Managing Director at Contiki Holidays
STARTING out as a lawyer, the travel industry was not on Katrina Barry’s radar.
“Thanks but no thanks” are the words she initially told a recruiter for Contiki.
“Isn’t Contiki just a bunch of 20-year-olds on a bus going around Europe drinking?”
Later on, the recruiter called back and talked her into having coffee with the head of the company on the basis of “he’s a Kiwi, you’re a Kiwi and he wants you to know you are absolutely right. 25 years ago that’s exactly what it was but it’s not like that today and the reason why Contiki’s still number one is they innovate every year. It’s your generation that were the drinkers, Generation Y don’t drink as much”.
Still not entirely convinced, she took a trip to road-test the company for herself and one very skilled, culturally and historically sensitive tour manager later she was on board.
“I thought not only is this trip manager so skilled at bringing together this group of diverse people, he’s made them all gel and bond in three days, that’s really impressive. Secondly they’re having the time of their lives and then for me, the meaning came in when he started to teach them about history and culture and social impact and that’s when I went ‘oh, okay, this is much more robust and well-mannered than I thought’ and I went ‘okay, travel industry here we go’.”
Katrina’s career prior to the travel industry
– which she entered just over two years ago
– spanned from a management consultant, to co-founding Virgin Active Australia.
Jumping between time zones can be a struggle for even the most practiced, and for Katrina, the biggest challenge of her role is jetlag. “My life looks really glamorous on Facebook and Instagram and my entire family and friends say ‘do you ever work?’ and I’m like ‘darling I left the office last night at 11:30pm, I wasn’t Instagramming that.’”
Katrina’s trick to staying switched on while travelling is melatonin and Red Bull and her rule is to start adjusting to the new time zone the moment she’s on board a plane.
Once she arrives in the country, it’s straight to the hotel to freshen up, and then off to the office and about 3pm it’s time for a Red Bull.
Aside from energy drinks, Katrina says she gets her kick out of watching her team grow and hearing customer stories.
“I hire for DNA and attitude. I don’t really care about experience,” she tells tb.
“Experience is useful but I have zero interest in you if you’ve been in travel before and if you’ve done the role before. DNA and attitude for me is all about ethic and values so that’s what I value… are you a Contiki person? And are you a curious, young at heart, energetic person?”
For those who yearn for success in the travel industry, Katrina has three tips.
“My key advice for anyone in any career is to find good soil,” she says. “You can’t grow and you can’t blossom unless you’re in a great environment.
I hire for DNA and attitude. I don’t really care experience’ about
“Two, greatness doesn’t happen between 8:30 and 5:30 and I find that’s a really challenging concept for Generation Y. I would say the strides I’ve made have been extra projects I’ve done outside of my hours or the little stuff like putting your hands up for things that’s not part of your job.
“The third thing is you get paid in two ways in this world, with money and with experiences. The second is more important.”
As for what’s on her radar now, Katrina is firmly focused on keeping the 54-year old Contiki business strong. “I want to make sure Contiki’s around for the next 54 years.”
First thing you do when you get into work: I dump my handbag and grab my coffee cup, I get my cup of tea and walk around the office and say hi to everybody.
Biggest challenge for the industry: How to ensure that we evolve to meet customer needs, The customer has the technology and power now, and anyone can be a player in the value chain.
How you unwind: In all honesty, far too much red wine on Friday night and then I start the penance of yoga on the weekend.