ADAM Armstrong took up his new global role as CEO of Contiki Holidays just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to wreak havoc on the world — and the ensuing disruption and border closures have meant he hasn’t been able to take up residence in his Geneva head office until now. However all that changes this month as he finally heads to Europe, marking the end of an era where he has held a range of senior Australian roles with Royal Caribbean, Silversea and now The Travel Corporation.
travelBulletin was fortunate enough to conduct a final interview before he departed our shores — and although he is looking forward to the new chapter, and also being closer to his family in the UK, Armstrong insists he’ll be back. “I’ve been here for 16 years — Australia is home now,” he said. And indeed it seems likely the pull of Sydney will remain strong — he’s retaining a house here, and once travel resumes some semblance of normality his Contiki role will see him head back down under at least twice a year.
Like all operators, for the moment his major focus is on adapting the Contiki business to the post-COVID world — and in particular dealing with the massive changes in distribution in Australia, which is the brand’s biggest global market. The demise of Flight Centre’s youth-focused Universal Traveller/Student Flights brand, followed by the global collapse of STA Travel, is forcing a major rethink, although Armstrong believes there are still significant opportunities for agents wanting to specialise in the youth sector.
“Travel agents are vital in telling our message that Contiki has evolved,” he said. “Our brand is very well known in Australia, but I don’t think it’s well understood. We don’t do camping any more, for example, our trips offer a huge amount of freedom and our range is enormous — trips can be short, long and everything in between right across six continents,” Armstrong noted. With a background in cruising he’s well aware that once someone experiences a product that is right for them they will be back, with Contiki experiencing strong repeat rates. And although youth travel patterns have changed in recent years, there is still a significant cohort who understand the value and benefits of being part of an organised tour, with behind-the-scenes access, accommodation and expert trip managers making a significant difference.
Armstrong also sees big opportunities for Contiki in the North American market where, unlike Australia, its brand recognition is relatively low. As he bids farewell, he confided that one of the highlights of his time here was winning the first and only Travel Industry Talent ExtravaganZa (TITEZ) hosted by Travel Daily in 2009. Since the event has only run once, Armstrong noted that his Frank Sinatra-esque rendition of That’s Life means “I’m still the reigning champion”.