish football.

Brøndby fans hate FC København. HATE them. FC Nordsjælland hate FC København too. So for the entire game, the two sets of fans sang the same song to one another: Vi hader F.C.K.! (We hate F.C.K.). That was funny enough but when FC Nordsjælland, the AWAY team scored, everyone in the stadium clapped and cheered! And when the scoreboard showed that FCK had lost, there was uproar – all FC Nordsjæalland needed to do was win the final game and they would be the first Danish team to have an automatic place in the Champions’ League.

Which, of course, they did

There's a hand on the pitch!

Goal mouth scramble at Brøndby

It’s important for me to know these things, I’m not just here to hang out. I’ve been putting together a fact base about the sports travel company I’m placed with which will be informing strategy for the next financial year. But there’s no way I’m going to discuss the intricacies of the data I’ve been working with, or mention the nightmare that is building graphs and pivot tables in the Danish version of Excel… sorteringsindstillinger means sorting options, I know that much. Right, I’m off to eat kangaroo and crocodile at an Australian restaurant a few streets away. Thanks Australian tourism bureau!

Categories: Ben Cook | 3 Comments

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.

Categories: Laura | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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