After nearly 20 years in cruise industry sales, Adam Armstrong, most recently managing director for Silversea in the Asia-Pacific region, has joined the Travel Corporation as CEO of its Contiki brand. Senior Editor Jeri Clausing talked to Armstrong about the move, which takes him from Australia to Geneva in the midst of the pandemic, and his vision for the brand that sells guided vacations for travelers under 35.
Q: I understand you joined Contiki in June. That was certainly an interesting time to make such a big move.
A: You could say this is not what I signed up for. Obviously, I made this decision some time ago: to jump ship from cruising. But it was a slightly different proposition when I accepted the offer. We had a plan for what to do with the business. That’s obviously been thrown out the car window.
Q: So what exactly were the marching orders, or the vision, that you and Travel Corporation CEO Brett Tollman agreed upon?
A: It was a long courtship, and we had many philosophical discussions about the brand. The brand has been in the family for around 30 years now. It’s a brand that Brett and [his father, company chairman] Stanley [Tollman], are particularly fond of and have a great affection for. It’s providing holidays for people in their formative years, their early years, when they are going out to see the world for the first time. But the brand is probably not delivering the volume of guests, of travelers, that it should.
So Brett’s simple instruction is: You’ve got to grow this brand. You’ve got to get this out to more people in core markets. He and I both agreed that Contiki is probably not getting as many guests as it should be getting from the U.S. market, that was on the decline even before Covid. We’ve got to reverse that trend. That’s the challenge I accepted.
Once everything settles down, we have to go back out and engage the trade and tell them the Contiki story.
Q: What is your biggest challenge, other than Covid-19, of course?
A: There is some reticence of this concept of shared travel, to be perfectly honest. Some people just don’t think it’s for them. That’s when we try to connect them with people who’ve done it.
It’s just like all the misconceptions around cruising. People say, “It’s not for me. I’ll get seasick. I’ll feel trapped.” So we’re trying to connect the skeptics with those who’ve done it. Once they get on their trip, they love it. They make friends for life. They have an amazing experience, and they book again.
Q: Early indications are that young travelers will lead the industry’s recovery. Is that a trend you are seeing?
A: Yes. That is my expectation. It’s when not if. After Sept. 11 people didn’t want to travel. They were afraid for various reasons. With Covid, on the other hand, people want to travel. They just can’t. It’s a very different scenario. It’s when can we start running coaches? When can we can we get on a plane?
Q: Given ongoing travel restrictions, and the fact that many travelers are first venturing out closer to home, a lot of tour operators have been tweaking and adding more domestic products. Are you doing that as well?
A: Traditionally, we are an outbound operator. We send Americans, Australians, Canadians and Brits out of their country on a trip overseas. So we’ve pivoted in all of those markets to provide more domestic trips.
And this isn’t Covid-specific, it’s a process we started before I arrived, taking a look at the products we offer, the length of trips, destinations. We’re looking to provide more variety.
We already operate 350-plus trips worldwide with rich content. But I think this will be a good opportunity for us to reset and rethink what we operate. Keep doing the good stuff but review the stuff that isn’t selling as well and come up with some new products.
We are just about to launch shorter trips in Europe. They can be sold separately, three or four nights, or added onto longer trips.