Read some of her responses below!
Tell us about your responsibilities as a Tour Manager. What skills/personality traits do you find necessary to succeed in this industry?
As a Tour Manager for Contiki Vacations, I am responsible for all on-the-road organization during a tour, so organization is key. There are many other skills and personality traits that are necessary, such as being a forward-thinker, personable, flexible, creative, and patient. In addition you must have excellent public speaking skills as you spend a lot of time on the microphone. Some responsibilities include managing the passengers on tour (normally 30-50 people) and your relationship with the driver, giving all city tours and history/cultures talks, confirming and making reservations, planning tour activities, managing tour finances, and handling any client issues (such as medical) that come your way.
It is also important to maintain equanimity during unforeseen, high-stress, events such as client medical situations, client/supplier disputes, airline strikes, weather changes, etc.! One must think on their toes, keep Contiki informed, and know how to address the group during these situations. The most important aspect of the job is ensuring that each traveler has #NOREGRETS and the experience of their life while traveling with Contiki Vacations. The experience a Contiki traveler has on tour likely determines if they will travel with Contiki again in the future. So when I am on the road, I am the face of Contiki Vacations.
You’ve managed tours in the US and Latin America. Can you tell us about some of the highlights you explore in these regions?
In the United States highlights are dependent on which tour you go on. Our Wild Western 14-day tour on the west coast highlights major cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco) and also nature, such as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon, and the beautiful Yosemite National Park in California.
Our Grand Southern tour is 26 days and explores the south of the United States. I love the mix of America’s southwestern culture. Passengers always love Texas and the culture of cities like Memphis, New Orleans, and Savannah. Washington D.C. is always a nice surprise for passengers. I think they always expect it to be boring because it is the nation’s capital, and they are blown away by how much the city has to offer. We spend the most time in the state of Florida. Its beaches and Miami nightlife are always a big hit! The Grand Southern is our most popular tour.
Our Grand Northern tour is also 26 days and gives a great mix for someone who likes a bit of everything. The first two weeks on tour, we travel to major cities in the U.S. and Canada (Boston, Quebec City, Montréal, Toronto, and Chicago). However, the last two weeks of tour we spend time in small towns and National Parks in the U.S. My favorite National Park is Yellowstone. There are some parts of the park where I feel like I’m on another planet! We top off the tour with the last three nights in Las Vegas! I highly recommend this tour for people that like both big cities and nature.
In South America, I led the 25-day “The Adventurer” tour, which covers major highlights in Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. The best parts are the Amazon Jungle, Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls (collection of 275 waterfalls on the Argentina/Brazil border), Rio de Janeiro, and the beach/resort town of Buzios outside of Rio. Contiki travelers always love the vast difference in culture between each country and compared to home.
Describe a typical day (or week) working as a Contiki Tour Manager! A week would take a few pages so I’ll stick to one day! There is no typical day on Contiki, which I love! I normally get up around 6:30 a.m. and get myself ready, check under the bed to make sure I don’t leave anything in the hotel (important), and organize my paperwork for the day. I usually skip breakfast to get more sleep. Everyone brings their bags down at 7:45 a.m. and we are on the road by 8 a.m. Throughout a typical driving day, we usually have one to three stops with 2-3 hours of driving in between. Stops can range from a simple restroom break to a two-hour stop in Santa Fe, N.M. to have lunch and sightsee. The stops vary depending on where we are driving.
During a driving day, I will talk on the microphone for about 2-4 hours depending on what’s going on. For example, on our drive from Dallas, TX to Memphis, TN, I talk about Texarcana (a city that straddles the Arkansas and Texas border), the state of Arkansas, the Arkansas State Capitol Building, Little Rock, Ark., a Civil Rights history talk, a Tennessee state talk, and then I conclude with a city tour of Memphis before we get to the hotel. In addition, I give practical information at each stop to let clients know what options there are to eat, where the restrooms and ATMs are, etc. I also make sure to “walk the coach,” which is where I ask each person how the last city was, what they enjoyed, etc. We may play a game such as coach trivia, and we may watch a movie that relates to the city we are driving to. For Memphis I usually play The Blind Side or Walk the Line. While passengers are listening to music or watching a movie I am making phone calls and doing paperwork for the tour.
When we arrive at the hotel (3-5 p.m. depending) there is normally 1-2 hours to settle in. During that time, I usually always have things to organize for the tour. I’ve learned how to get ready in 15 minutes on Contiki! Around 7 p.m. the group meets for dinner and afterwards, I take them out for nightlife. I always try to find nightlife options that are unique and different. For example, a bar that has classic arcade games for free, line dancing lessons, or the largest honky tonk in the world, to name a few. Depending on how much work I have the next day, I stay out with the group anywhere from 11 p.m. till 4 a.m. It’s all about pacing yourself! I usually average about 4-6 hours of sleep per night, but I have pulled all-nighters too. Even when I am back at my hotel, I am on-call. So if a client has a medical emergency or something happens, I need to be ready to respond. This is definitely a 24-hour job!
What’s your schedule like? How often do you travel? Do you find yourself needing downtime to relax and refuel?
I typically work five months on and then one month off with Contiki Vacations. So I normally tour 10 months out of the year. When I have time off, I sometimes visit my sister and brother-in-law in Minnesota or stay in Los Angeles to visit college friends. Normally though, I go home to the Bay Area in California to spend time with my family. I also live there between tours, because with this job it is crazy to rent an apartment. You are just wasting money. I live out of a suitcase! I don’t travel other than seeing family and friends between tours because I have been saving to take a round-the-world trip in the future. I did go to Australia in November 2013 for a month though, which was amazing!
I definitely need downtime to relax and refuel. The best way to do that is sleep! Other fun things I do to recoup and relax is get a pedicure with one of my drivers (okay that only happened once), go to the movies, see friends in cities on my days off, call family and friends, or explore parts of the city that interested me.
How do you find balance between your personal life and professional life? Have you gotten a chance to travel outside of work?
This has been a challenge for me because when I get focused on something career-wise, it is hard for me to pull away. The greatest stress reducer for me is dancing. I try to take dance classes when I can. Currently I'm really enjoying salsa. I've recently started a course on meditation, which is great too. Reading and watching movies are also a great way to relax.
I have traveled a bit outside of work. I studied abroad in Spain for a year during college and traveled a bit in Europe. I also taught English at a summer camp in South Korea and with the money I earned, I traveled throughout the country. I have been to the Caribbean on a cruise and have also volunteered in Mexico. Since working for Contiki, I haven’t traveled a lot personally (except for the trip to Australia mentioned above) because I travel when working. However, after my first four months in South America, I was able to go to Rio de Janeiro's carnival. It was a great way to top off my adventures working for Contiki in South America.
Want to know more about Eileen's journey towards being a Tour Manager? Visit The Everygirl for more.