Adam Armstrong began his stint at Contiki at an interesting time, to say the least.
Having been appointed in early February and beginning his role as global CEO in June, Armstrong was chosen to grow the Contiki brand, until the global pandemic threw a spanner in the works.
“Stage one is getting the company through COVID-19, so managing suspension of trips and getting people on new trips, moving their money, refunding, credits and all of that,” Armstrong told Travel Weekly in a recent interview.
“Stage two is to do what I was hired for, which is to grow the Contiki brand globally. We think there is potential for growth in Australia and the North America market.”
Before the global pandemic, Contiki brought thousands of inbound guests to Australia each year. Now, the brand has been forced to focus on domestic travel.
“We’ve got the contacts, the coaches, the hotels so we pivoted that to offer to domestic travellers instead,” Armstrong said.
“We were certainly active here but we weren’t putting many Australians on coaches in Australia. It was largely international.
Armstrong said that despite border restrictions, the brand’s domestic approach has been working well and the brand is confident it will have a decent summer season because of the nature of its key demographic.
“All the data and surveys suggest youth travel rebounding much quicker than the other age groups and that gives us some optimism,” he said.
“There’s a desire, particularly for Gen Z to get out of this virtual world and reconnect with people, reconnect with the world, reconnect with travelling and all that suggests a great rebound for the youth travel market.
“The opportunity is for the trade to capitalise on that.”
According to the youth travel leader, agents who usually focus on an older clientele could pivot their business to be relevant to the younger demographic.
“We think there’s great opportunity there. A lengthy trip with us sending someone to Europe will earn you a good commission. Its good business to have,” he said.
Youth travel can be a tricky demographic to nail down and young people are using travel agents less than they were five or ten years ago, Armstrong admitted, but agents provide a level of ease that is critical in this current period.
“They will package it all together and give advice on what you should do and in these uncertain times if the trip does get cancelled or postponed they will deal with cancelling your trip and sorting your refunds, credits and all that,” Armstrong said.
“In my view, there’s never been a better time to book with an agent because they give you that security.”
Despite international travel bans remaining in place, Armstrong said he believes he can still grow the brand.
“We’re not a huge brand outside of Australia but we think there is potential there. We’ll just be a few months behind what I had planned and it’s different from what I’ve expected but we think we’ve got a bright future,” he said.
“I will always remember starting this job in the middle of a pandemic.
“I started my first job in the cruise industry the week after September 11 and I left the cruise industry almost 20 years later at the beginning of a pandemic.
“I’ve seen a few of these events. This is the biggest one but we know we will survive. We will get through.”