This is a guest article by Nick Papadatos, a former Contiki Trip Manager turned business owner. After working for Contiki from 2012 to 2015, he used the skills he learned from his ‘life on the road’ to start a business with his partner Maggie Stara (a former chef at Contiki’s French Chateau). Together they run Living to Roam , a website dedicated to helping freedom-focused business owners, remote workers and freelancers create a life and business they love.
Working for Contiki was truly life-changing. As you’d expect, I made lifelong friends, had an enviable (and always changing) view from my ‘office’ each day and got to hang out in some of the most beautiful parts of Europe. What I didn’t expect, however, was just how many useful skills I would learn along the way and how these would later help me in my journey of running a business.
Here are the top 4 transferable skills I learned through being a Contiki Trip Manager.
It’s no secret that as a Contiki Trip Manager, you spend a lot of time on the microphone. Whether it’s talking about the exciting history of each country (yes, Trip Managers are ALL proud history nerds) or giving local food and drink recommendations – talking is a natural part of the job.
Listening however, doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it should. With as many as 53 different personalities on each tour, a great skill that I learned very quickly was active listening.
I made an effort to have a conversation with every single passenger each day while on tour and really listened to what they had to say. These conversations helped me to get to know why they were actually travelling and what they hoped to gain from the experience. This skill has helped me immensely in the business world.
Many businesses are so focused on posting content on social media, blogging and advertising, that they forget how important it is to simply stop talking and start listening. Often, the only way you can really understand your customers is by actively listening to what they really want. Getting regular feedback, being in constant communication and anticipating the needs of my passengers (and now customers) has been a great lesson I’ve drawn from Contiki.
As a Contiki Trip Manager, I was fortunate to have taken over 1200 amazing passengers around Europe and North Africa. And building and nurturing my relationship with each and every passenger not only paved the way for an enjoyable trip, but it’s the key to Contiki’s stellar reputation.
I’ve had many passengers who had booked their Contiki trip because of a recommendation from a friend. And not only that, but some passengers had actually done multiple Contikis before, which is a testament to their previous Trip Managers also having mastered this skill.
Ask any passenger if they remember the exact restaurant they ate at in Budapest or the name of the bike tour they did in Paris and they might struggle a bit. But ask them their Trip Manager’s name, special dance move and favourite spot on the trip and they’ll no doubt know the answer!
Similarly, in business, you always want to make clients, customers, coworkers and employees feel special. At Contiki, I felt like I was part of a big, supportive family. Recreating that kind of supportive environment has been hugely successful for my own business too!
When I ran my very first tour, I was doing many things for the first time. I had to keep my group of passengers happy and readily informed about what was to come over the 37 day trip.
I quickly discovered that even the most meticulous planning can’t prepare you for the realities of travelling. Greek ferries often seem to run on their own time zone, and drives on Italian highways that should have taken 2 hours, could easily turn into 4 in heavy traffic. That might not sound like much of a shift, but with 50 hungry passengers in the back of the coach, waiting eagerly for their next Italian espresso or French croissant fix – every minute counts!
In managing their expectations, I prepared the group for the possibility of things like traffic and poor weather. Suddenly, even though the things that were out of my control before (like a delayed Greek ferry or rain on a beach day) were still out of my control, everyone was still happy because they were at least prepared for those possibilities.
In business, rather than promising perfection and putting yourself under unnecessary pressure, it’s crucial to let the client or customer know your expectations for your working relationship and allow them to share their own. This limits the amount of surprises and helps each of you to prepare for what lies ahead.
Organisation and planning
When you are travelling through multiple countries with different currencies, languages and time zones, you have to become an organisational ninja.
I made specific lists (so many lists) of every phone call I had to make, which restaurants and hotels I had to email and what time we would arrive at each stop on our drive days. No job that I have ever done before (or since) has required as much skill when it comes to organisation and planning.
When you manage a business you are responsible for making things happen at the right time, right place and in the right way. Even a simple oversight can mean big problems, but being your own boss can seem like a breeze compared to the moving parts I dealt with on tour. Working as a Contiki Trip Manager prepared me for the business world in the best way possible!